Spotify Music is a sleek and polished application that links its music streaming network, storing massive catalogs of songs and albums, straight to your device on demand. As the music industry strives to adapt to technological advances of today, and is still attempting to recover from the advent of the MP3 format, file sharing and torrents, Spotify provides a negotiable platform that caters to listeners on the go. A while back, I reviewed Pandora Radio that has its own methods to provide audible entertainment in much the same way, though the two networks are inherently quite different in approach and execution. With a whopping $2 billion in earnings for 2015, and 100 million active users around the globe in 2016, Spotify is something to sing about in terms of mass revenue and support from notably stubborn record companies. Ironically, with both Spotify and Pandora raking in mountains of money annually with a bulldozer, neither network has yet to finish a fiscal year without astounding net losses. Alas, those problems are not ours as the music flows sure and steady with no apparent lapse in service in sight, luckily.
This review is most definitely focused on Spotify; however, comparisons between the two services are inevitable, even though they are actually not direct rivals whatsoever due to differences in functionality. Regarding music streaming, Android users usually cite one or the other as their network of choice for their own reasons. Pandora is the reigning champ of all streaming systems in terms of popularity and userbase, though Spotify is gaining traction with unique features and wider international support that cannot be denied. As I am very reluctant about touting one network superior to another, I will instead use a logical and diplomatic approach to simply compare systems, feature sets and general differences. In my daily life, I happen to use both for different occasions and purposes, so let the music do the talking and the wallet do the squawking.
Battle Of The Corporate Giants
As mentioned above, the proliferation of the popular MP3 format sent the panic-stricken record companies scrambling for a resolve as they cried about lost revenues for years; justifiable or not. Coupled with file sharing programs, file hosting blogs and torrent sites, the Recording Industry Association of America went on global legal rampages in a semi-futile attempt to shut it all down. Even though no actual proof existed that file sharing had allegedly been depleting the industry, their mission was clear to embark on a destructive multi-million dollar crusade worldwide. After audio streaming technology was developed and proven, the corporates were finally swayed into embracing technology for profit, being highly persuaded and dazzled through flowcharts and graphs by the technically savvy, finally arriving at a compromise to move forward. The financial success of Apple's iTunes paved the way to calm the greedy nerves of record executives as they reaped revenues unseen for years; allowing the phenomenon of music streaming to become mainstream practice as a plausible digital delivery method for their catalogs. Fast forward to today with Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, iHeartRadio, Google Music or whatever new service comes up this week; everyone gets what they want. Or do they? More elaboration regarding the losers of this grand scheme will be discussed below, but as it stands today, this is what we're doing and doing it big time.
Spotify's main deviation from Pandora is that it's an actual music on-demand system that allows a simple search to locate and play specific songs and albums at your desire. Also unlike Pandora, playlists can then be created of these songs and recalled at will, even shared with friends or publicly through sites like Playlists. The genius of social networking to drive marketing in this fashion is evident as new song releases spread like wildfire across the Internet in mere minutes; generating sales figures instantly. This feature alone puts Spotify on par with the likes of big league players like Google Play that offer a monthly premium subscription service for an all-you-can-hear audio buffet. Spotify also allows one to download the songs onto their device at any point to accommodate offline listening, which is also not supported in Pandora. Due to Spotify's on-demand system, their music catalog stands at approximately 30 million songs compared to Pandora's 1 million song catalog with new music constantly being added as licensing accommodates. This is indeed impressive, and something I immediately needed to instigate with a warped stress test of sorts. Does that mean 30 million songs of their types of music or mine? Curiosity soon killed the cat as I got my answer in about two minutes.
Shardz' Spotify Song Search
The entire notion of Spotify's music on-demand system inspired an instant challenge to put Spotify on the spot, and I had every skeptical inclination during the process. Since I'm not a fan of pseudo-burlesque lip-synching divas, violent gangsta rap, cry-in-your-beer country or anything similar that is marketable today, I rubbed my hands together in anticipation to compile a list of my own audible nonsense to stump the system. My selections were randomly picked out of my head from years passed, and I suspected Spotify would draw blanks on most of them. Out of the 16 songs of my semi-obscure challenge, let's see how Spotify fared:
[♪] Babyland - Worst Case Scenario
[♪] Cavalera Conspiracy - Black Ark
[X] Coroner - Nosferatu
[♪] Fates Warning - The Eleventh Hour
[♪] Flyleaf - I'm So Sick
[♪] KMFDM - Free Your Hate
[♪] Machine Head - Halo
[♪] Ministry - You Know What You Are
[♪] Nine Inch Nails - Gave Up
[♪] Opeth - Windowpane
[♪] Sanctuary - Veil of Disguise
[♪] Sepultura - Dusted
[♪] Skinny Puppy - Tormentor
[♪] Squarepusher - Fly Street
[♪] Tombstalker - Chaos Undivided
[♪] Warlord - Mrs Victoria
Imagine the shock I got when nearly every tune was instantly located as soon I typed the song title. My poor Coroner was the only no-show in the bunch, but upon doing a band name search, Spotify indeed had one of their albums at least; probably their best out of five total. If Spotify can produce these results for me, just imagine how much mainstream music can be had in the palm of your hand! I will now take off my boxing gloves and give a respectful bow to the people doing the licensing at Spotify; they won the match hands down, fair and square.
The Songs Remain The Same
So, Spotify's catalog is massive and I can listen to what I want whenever I want, but how about the quality? The average bitrate for all songs is 160kbps with some songs offered at 320kbps. I'm guessing the mainstream super-pop selections get the spotlight treatment, but Pandora's bitrate for premium service is 192kbps across the board, which is a healthy bump up in quality. The average person probably won't perceive the difference, especially when jogging or in noisy environments, but audiophiles will be a bit turned off with the difference. Spotify features unlimited skips and isn't picky when you are, but Pandora is limited to 30 skips within 24 hours. Either way, if you listen to music streaming or download the songs directly, Spotify won't get in your way as your mood changes. Both services offer radio streams; Spotify acts like a traditional radio, while Pandora serves up recommendations according to your musical tastes. This really is the primary difference in functionality between the two networks, and perhaps why one would be interested in using both. Pandora does wonders for discovering new music that is relative to what you are listening to, and serves up songs on a playlist that you are not familiar with at times. Spotify dials up what you want specifically and gives you control over how, when and where you want to listen to it.
Another cool and useful feature is Spotify Connect that allows streaming to and from other devices including phones, tablets, laptops, televisions or speaker systems that support it. All supported devices on your WiFi network appear in a list that you can switch with a single tap, moving the music to wherever you want it. As mentioned above, the functionality of the playlists between networks is very different. All stations on Pandora are basically recommended songs suitable to your tastes that cannot be edited and playlists are limited to 100 in total. Spotify has unlimited playlists that can be edited like normal media player playlists, then shared to other users who can load up exactly what you are listening to. It's a safe, fast and legal way to share music with your friends without sending bulky files, or getting arrested by the MP3 police. Yes, they do exist; it's called the RIAA, folks. As of 2014, Spotify has teamed up with Last.fm, an online music statistics and recommendation service, to try to compete with Pandora in the online recommendation department, which is called a scrobbler. Another consideration is that some mobile networks are now offering data-free streaming for Spotify and Pandora through partnerships, which means you can stream all you want through your phone without wrecking your data allowance for the month. Unfortunately, not every provider is this enthusiastically generous; mine included.
A Tinted Window To The World
Spotify's sexy interface is decidedly dark, but not quite black, which is fantastic for night sessions in dimly lit environments. Those who are outdoors types will probably need to find a shady spot to see what they are doing, and might favor Pandora's bright white motif instead. The main home page has several scrollable selections to either offer up your personal collection, or to venture into the unknown. There you have New Releases, Charts, Popular Playlists and other recommendations to keep you scouring their database for new material. I can't say their algorithm is as robust as Pandora's with recommendations, but they are indeed trying and it's laid out quite nicely. With a single tap on the hiding window during play, it will toggle between the playlist and a familiar media player screen with the album art and transport controls. Though, the interface is a tad confusing with navigation at first, I personally favor it to Pandora's as it feels more aesthetic and streamlined...and dark. It's interesting to visit the current Charts section to see what is actually selling these days, but I'm always reminded that guitars are now antique relics and that drums make great storage containers. I have not heard one single song on the Top 50, and I'm mortified to click on one, but that's just me.
Missing from Spotify is the interesting bios area that lists information and trivial facts of the artist, along with a comments section that Pandora offers. Though, I can't say the comments I've seen on Pandora are helpful, or even sane for that matter. Your mileage may vary in that regard, but you won't witness a barrage of children's outcries and personal turmoils in Spotify, which is a huge plus. Again, as my comments with Pandora, parental control is something of a joke. Actually, it's missing completely from Spotify, so if your child installs this on their mobile and manages to memorize the lyrics to the entire 50 Cent catalog, don't be too surprised. Electronic devices are the new babysitter, so keep that in mind before sending the child to kindergarten with that shiny new Galaxy S7.
And speaking of worldly matters, international Spotify availability is far more reaching globally than Pandora could ever hope to be at this point. Dozens of countries are supported in Spotify as opposed to Pandora's limited reach of U.S., Australia, and New Zealand, which makes this an obvious choice for some. These regional differences have made Spotify popular outside of the U.S., but Americans appear to flock to Pandora according to current statistics. For me personally, the app I choose at the moment directly depends on my lighting environment, but I'm fortunate to have the choice.
A Penny For Your Musical Thoughts
There is quite a bit of speculation and debate about where the money trail leads, but I'll make this easy. The money goes everywhere but to the artists who actually create the music. Spotify admits that their royalty payout to the artist varies between $0.006 and $0.0084 per stream, which is way beyond the term microtransaction. One independent artist that had been doing rather well mentioned that out of 1,023,501 streams, he was cut a check for $4,955.90. Now, depending on the artist's contracts and their popularity in the world, these royalty figures vary quite a bit. Drake was Spotify’s highest streamed artist in 2015 with around 1.8 billion streams, and raked in about $15 million from Spotify. Rihanna, with over 1 billion streams, earned around $8 million. That seems more reasonable than the $129 a four member metal band from Pasadena would receive, but that's the music business, folks. Licensing costs big money, bandwidth is horrendous, advertising is expensive and the executives demand their cut over everything. The people who actually generate the content usually get left out unless they are NFL Super Bowl halftime performers. My suggestion to music fans is to use Spotify, or any of these services, as a convenience factor that you might end up paying a cloud service to store your MP3s. If you want your favorite artists to continue making music, please consider buying their albums through proper channels so they can eat. Dead musicians make no music, this is a fact. The music industry has changed so much over the years, but some things are still just as bad as ever like royalty payments, and it's almost criminal to see such great talent go unrewarded. Record contract advancements are out, crowdfunding and fan support is the way they now survive.
Should I Pay Or Should I Go Now?
Spotify is a free download with visual ads, audible ads that span between 15 to 30 seconds, offers 160kbps streams, no downloads of music or use of Spotify Connect. Premium service is free for the first 30 days, then defaults to a $9.99 per month subscription, and the above limitations are lifted for maximum enjoyment. There is a family premium plan that is $14.99 per month for up to six people living at the same residence, and a student premium plan of $4.99 per month with proof of credentials and an .edu email account. These fees are pretty much on par with other services, including Pandora and Google Music, to allow for unlimited streaming to all your devices and computers. Cloud services can cost more than this and usually have bandwidth caps. Buying one album every month will run about the same as a subscription fee, so it's really about signing up to get everything you could possibly want, including the ability to download all your songs and play them across your entire residence. Back when I was in the demographic of a marketable purchase target, I would buy up to five albums per week without flinching, and I have the room of records and CDs to prove it. This seems like a much better deal if you are an avid music buff that can't get enough of your favorites, and also love to discover new music.
As I do use both Pandora and Spotify, I'm giving Spotify a bit of a rating edge for the ability to download the songs, and for the on-demand feature that gets right to what you want. Plus, the dark interface is a huge benefit to me at night as I can't use bright white apps in the dark, not even with the wonderful Bluelight Filter. I'm also of the audiophile variety who can hear the loss of dynamic range with the lower bitrate, and I'd like to see Spotify at a minimum of 192kbps. However, these are personal preferences and your opinion might vary greatly. In the meantime, crank it up to eleven and let's get this party started!
Device/OS used: Galaxy Nexus, Galaxy Note 3, Nexus 7 2012 & 2013, Nexus 10 / KitKat v4.4.2, KitKat v4.4.4, Lollipop v5.1.1