Column: Finding music again with Spotify

Everybody loves free shit. That’s a fact. People steal, whether it’s from a convenience store or BitTorrent, and have been stealing for a long time. Most college kids don’t have the money to constantly buy albums for $10 or more from iTunes, so a lot of them turn to illegal file sharing, which has seriously real consequences. But a friend of mine recently turned me on to this legal music-streaming application Spotify, which alleviates the need to steal just a little bit.

My first impression of Spotify is that it’s really user-friendly. If you have used any type of music player, Spotify is familiar. The program automatically integrates your iTunes library in to its millions of songs available for you to play at the click of a mouse, a good competitive move to shut out iTunes as your main music player and to up the hit count on advertisements (and, therefore, increase revenue for Spotify).

You navigate the application with a sidebar that looks just like iTunes. There’s a tab for “What’s New,” which displays top/new albums. Right now I’m looking at it and "The Carter IV" is up there at No. 2. You can filter the lists for top songs and albums by location, which I think is cool. You can see what the most played songs are in a few different regions, or all of the regions together. Aside from the “What’s New” tab, there are Inbox, Queue, Library, Starred (Favorited) and Playlist tabs in the Spotify side bar.

The way the play queue works on Spotify is really cool. Let’s say you search for Chris Brown, and you go through and queue a bunch of tracks that you want to hear. The queued tracks will play, and then once they run out, Spotify will automatically load the next tracks on whatever album your last queued track was from. It might sound like a little thing, but this feature keeps the music playing and also does a good job of exposing music that maybe you wouldn’t have listened to otherwise. Both are good for parties.

At the top of the queue page, there are queue and history options, so you can either see all of the songs that have played or all of the songs you’re going to play. Why is that a plus? Say Spotify automatically loads a song that you like: you have that song saved in your history and you can go to the artist or album and explore.

Spotify is focused on social connection. You can link your Spotify account with your Facebook and share the playlists that you make on Spotify with your friends. My friends and I talk music all the time, so I look at this as an updated version of posting a YouTube link on somebody’s wall. Instead of saying, "Oh you like Drake? Check out this link. And then this link too. And then if you like that, go to this one, and then so on," you can make an entire playlist based around a certain artist and then share it with one, some or all of your friends. Just make sure you don’t accidentally share that secret Bieber stash.

That brings me to the feature that really got me in to Spotify, which is sharing. What’s cool about Spotify is that I can send links to songs that are in my iTunes library to anybody. So, if I wrote a song and wanted to share it, instead of having to upload the file to SoundCloud or some other file sharing site, many of which are brimming with ads and surveys, I could just post a link to my track to a friends Facebook or Twitter. You can share privately through your Spotify account, too, which you sign up for right after you download the app.

I keep thinking about this iTunes exclusive interview with John Mayer that came out right after his most recent album, "Battle Studies," dropped. He was talking about how he really got off the ground at the start of his career, and he made this interesting observation that right as he was getting started, Napster was around.

“Everybody saw (Napster) as a dirty, dirty word,” Mayer said. “I saw it as a way to create this throughway to people’s passions or what people wanted to hear, and for a moment people got really excited about finding music. Some of the most important musical finds that I’ve had in my career were based off of downloading music illegally."

Take Napster and add contracts with major record labels, and you basically get Spotify. So, if you stay up at night hoping that the feds won’t kick your door in for that new Jay-Z you ripped, you might want to see if Spotify can help you rest easy. Or, if you’re a musician looking to share and find new music, you might want to do it through Spotify, because it’s coming in hot and I think it’s going to stick around.

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