Music streaming service Spotify wins early fans

New music streaming service works with record labels to offer music lovers instant access to its vast catalog. But is it an alternative to piracy? I'm not so sure.

Jennifer Guevin Former Managing Editor / Reviews
Jennifer Guevin was a managing editor at CNET, overseeing the ever-helpful How To section, special packages and front-page programming. As a writer, she gravitated toward science, quirky geek culture stories, robots and food. In real life, she mostly just gravitates toward food.
Jennifer Guevin
3 min read
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Move over, Pandora. There's a new music service in town--well, in some towns anyway.

TorrentFreak has an in-depth write-up of a new music streaming service called Spotify, which shows an awful lot of promise--so much so that the music piracy-focused blog sees it as a viable alternative to downloading pirated songs for free.

Spotify is a lean, downloadable application that lets users stream music instantly from its library--a library built with the blessing of EMI Music, Sony BMG, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, and some smaller record labels. That, of course, begs the question: how does it make money? Spotify offers two ways to use its service, a free service sponsored by ads, and a paid subscription service.

Once downloaded, the service allows users to search its music catalog by artist, genre, or title, and stream the tracks on-demand any number of times.

One of the cooler features is the ability to create and share playlists (a la the now-defunct Muxtape). And the service recently added the ability to scrobble the songs you listen to through Spotify on Last.fm.

That's the good news. Now for the bad news: It isn't officially available in the U.S. yet (though a Digg commenter did provide a way for people to try it out Stateside, at least temporarily). Right now it can be accessed in the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. And the company plans to roll out its service to new markets in 2009, according to its Web site.

Judging from comments on TorrentFreak, Digg, and TechCrunch, the service seems to have impressed people who have tried it with its speed, usability, and depth of songs (though it's taken dings for sound quality, frequency of commercials, and lack of portability). I haven't had a chance to try it out yet, but as a music fan who got pretty fed up with the repetition of songs on Pandora's artist radio stations over the holiday break, I think this looks very promising.

As for TorrentFreak's claims that Spotify is so good that it might stop piracy in its tracks, I'm skeptical. This is a streaming service, so the songs are only available to you when you're online and connected to it. It doesn't work with portable music devices, so you can't take the songs with you on the subway or to the gym (or, for me, drop it into the iPod dock hooked up to my stereo). And since the songs aren't downloaded to your hard drive, they're not in your grand collection along with the rest of your music. Spotify might have a decent-size library, but it doesn't have all the songs I've ripped from vinyl, or the latest album from a favorite local band that happens not to have signed with a label yet. Going back and forth between a local library and a centralized library like Spotify would be annoying.

Having everything in one place and being able to take it with you wherever you go is the goal for any music fan. And until Spotify offers that ability, I don't see it magically wiping out music piracy altogether. But it does appear that this group is on the right track, from the perspective of music fans, bands, and music labels.

Has anyone spent a good deal of time with the service yet? If so, what say you? Is Spotify the wave of the future, or another Web 2.0 dud in an already cluttered arena?

Disclosure: Last.fm is a part of CBS Interactive, which also publishes CNET News.