Is it a Bird? A Plane? It’s Spotify, the New iTunes Challenger

But Can it be the Hero the Music Industry Has Been Waiting For? We Shall See


Published: November 17, 2010

Once upon a time, when CDs reigned supreme, artists were largely compensated for their music and people gave an ear to their tunes, belted out their lyrics, and danced to their beats—legally. But the law was soon trampled over by a powerfully tempting villain called Illegal Downloading.  This menace of the music industry quickly turned many law abiding music lovers into thieves.

And iTunes, once hailed as the savior of the industry, has been rendered ineffective at defeating this crippling enemy. Consider this as proof: though the number of song downloads this year will reach the trillions, only a few billion digital songs will be purchased legally. Many others, like Grooveshark and Rhapsody, have attempted to pull on the spandex suit and play Superman, but have proven to be zeroes instead of heroes. These setbacks left a desperate industry clinging to life, hoping that the next big thing would swoop in and save the day.

To the cheers of European music fans watching from the sidelines came Spotify, a creation of former Facebook employee Sean Parker. Equipped with a free ad-supported service and a paid one with additional features, Spotify coolly hit the dismal scene with a sleek interface, tradable play lists, a Facebook connect option, a user profile page, and the ability to purchase songs through partner 7digital. As an added weapon, paying subscribers who own an iPhone, Android phone or iPod Touch can access millions of songs anytime, anyplace.

A U.S. launch appears imminent, but can this hybrid service be the savior of the American music industry? And what’s not to like with the program’s wide catalogue of free, legal music, anyway? I’m rooting for Spotify, but before it can claim superhero status, it’s going to have to improve in six key areas:

1. Use on (my) iPod

My iPod Nano and I are like an obnoxious couple: wherever I am, my Apple device is with me. But for now, Spotify can’t transfer files to Apple’s iPod, only its iPhone and iPod Touch. It’s not that I don’t love these devices, but trading in my trusty iPod for an expensive new iPhone is like the girl next door dumping her boyfriend for Orlando Bloom: chances are, it’s not going to happen.

2. Podcast integration

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow podcasts are the only ones I listen to. She’s my guilty pleasure: witty and insanely attractive, but oh-so-biased. My personal tastes aside, I can’t give up iTunes without Spotify having podcasts available. And there is a quick fix if Spotify finds it cannot host them now: it can link to podcasts by creating a catalogue of them and serving up streaming links from within its own app. Just one click and your order’s up!

3. Digital radio streaming

As we’re growing old waiting for Spotify on our iPods, the least we can have is music while our siblings have monopolized the computer. Since many digital radios now come with wireless PC streaming, Spotify could be used in people’s kitchens and living rooms instead of only where the computer is stationed (some of us don’t have laptops!). And since I’m used to listening to ads about the future of my modeling career (fun fact: I can barely walk around the block in heels, much less a catwalk), I’ll hear out the ads on these devices. Advertisers, are you listening?

4. Minimized mode

As in life, all or nothing doesn’t work for me with my electronic applications. So why is it still not possible to run Spotify in minimized modes that reduce the interface down to a simple set of playback controls? If Windows Media Player can do it, why can’t Spotify? Full window or nothing isn’t good enough for me.

5. More music

I am a music fiend, constantly impressing friends with my extensive library of tunes. Maybe this point seems obvious, because who doesn’t love lots of music? But it needs to be made. Though Spotify has quite a decent music catalogue, it’s going to have to expand to compete with the behemoth iTunes. As it stands, Spotify’s catalogue competing against iTunes is like the biblical David trying to take down Goliath, but the good news is that David won in the end.

6. The holdouts

I know I might be setting my standards ridiculously high, but bands that still aren’t available on iTunes could be the weapon this player needs to beat the competitors. And artists like Oasis, Metallica, and Pink Floyd are absent in the UK version. Spotify needs to track heavy hitters and convince them to play for their team.

I can see how Spotify can be the hero iTunes wasn’t. After all, can college students really afford to pay .99 cents for every song they want to listen to a few times? But Spotify needs to make improvements to take a stand against the dark age of illegal downloading. We’ll just have to wait and see whether Spotify will become the Clark Kent of the music industry or fizzle out like the other wannabes.