Spotify – It’s Over

Apple Music has won my latest battle for my ears. As is often the case, Apple isn’t first to market (or even second), but when they do get to market, they have the best service, most polished interface, and it “just works“. After only 3 weeks of my 3 month trial, it is time to dump Spotify.

Dear Spotify,

I know this may be hard to take, but it is time to move on from your service. It isn’t you, it’s me. Wait, who am I kidding, it is you and the shortcomings you have. I can’t blame you, as I am sure that some of it is due to your agreements with the rights’ holders. But regardless, it is time to say “goodbye“.

I remember when Spotify came to the US, and I eagerly got in the early access list. The thought of access to a huge library of music, with the ability to sample as much as I wanted whenever I wanted. At the time, the only other option were the Internet Radio stations, and while I liked Pandora, I found that it took endless grooming of their stations to match my tastes.

With your service, I could create as many playlists with just the music I wanted. No limit on how often I could listen to the same songs. It was like having my library wherever I went.

I jumped at the chance to pay for the service, never once questioning the $10 a month. The Spotify app for my iPhone was a great way to take my tunes with me.

There were some second guesses along the way. Google’s Play music service when they launched the “All Access” subscription was briefly a contender. They had good coverage of genre’s in my taste in their library. Plus they had the benefit of having my entire music library uploaded. But alas, their streaming performance, uh, what is the term? Yes, “it sucked donkey balls“. Skips, pauses, and general shitty-ness. Even when they released a Chrome extension to better integrate it, it sucked.

So I returned to Spotify after flirting with the $2 a month cheaper Google All Access service.

I was satisfied, but there were still some issues. Your curated playlists for classic rock, and hard rock were stale. Worse yet, had some odd selections (note: in no universe does the Foo Fighters qualify as “Classic Rock”) Listening for hours each day, you quickly hear your “radio” stations repeat tracks. Yeah, I get that they are just a play list with some randomness tossed in, but I buy my music and listen to my library to not have the top 40 bullshit crammed down my throat.

The final nail in the coffin was the launch of Apple’s new streaming service. I am about 3 weeks into my 3 months free trial, but I already know that it will be the one that I keep. There are lots of reasons, but off the top of my head I have noticed:

  • The curated playlists are great. It is like they can read my mind, when I am trying to put together a mix CD. Doesn’t matter the genre, Heavy Metal, Classic Rock, Guitar Heros, Jazz, Blues, they nail it.
  • The “For You” Suggested listenings. Like when I was a Pandora user, if you painstakingly groom your stations, their algorithms pick some awesome tunes. The “For You” selections are a few suggested playlists rolled out and refreshed daily. Each day, there are some great things to listen to, playlists that are 70 – 90 minutes long. Last Wednesday, it offered up Deep Tracks of Yes. 90 minutes of outstanding music.
  • I have access to my entire library. Minor point, (or maybe it is major) but my entire collection of music is in the Apple cloud, so if I feel like digging up an ancient Yngwie Malmsteen track from his first album, it is there. So even where Spotify had holes (like for the longest time with AC/DC, or still with Paul Gilbert) I can just call it up.
  • User experience. A lot of people bag on iTunes. Hell, on Windows, I will concede that it blows chunks. However, the last two major revisions Apple has done a lot to improve the usability, and reduce the clutter. As a product manager, I know that iterative releases, and the tendency to glom shit into the main application is hard to battle, so clearly iTunes had become a multi-headed hydra. But it is getting a lot better.

While I could afford to keep two streaming services going, I am not going to lie, I haven’t fired up Spotify in over 2 weeks. It has already lost the battle.

From the outside looking in, I am not even sure that I could offer advice as to how to improve the service to beat Apple’s Music. I suspect that you will have a valid market position for the people who loathe Apple and all things it releases. But will that be enough to keep you close enough to profitable? Time will tell, but my bet is that Spotify will try mightily, but fail to grow to be consistently profitable.

Goodbye Spotify

Today I turned off my Spotify premium account. It was not a step taken lightly, as it had thoroughly trounced Google Play All Access when I was comparing them. Spotify was/is a solid player, with a large library, and great radio option.

But the one downside was what they didn’t have in their library. Led Zeppelin? Not there. Paul Gilbert and Racer-X? Nope. The Beatles? Nein. Yep, I could add them locally, and they would be there.

Then Apple launched iTunes 11.1 and their iradio service. One of the featured stations on install was a “Beatles” radio. Worth the price of admission.

With iTunes Match, all my library is available anywhere I have a network connection (some 17K tracks). While the first week had a few glitches in the radio, it has been pretty solid. And the mix that Apple has on the stations is very good. On Spotify, my “Velvet Revolver” station would begin to repeat songs after about 4 hours. With a similar artist station on iTunes radio, I have gone three days without consciously hearing a repeat.

So, I am cutting the Spotify cord, and will save that $10 a month. iRadio is ad free if you are an iTunes Match subscriber, so I am good there.

(and the British Metal station is awesome. Listening to some deep cuts of Judas Priest right now.)

Music: iRadio FTW(?)

In the past I have pitted Spotify against Google All Access, and while the Google offering was slightly cheaper, it had enough warts to drop it into second place. At that time, I mentioned that I looked forward to Apple’s offering, and would revisit when it was officially launched.

iTunes has long supported internet radio stations, but they were all third party, and of quite varied quality and availability. At first, I thought this was the offering of Apple, and I was disappointed (until I found the Live365 feeds at least).

With the launch of iTunes 11.1, and iOS 7, Apple has put out its own radio service. I have been using it pretty extensively since last Thursday (before I even updated my iPhone), and I am quite impressed.

There is no doubt that Apple has an amazing selection of music in their grasp. But could they do a good job defining stations and genres to tailor the music. I should add that I am not a demographic for top 40, or much of the pop/country/hip hop music. I am a guitar player, so my tastes tend to classic rock, blues based rock, some folk, and generous helpings of heavy metal.

One of the first “predefined” station is a “Beatles” station. ITMS has the Beatles, and Spotify doesn’t. I fired it up and enjoyed several hours of mid – late 60’s pop-ish, and deep cuts/covers and related tunes. Awesome.

I dove into creating my own stations. They have genres that make sense. In the “Metal” category, they have british, classic metal, progressive, and the harder stuff. All these sub genre’s are great.

In the blues, I have electric blues (Stevie Ray Vaughn, Buddy Guy, Gary Moore), and Delta Blues (Robert Johnson, and his ilk). Great stuff.

The selection, and the mixes have been awesome. I don’t think I have heard the same song twice in probably 20 hours of listening. (One area where Spotify could improve, is that you seem to get in a cycle and the same song can come up 2 times a day.)

A long time back, I was a Pandora user. I never subscribed to them, because if I wanted to listen to Gary Moore, I didn’t want a radio station based on Gary Moore. So I went to Spotify when it came to the US. But I always liked the Pandora stations. They seemed to have awesome algorithms to select music, and a deep playlist that went on forever. I believe, from what I have heard over the last 5 days, that Apple has come really close to this algorithms.

The best point? Since I am a iTunes Match customer, the radio is ad free. And free is better than $10 a month.

Yes, I see my monthly spend to Spotify going poof.

Music Streaming – conclusion

TL;DR version: Spotify wins

To round out the saga, I needed to make a decision on whether to keep Google  All-Access or Spotify for my online streaming pleasure. If you recall, I signed up for a trial of the Google all access, and was comparing it to Spotify.  While I am an Apple fan, I am not sure their entry this fall into an ad sponsored offering is going to be worth my time. (Perhaps if it was free with my iTunes match subscription …) Primarily, it is because I need to use it on my windows machines as well as my Mac, my iPhone and my Android tablet. iTunes sucks donkey balls on the PC, so unless Apple does something amazing, I am discounting it without trying it.

Early on, Google All Access was plagued by the glitches that I experienced with my tunes in their database. Skips, pauses, and long halts in playing. Spotify pulled into the lead, because their dedicated application was really solid, and whatever magic they do buffering, it has almost no issues (except when my crappy work network connection flakes out).  But about 2 weeks ago, Google got their streaming act together, and it became solid. Almost as reliable as Spotify.

However, I am going to stick to my Spotify premium account, and turn off the all access.  While it is $2 cheaper, and it is better integrated with my Android tablet, the Spotify apps make the difference. A quality user experience across platforms, coupled with great streaming, and a good catalog. Spotify FTW.

Aside: One thing that I never did much of was use the radio option of spotify. I compared the radio option of Google All Access versus spotify, and I like the selections of the Spotify radio stations a wee bit better than on All Access.  Both services have holes in their catalog (due to licensing issues, I would believe), but points in All Access’s favor is that since I have all the Led Zeppelin and Paul Gilbert tracks (legally) they get in to the mix. But that isn’t enough to save its bacon.

Winner: Spotify

Google All Access versus Spotify Premium

Recap:  After Google announced their “All Access” plan for their Play service, I jumped on the free week.  The intent was to compare it to Spotify which I had been a premium customer for about a year and a half (I went premium there to get rid of the ads and the “sponsored tunes” which really sucked – being top 40 crap).

Early on, the reason why I went to spotify was that even with all 18,000+ tracks of my music collection being in my library, it was shitty for streaming. Lots of skips, halts, and “burps”. Spotify, whatever they do, was far more robust in streaming, and unless I was having major network issues, it never got glitchy.

At the start of my evaluation of the Play All Access service, the issues with shitty streaming were still there. In fact, they were worse than I recall. In the last week though, I have given the All Access another chance (my free month is expiring soon, so I have to decide if I want to pay $7.95 a month for it). I am impressed. Three days this week, not one glitch or streaming issue. You still have to use the damn browser (no dedicated application), but at least it has been solid.

2 weeks ago, I would have put my money on Spotify, but now for reliability, the Google All Access plan seems pretty good.

Still to compare is the quality of music matching in the radio.  So far, I think Spotify is ahead there, barely (for the record, Pandora smokes them both, but I have doubts about their long term viability). But Google has my entire music collection, and I listen to much that isn’t licensed to Spotify (Paul Gilbert and Led Zeppelin come to mind)

Either way I go, I am now confident that my tunes on my work laptop will be fine being streamed.