Table Of Contents
Music has had a rather rocky journey since the Internet became mainstream. Pre-Internet days, the only way to get a copy of a song was to buy a CD or cassette, or to record from the radio (remember mixtapes?). As soon as people got onto the Internet, they realized that they could share music with other people, without having to pay for it. File sharing networks popped up everywhere, and anytime you wanted a song or an album, all you had to do was type in the name and download it. It was like a kid let loose inside a candy store.
This obviously meant that the artists were losing money hand over fist, and the music studios were also seeing their profit margins plummet. They responded with aggressive lawsuits against file sharers, and those file sharers were hit with stunning punitive damages stretching into millions, or even tens of millions of dollars. But the music studios faced a PR backlash for their heavy-handed bully boy tactics, and ironically this made people want to share files even more. In the end, the RIAA (the organization that looks after the interests of music artists in the US), had to abandon the whole lawsuit strategy, and ask the Internet Service Providers to take over.
Then streaming music came along, which became the saviour and perhaps the solution to everyone’s problems (well, almost everyone). We saw Pandora, then Grooveshark, Rdio….
Then there was Spotify.
Spotify, along with its competitors, is a paid service called “streaming music”. You start it up, tell it what song / artist you want to listen to, and you start listening. Every time someone listens to a song, the artist in question gets paid by Spotify. Spotify takes their cut, so they make something too. A win-win, everybody’s happy, right?
Well, not quite. For a start, it doesn’t stop people from illegally pirating music. If someone is determined not to pay for music, then a paid streaming music service such as Spotify isn’t going to stop them. So Spotify isn’t going to nuke the world’s problem of illegal music sharing overnight.
Second, some artists are outraged at what they see as paltry amounts which are being paid to them by Spotify. The most recent example is Bette Midler who said that Spotify and Pandora made it impossible to earn a living.
For just over 4.1 million plays, she got (according to her) $114.11. Billboard has calculated that for every play, she got the grand sum of .00002733076 cents per track.
Now you might say that Bette Midler has enough money, but it’s the principle of the thing. She is providing a service – to entertain you. If you want to be entertained, you pay her a decent amount. If not, break out the microphone and start singing yourself.
Which Is Better? Streaming Music On Spotify, Or Buying MP3s?
This is a question that no doubt many people ask themselves, and Bakari devoted a whole article to comparing streaming music to MP3s. When you are paying a minimum of $5 / €5 a month for Spotify, and the actual MP3 file to keep is only perhaps just over a dollar, you have to weigh up the pros and cons of what is best for you. So let’s look at the pros and cons:
Pros of Spotify
The biggest pro for using Spotify is obviously its huge catalogue. Unless you are totally into the mating sounds of reindeer as your music, Spotify likely has what you are looking for. You can listen to whatever you want, whenever you want. You never have to buy an album ever again. Just pay your monthly Spotify subscription and listen to the album there.
Not sure if an album you want to buy is any good? Then listen to it on Spotify first. Make up your mind and if the album is terrible, you haven’t wasted any money buying it. Look upon Spotify as the service which prevents you from buyer’s regret.
You can also start listening to the radio station connected with an artist. This is where you can hear music that Spotify thinks is similar to the artist you initially chose, and thinks you will like. You can help it refine its suggestions by thumbing up or down each track, so it learns. Using the radio station, you can discover new artists that you may not have previously heard of.
Last of all, Spotify has a web player, which means you can access your playlists anywhere you have an Internet connection.
Pros of MP3 files
The most obvious one is that you own the music. The MP3 file is stored on your computer, your smartphone, your tablet, or in the cloud (such as Amazon Cloud Player or Google Music). That music is yours forever, and no-one can take it away from you. You are not restricted to one platform to play your music, either.
Cons of Spotify
Just as the actual MP3 file is yours to keep forever, music you listen to on Spotify is never yours to keep. Spotify can remove music from their catalogue whenever they like.
There are some artists who stubbornly refuse to allow their work on Spotify, or on any other music streaming service. These artists include Garth Brooks and AC/DC.
The biggest hold-outs of course are the Beatles. You can see The Beatles on Spotify, but none of their major albums and songs are currently available. At time of writing, it’s mostly interviews, early demo tapes, and tribute bands.
The Spotify Sub-Reddit has a thread where members post bands that are not on Spotify. Obviously MakeUseOf cannot verify the absolute accuracy of these claims.
Cons of MP3 files
The main con under this point is the storage space required to store the MP3s, either in cloud storage, or on your actual computer. While computer / cloud storage space is rising, and the cost falling, a reasonable amount of storage required to store hundreds of music files is not so cheap. In the cloud storage column, 1TB on Google Drive is $9.99 a month, and 500GB on Dropbox is $50 a month.
Spotify has a free service and a paid service. The free service is supported with frequent advertising between songs (so a bit like a normal radio). If you hate advertising (and apart from an advertising executive, who doesn’t?), you can pay to have the advertising-free version.
The paid version comes in two tiers – $4.99 / €4.99 a month for unlimited ad-free usage, and $9.99 / €9.99 a month for unlimited ad-free usage, plus a few other perks such as unrestricted usage on tablets and mobiles, high quality streaming, offline listening, and crossfading tracks. You are billed monthly and you can start / stop at any time.
Spotify now offers a discount for US students. You can get the $9.99 service for $4.99. You can only get it for a year each time, and you can renew it three more times before losing the discount. So, it should cover you through your degree course. Unless of course you are studying to be a doctor or doing your PhD which takes much longer.
A Quick Comparison With Other Paid Streaming Music Services
Of course it goes without saying that Spotify is not the only streaming music service on the block. There are many other ones, including Grooveshark, Rdio, Pandora, and Last.fm. Those are the big names, but there are also countless smaller sites which are offering streaming music from YouTube, for example.
MakeUseOf has written several articles on which service is the best. Tim did a comparison between Spotify and Rdio. Joel looked at which was the best streaming music service on a mobile. And Angela delved into more than 14 possible music streaming sites, some of which you may not have heard of before. And a reader poll proclaimed Grooveshark the winner.
Downloading The Spotify Desktop App
For the best Spotify experience, it is recommended that you download the free desktop app. Although Spotify also offers a web player (which will be discussed later in this manual), the desktop software makes a much better experience. The controls are nicer and smoother, and it is easier to access the various features.
The web player has its fans too, so it’s all down to a matter of taste. But in this manual, I will be referring mostly to the desktop software. To download the desktop app, just go to the main Spotify page, and sign up. You will then get a download link.
Searching For Music On Spotify
Just like file sharing networks, being let loose on Spotify’s vast catalogue is like being let loose inside a candy store. The only difference here being that you can’t steal the music – you have to pay for it.
The search engine to find the music you are looking for is in the top left hand corner. So just type in there what you are looking for, and see if anything comes up.
The entire search results were too high to show here, but it was broken down into Top Result, single tracks, Artists (if there is more than one person with that same name), Albums, and Playlists.
So let’s click on the Top Result and see what it shows.
The most popular tracks for that artist come first. To the left are “related artists”, which is an excellent way to discover new and similar artists to the one you just searched for. Finally it gives you a biography of the artist.
Underneath all of that are all the albums that Spotify has been able to procure all the rights to play. The newest one first. To play a song, just mouse over it and when the play button pops up, click it.
Now instead of searching for the artist, let’s look for a particular song. When you enter the song name into the search engine, it will bring up all of the artists that have sung that song (for example, cover versions), playlists containing that song, and underneath that, a complete clickable list of the song, and the various artists that have sung it.
Playlists – What Are They, & How Do You Make One?
In a nutshell, playlists are probably the best thing about Spotify. You can create your own, and look for other people’s. Later on in the manual, we will see various online places where you can discover playlists, but for now, let’s see what they are, how to create one, and the benefits of creating them.
A playlist is a list of songs on Spotify which will be automatically played in sequence until the end. You can create playlists based on factors such as genre, or artist….for example, maybe you could have a playlist called “the best jazz songs” or “everything U2 has ever done”.
There are many benefits to making playlists. For one, it keeps all of your music organized and easily reachable if you want to play it again. Second, you can share your playlists with friends or on websites. Third, having organized lists means that you don’t have to constantly drop everything and choose your next song when the current one ends. You can just start a playlist and leave it to run.
Last of all, it is an easy way to share and collaborate on music with friends. Just make a playlist and when you make the list a “collaborative playlist”, other people with the link will be able to add their own music to it.
For example, MakeUseOf has a collaborative playlist. We’re not going to share the link though, as then anyone could edit it.
Creating your playlist is extremely easy. In the left-hand sidebar of the Spotify desktop app, click on “new playlist”, type in the name of the new list, and it is made.
Then when you want to put a song in the playlist, right-click on the song title with your mouse and click on the playlist you want to put it in.
Playlists – Top lists & New Releases
Spotify likes to tell you about songs it thinks you should be listening to.
In the left-hand sidebar is a link called “browse” (at the very top). If you click on that, you will see two options along the top – “Top Lists” and “New Releases”.
“Top Lists” is a selection of playlists with the most followers. Just click on one that interests you and if you want to subscribe to it, click the “follow” button at the top. The playlist will then be placed in your left sidebar under “my music”.
Subscribing also means that when the list is updated with new music, you will be notified.
If you want to unsubscribe from a playlist, right-click on it in your left sidebar and select “unfollow” from the mouse menu.
This tab tells you of all the new albums which have recently come out. As before, you can subscribe & unsubscribe from these albums. If you see any that are interesting, subscribing is useful as it places the album as a playlist in your left sidebar.
Look upon the left sidebar as a stack of new CDs that you still need to listen to. Or ones that you have enjoyed that you would like to keep.
Genres & Moods
This is a great section, although by no means unique, where you can get pre-made playlists from Spotify based on your mood, or your desired genre. Maybe you fancy listening to a bit of rock music? Or perhaps you are feeling melancholy, in which case you can delve into the mood section and get some melancholy songs.
Whatever your mood or whatever your taste in music, Spotify has already constructed a ready-to-play playlist for you.
Social Connections & Privacy
When you are signing into Spotify, you are given the option of signing in with your Facebook account. When you do, two things will happen. You will start to see music activity from your Facebook friends who also have Spotify, and your music will also be publicly viewable to your Facebook friends.
Now obviously you may not want all of your music to be public knowledge. We all have our guilty pleasures that we would never admit to. ABBA? Backstreet Boys? If you temporarily want to block your Spotify activity from being viewed, you can click on your account link in the top right corner and choose “private session”. Then uncheck it when you want to go back to public again.
If you use both Spotify and Last.fm, you can have your Spotify music listening activity sent directly to your Last.fm account. Setting this up is extremely easy. Simply go to the preferences (located in the “edit” option, top left of the desktop app) and at the top will be the Last.fm scrobbling section. Just enter your Last.fm username and password, and that is it. Your music activity should soon start showing up on Last.fm.
Following Friends The Simple Way
In the left-hand menu of the desktop app is an option called “follow”. It’s here that you will see if there are any Facebook friends which you haven’t yet added. There is also an option to “find friends”
Following Friends: The Slightly More Involved Method
If you have a friend who is using Spotify, and who is not using Facebook, it is very easy to add them as a friend on Spotify. Ask them to go to their profile (top right of the desktop app) and choose “profile”. This will open their profile in the desktop app.
Then they should right-click with their mouse on their profile picture (or on the three little dots in the circle below their name) and they will see two options. One of them is “copy HTTP link”.
When they choose that, they will get a website link which, if they put it into the browser, will bring up their Spotify profile. This is mine – http://open.spotify.com/user/1119210184. A link like this will open their profile in the desktop app, where there will be a button you can click to follow them. This same menu is also how a user can create an embeddable follow button for their website.
Following Musicians & Bands On Spotify
One of the neat things about Spotify is that you can follow bands and musicians. You can then be told about their new albums when they come out and when they are appearing near you for a concert.
You can be notified about new album releases by clicking the “follow” button on an artist’s page. To get to an artist’s page, just enter their name in the desktop app search engine on the top left.
Now whenever an album comes out for that artist, you will receive a notification from the bell icon in the top right hand corner of the app.
To stop receiving these notifications, go back to the artist’s page and unfollow them.
When you are ready to start playing music, the player is extremely simple to use. There are no difficult functions to wrap your head around, nor is there a manual to study.
As you can see in the screenshot above, the left part of the player is pretty much like any other player: play, pause, volume, go back to the previous track, and skip to the next track.
At the other end are two other very familiar functions on a music player. The one to the left is the shuffle button and the one to the right is the repeat button. Which is good if you can’t get enough of Justin Bieber and you want to play a particular song over and over, driving your partner / parents / siblings / pets / prison cellmate completely homicidally insane.
The Web Player & How It Differs From The Desktop Version
Ever since the web player was introduced, it has had its fair share of fans and detractors. On the one hand, it is useful for when you are out and about, or not able to access the desktop app for some reason (perhaps on a Chromebook). On the other hand, it does not have all of the features of the desktop app (the apps are missing), and people initially complained that all playlist links were automatically opening the web player, instead of the desktop app.
However, you can now specify where you want links to open – the web player or the desktop app. Just open the desktop app preferences, and at the very bottom is an option called “Allow Spotify to be started from the Web”. Check that if you want the web player, uncheck it if not. Easy.
It’s all down to personal taste. Do you prefer your music in the Cloud accessible from everywhere? Or do you prefer to listen to it on the desktop in the privacy of your home? Either way, both options are there for you to choose from.
The Queue – How To Add Music To It
If you are busy working, or daydreaming, or surfing David Hasselhoff sites, the last thing you want to do is constantly drop what you are doing to begin the next song. If you are not playing a pre-made playlist, then another way to keep the music flowing is to maintain a queue of songs. Then they will play one after the other until the end of the queue.
It’s very simple to add music to the queue. When you see a song on Spotify that you want to play, right-click it and you will see an option in the pop-up menu that says “queue”. That will put the song in the queue. Didn’t I tell you this was all totally simple?
I can now predict your next question – “Marky Mark, how do you delete songs from the queue if I don’t want them anymore?”. Very simple my young apprentice. In the left-hand sidebar, there is an option called “play queue”. Click on that and your queue list will come up.
From there, you can delete songs you don’t want.
The Radio Stations
Another way to find previously unknown artists, or to have a continuous stream of music, is to start a radio station from an artist’s page. The radio station automatically chooses artists and songs based on the artist you have been listening to. So for example, if you have been listening to U2, it will choose similar rock artists that it thinks you will enjoy.
As each track plays, you should press either the thumbs up icon or the thumbs down icon, to indicate whether or not you are enjoying that track. The more you teach it what you want and don’t want, the better it gets at delivering to you the music you want to hear.
When you press the thumbs up on a song, a playlist is created, called “Liked From Radio”. This enables you to have a complete record of the songs you enjoyed, so you can listen to them again.
What Are The Best Spotify Apps?
One of the great things about Spotify is that they have “apps” to improve your listening experience. In the left hand sidebar is an option called “App Finder”, and it is here that you can find some great things to add on to your desktop Spotify app. Here are some examples.
Billboard Top Charts
This installs a constantly updating list of the US Billboard hits, such as the “Hot 100”, the Billboard 200, Rock Songs, Country Songs, and more.
This one gives you access to classical music of all genres and descriptions. From Beethoven to Vivaldi, you can subscribe to playlists, or listen to specific genres.
Rolling Stone Recommends
This app is from what is probably the most authoritative music magazine out there. See their recommendations in the form of playlists that you can subscribe to.
The best part of music is singing along to it, but what if you don’t know the lyrics? Well, there is no need to hum, or make words up anymore. Tunewiki gives you the lyrics to most songs, and the words are synchronized to the music.
I say “most songs” because some songs don’t allow their lyrics to be posted apparently due to licensing restrictions. Sigh.
Third-Party Services To Improve Your Spotify Experience
Please be aware though that many of these services require you to have a Spotify Premium account.
How To Find Great Playlists To Get Started On Spotify
There are lots of places online where you can find Spotify playlists. The best one (and the most obvious) is on Reddit, where there is a busy subreddit on all things Spotify.
One that has been recommended to me is Playlists.net. They have playlists in lots of different categories, and you can sign up for the website newsletter. If you connect to Facebook or Last.fm it will note your favourite artists and make playlist recommendations for you. You can also browse playlists by artists that appear in the lists.
Dave profiled 10 Valentines playlists for when you are with a special someone. See if there is something there to light your fire.
What’s even more awesome though is that Spotify doesn’t only have music. They also have non-music playlists. Would you like to learn a language? Or listen to some comedy? Maybe vintage radio? Nancy has compiled a list of awesome things to listen to on Spotify in a MakeUseOf article.
And if that isn’t enough, Tim has put together a list of 25 video game soundtracks that are on Spotify. Is there anything is that not there? Wait while I check if those mating reindeer tracks are there….
Just a simple Google search for “Spotify playlists” brings up countless hits. Gizmodo gives you 25 lists, Topsify gives you Top 40 Charts, and even Soundhound will allow you to make playlists based on what you have heard on the Soundhound site.
Songs That Are Rarely Played On Spotify
I thought I would share with you a curious site which collects data on the songs which are the least played on Spotify. Forgotify encourages us to play that music, so its listening figures get a boost (and the struggling starving artist gets to eat).
It could be argued that there is a reason why these songs are not played (perhaps they are utterly terrible). But you could also look upon it this way – maybe there is a hidden gem in there struggling to get out and be noticed?
So give the songs a play or two. You might find something you like.
The iPhone, Android, & Tablet Versions Of Spotify
Up until recently, there was one severe restriction on the phone and tablet versions of Spotify – you had to be paying $10 a month for the privilege of accessing it on those devices. OK granted, you got some other nice features for those $10 but still….it was a bit galling to have to pay that much just to listen to the music on your phone.
But recently, the heavens opened up. Spotify decided that, in order to fend off their rivals, they were going to drop the time restrictions. Now you can use Spotify on your iOS and Android phones and tablets.
However, there are still some restrictions with regards to mobile phones. You can access your playlists no problem, but it operates on a “shuffle play”. So when you go to a playlist, you can’t choose which song to play. You have to press “shuffle play” and the app decides which song to go for.
Since I don’t have an Android device, I asked my MakeUseOf colleague Ben Stegner for his feedback. He has a Spotify Premium subscription on his Android device, so he is the ideal person to ask.
“I use the offline playlist feature on mobile a lot, which used to have quirks that made it slightly irritating. Before, if I wanted to, say, save an entire artist to listen to offline, my only real option was to add all of their albums into a playlist, or use the ‘Save as playlist’ option on an album to save a single album.”
“‘My Music’ now fixes that, as you can add a single song, album, or easily all of an artist into ‘Your Music’ and play just them. I can cherry-pick which songs and albums I like from an artist, throw them into My Music, and download that artist offline and listen to them at will.”
Also, here is what Spotify looks like on an Android tablet.
Adding Your Own MP3 Files To Spotify – Syncing Those Files To Your iPod Or iOS Device
Another cool feature of Spotify is the ability to import your own music files into the desktop app, and use the Spotify player to play those files.
In the preferences, there are some default folders that you can tell Spotify to search, or you can add your own folders if you have music scattered all over the computer.
There are however some music formats that Spotify currently does not recognize. These are FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) and OGG. Apart from that, you can get your MP3s and M4As loaded into Spotify without any problem. It will even import the album art.
When they start to load, you will see them in the “Local Files” tab in the left-hand sidebar. If you have a lot of music, it will take some time for it all to appear, so be patient.
This is one of the features of the $10 premium service, and everyone I have spoken to says it is one of Spotify’s best features. It enables you to mark certain playlists as being able to be played when there is no Internet connection. It makes sense that you would use this on a mobile device or tablet since you are likely to use the offline function when you are out and about.
When you have flipped the switch to say you want the album offline, the songs will start being saved to your device. That way, you will be able to listen to them when you have no connection.
You can store up to 3,333 songs in offline mode.
In a bit of a strange quirk, once offline mode is switched on, you have to remember to log back into Spotify every 30 days to validate your Premium account.
Are you the next Bruce Springsteen? Has anyone ever told you that you sing like Pink? If so, you may want to get your music on Spotify to get more exposure (and cash).
The smoothest path seems to be if you are with a record label or aggregator. If you are your own music label, then it is possible too. Check out these pages: For Labels, Artist Guide, CD Baby Artist Guide (this one is offering to help you get on to Spotify), and the Tunecore Artist Guide.
Advanced Spotify Tricks
Because I can’t resist giving you more useful stuff, here is an article by Tim on useful tips when using Spotify. Did you know there are keyboard shortcuts and advanced search parameters? I didn’t! I guess I have some more Spotify learning to do.
Streaming music is still pretty much in its infancy, so it has the potential to only get better. Is it perfect? Hardly, not by a long shot. But it is better than nothing – it provides artists with money to live on while their fans get to enjoy the music. This is a much better solution than the music being pirated and the artist receiving nothing.
Out of all the streaming music solutions, Spotify is by far and away the best of them all. Try it out, kick the tires, and see what I mean. And who knows? You might like it enough to pony up for a premium subscription and thereby put a big smile on Bette Midler’s face.
Cover art by Azamat Bohed
Guide Published: May 2014