Spotify Music Streaming: The Unofficial Guide
If you have any experience with streaming music , you’ve surely heard of Spotify. First launched in 2008 (and arriving in the United States in 2011), Spotify has changed the way that many people consume music.
Whether you’re trying to decide on a music streaming service or are curious about what Spotify offers, you’ve come to the right place. In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about Spotify, including its subscription plans, how to find and listen to music, and some insider tips. Let’s dive in!
1. Spotify Basics
First, let’s get some basic information about the service out of the way.
What Is Spotify?
Spotify is a music streaming service that allows you to listen to millions of tracks on nearly any device. As opposed to purchasing MP3 files from iTunes or similar services, Spotify lets you stream music over the internet. You don’t own the tracks, yet Spotify is completely legal because it pays rightsholders.
Unlike Pandora , Spotify lets you listen to any music you want. That means you don’t have to create a radio station for an artist you like to hear their music. As long as they’re on Spotify, you can simply look up their page and queue up any album or song you want.
How Much Does Spotify Cost?
Spotify is available in two tiers: Free and Premium. Free is obviously available at no charge, while Premium costs $10/month. Note that you should avoid subscribing to Premium through the iOS app, as Apple takes a cut of all in-app purchases and thus it will cost you $13/month for no good reason.
If you stick with the free plan , there aren’t any limitations on how much you can listen to. But you’ll have to put up with ads, both in the Spotify application and after every few songs. On a desktop/laptop or tablet, Spotify Free lets you choose any music you like. But on a phone, you’re limited to playing music in shuffle mode and can only skip a certain amount of tracks per hour.
Those who upgrade to Spotify Premium enjoy an ad-free experience and no mobile restrictions. Premium members can also download music to listen offline. Finally, Premium gives access to high-quality audio for super-crisp music.
If you’re a student, you can use Spotify’s Student Discount to get Premium, as well as Hulu’s Limited Commercials plan, for just $5/month. Spotify also has a Family Plan that allows up to six people living at the same address to subscribe to Premium for just $15/month total. The more people you add to this plan, the cheaper it is for each person .
We think Spotify Premium is absolutely worth the cost if you listen to music regularly. If you’re not sure , give the 30-day free trial of Premium a try. Spotify occasionally offers new members three months of Premium for $1 as well, so keep an eye out for those offers.
What Platforms Does Spotify Work On?
No matter what devices you use, you should have no problem installing Spotify. Check out Spotify’s download page for links, or use this list for convenience:
- Windows Phone (which is basically dead )
- Linux (Spotify states that this version is unsupported and unfortunately isn’t great .)
You can also use the Spotify Web Player to access Spotify on other devices such as Chromebooks. This is also a good option if you can’t install software on your current computer or the Linux version doesn’t work on your distribution. However, the Web Player is pretty terrible , so don’t expect much.
What Alternatives to Spotify Are There?
Spotify is a huge music streaming service, but it’s far from the only one. Competitors include Google Play Music, Apple Music, and Amazon Music Unlimited. Most of them cost the same as Spotify and offer a similar feature set, so it’s up to which one you like best. We’ve compared Spotify to other services in the past (more than once ), if you need more information to make a decision.
If you’re returning to Spotify after a long absence, you might be shocked to discover that many older features have disappeared. These include apps and built-in lyrics. Follow our guide to restoring lost Spotify features to get these back.
2. Spotify on Desktop
Now that you know a bit about Spotify’s background, we can move onto using Spotify’s desktop apps.
Note: From this point on, “desktop” refers to using Spotify on a desktop or laptop computer. We’ll use the Windows version of Spotify here, but the Mac version is virtually identical.
Grab Spotify for your platform from the links above and open its installer. Once it’s ready, you’ll need to sign in or create a Spotify account. If you don’t have an account, you can make one with your email address or use your Facebook account to sign up. Clicking the Sign Up button will launch Spotify’s account creation page.
Once you’re signed in, you can start listening to all the music you want.
Navigating the Spotify Interface
Here’s the screen you’ll see when you start up Spotify:
There’s a lot to digest here. We’ll discuss music discovery options in more detail in a moment. But to familiarize yourself with where everything is at, have a look at the numbered bubbles on the screenshot above:
- Music Sidebar. This holds the Browse and Radio menus, as well as Your Library and all your Playlists.
- Search. The easiest way to find music quickly, this lets you search for artists, songs, and more. Note the Back/Forward buttons next to this which let you return to a prior page.
- Main Window. Here you’ll see whatever element you’re working with in Spotify. In this screenshot it’s the Browse menu, but it could also be an album, search results, or your Settings page.
- Now Playing. In this corner you’ll see the track and artist of the current song, along with its album art. Click the arrow in the upper-right corner to collapse or expand the album art. You can also click the Plus icon to add the track to your library.
- Play Controls. The bottom-center holds the Play/Pause button, progress bar, and skip forward and back buttons. You can also enable Shuffle (left) and Repeat (right) here.
- Extra Controls. A few extra utilities that don’t fit into a group. The left button holds the Play Queue where you can see what’s up next. Next to this is the Spotify Connect icon, which lets you play your music on another device (requires Premium). You can control the volume with the slider. Finally, the Full Screen icon will expand the app and simplify Spotify’s interface — perfect when you don’t need to change the track for a while.
- Account Info. Click your name to see your user page. The drop-down arrow lets you toggle a Private Session, visit your Account page on the web, open Settings, or Log Out of Spotify.
- Friend activity. This shows what your friends are listening to . If you’ve logged into Spotify using Facebook, you’ll see your Facebook friends here. Otherwise, you can follow people to get updates on what they’re listening to.
If you’re not sure what you want to listen to , come here first. The Browse tab is your home for exploring Spotify. You’ll find highlighted playlists, top charts, new releases, and a Discover tab that recommends new music you’ll love. Scroll down further and you can explore by genre.
No matter what kind of music you like, you’ll be sure to find something new here. Be sure to check out the Podcasts and Videos sections, as Spotify serves up more than just music .
Don’t feel like picking a specific album or artist to listen to? Try the Radio function. Much like Pandora, here you can select an artist, album, song, or genre and create a radio station based off it. Just click Create New Station and enter your starting point.
Spotify will keep the music coming, so this is a great option when you want to start something playing and forget about it. Use the Thumbs Up/Down buttons to adjust the station to your preferences.
Spotify lets you save your favorite music so you can keep it all in one place. You’ll see the Plus icon all over when using Spotify — when hovering your mouse over an album, next to tracks in a playlist, and always in the Now Playing corner. Click this, and the song/album goes to your library. You can always click a saved check mark again to remove it from your music.
You can use browse by Artists, Albums, or Songs using the left sidebar. Any
Videos or Podcasts you save also stick around here. Check out Your Daily Mix for zero-effort playlists you’ll love .
Spend some time adding music to your collection, and it becomes the most personal space on Spotify. Save only certain songs by an artist, and you can skip their songs you don’t like. Or, just jump into your Songs to get a guaranteed song you love. Browsing through album art is also a treat.
The world’s music is at your fingertips with the Search bar. Type a query, and you’ll see artists, songs, and more that match your query. The most prominent matches show at the top, but you can scroll down for more. Check out advanced search operators if you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for.
When you need to create the perfect mixtape for a certain event or mood, nothing beats a playlist. Click New Playlist above the Now Playing album art to make a new one. Give your playlist a name, a description if you want, and add some sweet cover art to make it pop.
Once you have a playlist ready, you can add songs to it anytime. You can click and drag songs right into your playlist on the left sidebar. Or, right-click on a song or album and choose Add to Playlist > [Playlist Name] to send it over.
3. Spotify on Mobile
Prefer to bring your music on the go? With the Spotify app for Android or iOS, you’re just a moment away from all the mobile music you could want.
Note: We used Spotify for Android for this section, but iOS is nearly identical. Android tablets and iPads also support Spotify. Tablets may look slightly different, and do not have the shuffle-only restriction for Free users.
Install Spotify and Sign Up
Grab Spotify from the Google Play Store or App Store and open it. You’ll see a sign-in page like on desktop. Sign into your existing account if you’ve already made one, or sign up for a new account. Once that’s done, you’re ready to get listening.
Navigating Spotify Mobile
Using Spotify on your smartphone carries most of the same features of Spotify on desktop. However, they’re arranged a bit differently. You’ll find five main tabs at the bottom of your screen for navigation, plus information about the current track you can tap to expand:
- Home: Contains playlists hand-picked for you by Spotify , your recent playlists, and other recommendations.
- Browse: Peruse Spotify’s catalog by checking out featured playlists, charts and new releases, and explore by genre.
- Search: Type what you’re looking for and Spotify will show the best matches for your query.
- Radio: Create a new radio station or jump back into an old favorite.
- Your Library: Browse your collection of playlists, albums, songs, and more. Also shows your recently played music.
You’ll find a bit of everything on this tab. Spotify brings your personalized playlists, including your Daily Mixes, to the top. You’ll see music like what you’ve recently listened to, concerts near your current location , and more recommendations as you scroll down. If you need inspiration to find the right music , take a look here.
While Home recommends music for you, Browse lets you take it all in. Find playlists relevant to the current time or day of the week at the top, or tap the Charts, Videos, and other entries to explore what Spotify has on offer. This page tops off with a heady selection of genres .
This one’s self-explanatory — type something into the top bar, and you’ll (hopefully) find what you’re looking for. Note the camera icon in the top-right; this lets you scan special Spotify tags that link to a specific playlist. Starbucks might feature some playlists using these cards in its coffee shops, for example.
Outsource your DJ skills with the Radio function. Scroll through this page to find stations you’ve recently listened to, recommended stations, and genres at the bottom. You can also tap the New icon in the top-right to create an all-new station.
This tab collects all the music you’ve saved in Spotify. Just like on desktop, you’ll find your Playlists, Albums, Artists, and more for easy browsing. Below these you’ll find everything you’ve recently played, which is a handy breadcrumb trail. Tap your profile picture in the top-left corner to open your user page.
Also on this tab, you can access Settings by tapping the gear in the top-right corner of this tab. We’ll discuss some of the most important options in the next section.
On mobile, the Now Playing bar always shows at bottom of screen when music is active. Tap it to see full details, including Play/Pause and Seek buttons, plus Shuffle and Repeat.
Hit the three-dot menu for options pertaining to the current track. Here, you can add the song to a playlist or your queue, share it, and more.
Tap the icon at the top-right to view the queue, where you can rearrange or remove upcoming songs. You can tap the Plus/Check icon on the left side to add or remove the song from your library. Additionally, if you’re a Premium member and use Spotify on multiple devices, touch the green text at the bottom of the screen to open Spotify Connect and change where the music is playing.
Hit the small arrow at the top-left to collapse the player view.
4. Spotify Tips: Beyond the Basics
We have now covered all you need to know to find, save, and enjoy music on Spotify. But there’s still plenty of features and tricks you should know about . Next, we’ll cover intermediate and advanced functions of Spotify.
By right-clicking nearly all content on Spotify desktop (and long-pressing or tapping the three-dot menu on mobile) you can access extra options. These include adding a song to your queue, starting a new radio station based on your current selection, jumping to the song’s artist, and adding it to or removing it from your library.
Music is more fun when you can enjoy it with others , right? Spotify makes this easy.
On desktop, you can share and track, album, artist, or playlist by right-clicking it and highlighting Share. You’ll have several options, including Facebook, Twitter, and Telegram. But even if you don’t want to use any of those services, you can still click Copy Song/Album/Artist Link to get a shareable URL.
You’ll also see options for copying Embed Code and Spotify URI, but the standard link should work for most uses. For instance, we’ve linked an album by pasting a link below:
To share on mobile, tap the three-dot icon on any artist, album, or playlist page, or next to a song. Tap Share and you’ll see several sharing options, including Copy Link. Whenever you tap Share on mobile, you’ll also see one of those Spotify codes. You can take a screenshot of this and send it to a friend, who can then scan it to access what you’ve shared.
Spotify Premium members have the ability to download music for offline listening. This lets you listen in your car without using up mobile data , for example. You can download on desktop or mobile, and it will of course use up space on your device. The limit is 3,333 songs per device, on up to three devices.
Note that when you download music, you’re caching it to your device so Spotify can read it offline. Downloading music with Spotify does not provide MP3 files you can use elsewhere.
On desktop, you can only download playlists. Select one, and you’ll see a Download slider on the right side. Click this to start downloading; when it’s done you’ll see a green download arrow next to the playlist name. You can set Spotify to offline mode by clicking File > Offline Mode (Spotify > Offline Mode on a Mac). This will restrict you to downloaded playlists only.
On mobile, you have more download options. Open an album, playlist, or even podcast that you want to listen to online, and tap the Download slider. When it’s done, you’ll see the green icon so you know it’s ready to go offline. You can listen to that music even when your device is in airplane mode — and it won’t use your data if you are online.
Switch Album Versions
Spotify has more than one version of some albums, but it doesn’t make this clear. Often, you’ll find uncut, explicit versions of an album hidden under the edited version. Sometimes, an album’s Deluxe version with extra tracks or a commentary version, is hidden in this way too.
You’ll have to check this for each album, but it’s not hard to see. Open an album’s page and scroll down. At the bottom of the track list, you’ll see a button labeled X More Release(s). Click it, and you’ll see alternate versions of the album to view instead.
Since you can only switch versions on desktop, we recommend saving your preferred version to your music so you can easily access it on mobile too.
Important Settings on Desktop
Spotify’s Settings menu holds a few settings you should tweak to your liking for a better experience. Visit Edit > Preferences to access these on desktop.
- Music Quality: Toggle this switch to enable high-quality streaming if you’re a Premium member.
- Social: You can disable these settings to use Spotify privately. Turn off Publish my activity on Spotify and Automatically make new playlists public so others can’t see what you’re listening to. If you sign in with Facebook, you can also uncheck Share my activity to Facebook so you don’t bombard your friends with all your music.
- Display Options: Enable Show unavailable songs in playlists if you want Spotify to show you songs that aren’t available at the moment. Turn off Show announcements about new releases to disable annoying banners on the Browse screen. If you don’t like the pop-up when you change the volume or pause your music, disable the Show desktop overlay setting.
- Autoplay: With this enabled, Spotify will play similar music when you come to the end of an album or playlist. It’s basically an automatic Radio function so the music never stops, even with Repeat off.
Click Show Advanced Settings for a few more options:
- Playback: Here you can enable crossfade to make transitions smooth, and enable normalized volume level so tracks don’t become louder and quieter.
- Startup and Window Behavior: Choose whether Spotify should open as soon as you log into your PC, and whether closing the app should kill it or minimize it to your tray. You can also disable Spotify’s web integration, if you don’t want web links to change your current song.
Important Settings on Mobile
Tap the Gear icon found on the Your Library tab on mobile to access settings. Many of the desktop settings are present here and work the same way as above. But you’ll find a couple that are unique to mobile :
- Gapless: Enable this to get rid of dead space between songs.
- Device Broadcast Status: This lets other apps on your device know what you’re listening to. For instance, an app that generates images based on your current music would need to know this.
- Behind the Lyrics: Enable this, and Spotify will show you info about the current song’s lyrics for supported tracks.
- Music Quality: Select a quality for both streaming and downloading music. You have three options: Normal, High, and Extreme (only for Premium members). Higher quality means better-sounding music, but it will use more data when streaming or storage space when downloading. Choose Automatic quality for streaming and Spotify will automatically adjust it based on the strength of your signal.
- Download using cellular: We recommend keeping this option disabled unless you have an unlimited data plan. Else, Spotify will download music using mobile data which could result in lots of wasted data .
- Equalizer: Open your phone’s equalizer panel so you can adjust how music sounds .
- Notifications: Enable or disable Spotify’s notifications about new music, playlist updates, and other information.
Follow Artists and Friends
Spotify lets you follow artists that you’re interested in. It takes who you follow into account when alerting you of new music releases and the like. To follow an artist, simply visit their page and click Follow. From an artist page, you can also view their bio, check out related artists, or view upcoming concerts in your area.
You can also follow your friends on Spotify. This lets you view what they’re listening to in the Friend activity sidebar. Type a friend’s name into the search bar to look them up and click Follow to keep up with them. Based on what they’re sharing, you can also browse their public playlists, top artists, and more.
If you don’t want to see what your friends are listening to, click View > Right sidebar to hide it.
Add Local Files
Spotify lets you add your own music into the mix, if the massive catalog isn’t enough. You can add these from your computer on desktop and then sync them to your mobile.
To start, open the Settings menu and scroll down to the Local Files header. You’ll see a few default locations that Spotify checks for music files, but you can add more. Click Add a Source and browse to the folder containing music you want to add.
Spotify supports MP3 and M4P files, but not any containing video. You can also play MP4 files if you have QuickTime installed, but QuickTime on Windows is an insecure mess so we recommend against this. After you’ve added sources, click Local Files on the left sidebar to access them. You can play local files just like Spotify’s own tracks, and even add them to playlists.
To sync local files to your mobile, add them to a playlist on desktop. Then, with your phone on the same Wi-Fi network as your desktop, open the playlist with the local files and enable the Download switch. Spotify will download the entire playlist, including the local files, to your phone.
Click the Queue icon, which looks like a Play icon with three lines next to it, to manage your queue. You’ll find it in the bottom-right corner on desktop and in the top-right corner of the Now Playing screen on mobile. On desktop, you can also view the History tap for recently played songs.
In your queue, you can right-click a song and choose Remove from Queue to stop it from playing. Clicking and dragging lets you change the order, too. On mobile, tap the bubbles on the left to select tracks and click Remove at the bottom of the screen to toss them.
Spotify Connect lets you play your music across devices. Aside from using your phone to control the music playing on your laptop, you can also connect to supported speakers or other devices to keep the party going.
Tap the Connect icon in the bottom-right on desktop to pull up a list of devices on your network that you can play from. On mobile, open Now Playing and tap the green text at the bottom of the screen to connect to another device.
Check out the Spotify Connect page for more details.
Spotify has a few tricks up its sleeve for playlists.
Scroll to the bottom of any playlist, and you’ll see Recommended Songs. You can click Add to drop these into your playlist to make it even better.
If you want to team up with friends to make the ultimate playlist, right-click it and choose Collaborative Playlist. Share one, and anyone with the link can edit it.
Right-click anywhere on your list of playlists and choose Create Folder to make a new playlist folder. These can help you organize your playlists so you don’t have too many floating around.
Love a playlist and wish you could find more music like it? Right-click it and select Create Similar Playlist. This will instantly make another playlist with the same name and include all-new music with a similar sound. It’s a neat option.
Whenever you create a playlist, you can decide whether to make it public or not. If it’s public, anyone can search for it and it will appear on your user page. Right-click a playlist and choose Make Public to send it out to the masses.
When you search for playlists, many of them are popular playlists created by other users. You can click Follow to add these to your list and they’ll update automatically. Who knows — you could create the next big mix if you’re willing to share!
If you have Spotify’s sharing options enabled but want to listen to some guilty pleasures, you can enable a private session to temporarily disable sharing.
Click your user icon in the top-right corner on desktop and choose Private Session. You’ll see a blue lock icon to show that you’re incognito. On mobile, visit Settings and check Private Session.
These sessions last for six hours after you’ve been inactive, so you’ll have plenty of time to listen to Justin Bieber’s complete discography.
If you really want to zip around Spotify on desktop, check out the list of keyboard shortcuts. With these, you can create new playlists, change tracks, and adjust the volume without ever touching your mouse .
— Mike Chouinard (@DangerVenture) January 11, 2017
Now You’re a Spotify Power User
We’ve covered everything you need to know to master using Spotify. Now you know how to search for music, manage your favorite tunes, tweak the service to your liking, and more. Enjoy having such a massive collection of music at your fingertips!
What did you learn from this guide? What’s your favorite part of using Spotify? Please tell us in the comments below, and be sure to share this guide with your friends so that they too can become a Spotify master!
Image Credit: Mendelex/Depositphotos