Apps, Mobile & SMS

One Year Later: Why I Don’t Love Spotify

Spotify-logo-kopia_134415013_186328252Guest post by Kyle Bylin of Live Nation Labs.

I've had Spotify for exactly one year.

When I first started using Spotify, it sparked an emotion that I hadn't felt since I encountered Audiogalaxy, an early file sharing client, for the first time. I sought out all the music I could think of, amassing a library of 3,901 songs and 848 albums. This is almost nothing compared to the amount of music I used to have, but it felt so exhilarating to collect and curate songs for a library again.

For whatever reason, I’ve never taken the time or sensed the urgency to rebuild my library after I'd lost it. The great irony, of course, is that I didn’t lose my library. Someone stole my iPod, which had a bunch of songs that I never paid for. I bought a brand new one and filled it back up with music from my hard drive, but I ran it through the washing machine days later. Then I believe the hard drive stopped working soon after, leaving me with nothing but a stack of CDs (over 250, that I did pay for) and a few folders of torrented MP3s.

By this point, I had moved to the Twin Cities to start college. Between losing two iPods and an entire hard drive of music, I stopped caring and lost ambition.

When I began writing for Hypebot, I grew introspective and curious, almost like a student who takes up psychology to learn about why they feel so screwed up inside. I asked questions and searched for answers, and thankfully many smart people like John Palfrey and Urs Gasser (Born Digital), Greg Kot (Ripped), and Barry Schwartz (The Paradox of Choice) offered insight and perspective.

But I now struggle with this question: Why don’t I love Spotify?

I’m a paying subscriber, but I never listen to any of the music in my library or open the mobile app. I mostly use Soundrop, a group-listening app, because it has just enough control and serendipity to keep me interested. I pay ten dollars a month, I think, for the privilege of listening to music without ads and for better sound quality. But I don’t access my music, as I hoped, or discover any either.

This isn’t Spotify’s fault though—it’s mine. First off, I never put time and effort into my library or created playlists. Secondly, I still listen to a lot of music on Pandora, in part because I’ve already invested so much time into my custom stations, and I also enjoy newer services like 8tracks, exfm, and Songza. 

Every time I listen to music on my smartphone, I open the first app that will entertain me, rather than click on Spotify, where I’ll need to make a decision. 

The truth is that Spotify takes a lot of work. There are no shortcuts. You actually have to labor away; sifting through and listening to a lot of “bad” music to discover and hear great music. This is significant, because the digital revolution and the iPod were always paired with the rhetoric of self-empowerment and individual control. As it turns out, however, music listeners may not actually want these things, because it takes a lot of time and effort to discover music, build a library, create playlists, and decide what song to play next.

The relevance of Spotify as a so-called “music platform” depends on their ability to get listeners to come back and use the service every day like Apple or Facebook. But no one gets to become a platform by opening their doors to third party developers and releasing a bunch of “innovative” apps. Spotify now boasts over forty apps, but most of them fail to leverage your library and exist in a silo apart from it. When you like a song in an app, it falls into the cracks of your library, likely to never be heard again. Spotify makes zero effort to expose you to the song again; it pushes the work of discovering and utilizing this music on you. Either you listen to the song again—or you don’t. It's disheartening.

Perhaps, my labor didn't lead to love, because Spotify asks for too much.

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  1. Hi Kyle,
    thanks for sharing your thoughts – I can relate to your words although I like streaming services a lot. The apps within Spotify don’t really work for me neither most of the time, a lot of them rarely get updatet (Def Jam anyone?).
    A little earlier this year I wrote an article about my experience with streaming services and how I am overwhelmed with choice, feel free to check it out:

  2. This is a very thoughtful article. But Spotify has a radio as well…which is identical to Pandora. Doesn’t require much work to discover artists from there, and I’ve discovered manyyy artists through the radio. But I do understand the building-the-library labor.

  3. But, you realize Spotify has user-curated playlists that you can subscribe to right? You don’t have to choose, you’re putting your trust in someone else to choose….

  4. I feel like this article is essentially saying that you want Spotify to change from being an active service (one you put some amount of effort into in order to use) to a passive service (ex: Pandora – set it and forget it).
    Perhaps this is more about your personal consumption preferences (you prefer a service that does it all for you) rather than the specific platform (Spotify, or for that matter, MOG or Rdio…).
    Andrew and James pointed out the two examples I was going to mention.

  5. Thank you for the link to your thoughtful piece. I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about choice overload myself.
    The reality is that choice in Spotify is quite overwhelming and if you don’t make the effort to sift through all of the music, you won’t discover many songs. We still discover music the same way we have always discovered music, which is by listening to a lot of it. There’s no way to outsource that work, but we try to.

  6. I use the radio feature a lot; it’s not identical to Pandora. My biggest gripe is that it fails to leverage your music library as a ‘brain’ to power your music experiences. Also, the radio feature has no sense of how to re-expose you to the music you’ve already discovered in a pleasing manner. That’s why I find the service as a whole so disheartening.

  7. It’s true that I’m more passive than active, especially these days. But that’s part of the point, because Spotify is targeting passive listeners with many of their new initiatives.
    I’m not convinced that Spotify can engage a majority of listeners, who are not willing to put in the time and effort.
    The other two points are that:
    1) Music discovery is a lie. It never gets easier.
    2. Music listeners are now leaning too heavily on services as filters that will discover their music—for them.
    But they can’t actually do that.

  8. If you listen to Spotify radio, you can drag and drop songs you like into playlists to listen to later (try that with Pandora). This is not labor intensive, it is a pleasant luxury. Preferring 8tracks is ludicrous b/c you can only skip 2 songs an hour. Talk about having to listen to bad music to find good music! On 8tracks, if you can find people worth following you will have a better experience, but finding those people takes time and yes, effort.
    I am still baffled why 8tracks, MOG, Spotify and ALL the rest are not tapping the power of music professionals to curate playlists. This is the ticket to music discovery and enjoyment. I would do it for them by building an app, but Spotify offers no compensation for this except open ended re-assurance. They wont help pay for them either. The Spotify app space is as crowded as the music streaming market itself anyway. As Dave Mathews said nearly 20 years ago “it’s a typical situation in these typical times, too many choices”. Dave must be REALLY confused these days.
    I have my own reasons for not loving Spotify, but it is my choice for now, mostly due to its speed and ease of use.

  9. Its finding the people you want to follow that is the problem. Spotify doesn’t make it any easier with their horrendous playlist search function.

  10. Exactly my thoughts. If you take a look at e.g. Beatport – although it’s a very different service – DJ charts are VERY important for the average customer to learn about new music. I don’t get that most of the services don’t really implement this system of “trusted sources”.
    Pleasing rightsholders such as PIAS or Domino by granting them to have their own app is really not the way to solve it, basically it’s pretty useless for the user who – in most cases – doesn’t care about labels at all.
    I’d be really excited to see some development here.

  11. And how exactly does Pandora leverage your music library as a brain to power recommendations?
    When I go to my Spotify radio, I see a “Your Top Artists” radio stations as the first thing clearly showing several of the artists I’ve been listening to lately. Hitting play on any of these starts playing songs that are of similar genre and time period.
    Your Pandora stations are nicely catered to what you want because you’ve put in time and effort thumbs up and downing things to make it that way. My Spotify stations show things that I’m interested in because I’ve put hours into Spotify. The difference here is that Spotify’s recommendation is passive, all i have to do is simply listen and it’ll suggest playlists and relevant songs on those playlists. Pandora’s is active as you have to continuously thumbs up and down. This, to me, stands contrary to your point about Spotify requiring their listeners to be more active.
    Since it’s your biggest gripe about Spotify, is it also your biggest gripe about Pandora?
    It really seems to me that the main point of this article is: I don’t like Spotify because I really just prefer to use Pandora.

  12. More than most listeners are passive ones, so I guess Kyle has a good point on it 😉

  13. To an extent Slacker does. They have professionally created stations available along with allowing users to create their own stations and playlists.

  14. You know you can right-click any playlist and make a radio out of that? It will shuffle songs from your playlist with other songs it thinks you will like.

  15. My best guess is music companies are shying away from “trusted sources” because they don’t scale the way software scales. More people = more expense + more problems.
    If you can solve it with software, it’s a lot easier to get investments, which they rely on to survive, and to grow the business as a whole.
    History has shown us that people are satisfied with good enough if the price is right.

  16. I love Spotify because every new album that releases i can listen to it legally and decide whether or not i want to buy it. Also when i discover a band, i can listen to previous releases without much labor. I love it most because it’s endless, its legal, and its beautifully designed

  17. I tend to use Spotify as a last resort if I can’t find what I want anywhere else. Sometimes Spotify actually has it. One problem with Spotify is that while there is a lot of music, you have to know how to look it up to find it. Sometimes I have to hunt with various key words/titles/names to actually find what I’m looking for, especially if it’s classical music. This is a real pain in the arse and takes the fun out of listening to things…

  18. I feel like this article, and most of these comments, are written by really lazy people who can’t be bothered to put in even a little bit of effort. You sound like a bunch of whiny, lazy slackers. What would you do if you grew up in an era without digital music, where you actually had to go to record stores if you wanted new music? I guess you would just sit in your house because there would be too many choices. “Spotify actually wants me to tell them what I like, I want to do nothing.” – that’s ridiculous. God forbid you actually had a real problem.

  19. Quite the opposite, really. I’m a young professional, working in the music industry.
    These are important questions to be asked.
    It could be that Spotify isn’t for me. But if Spotify isn’t for me, because I happen to be 1) a passive listener or more realistically, 2) a busy person without enough hours in the day, that’s actually a problem, because it suggests that the market for Spotify is smaller than it imagined.
    Here’s a better question, what would you do if you grew up on a farm next to a town of 200 people in North Dakota? The only record store that exists is 60 miles away. There are 2-4 radio stations. ITunes doesn’t exist. God forbid you grew up without the Internet, because you’d have no means to discover and hear new music.
    I grew up there. I had 28K dial-up Internet. I know exactly what work it takes to discover music. I’m simply dismayed that I’ve watched the entire digital revolution unfold and yet I still have to sift through piles of songs to find anything.

  20. Actually I’ve been working in a (DJ) record store for some years so I know how much people rely on recommendations from the people who work there.
    Digging for music is fun (and essential for a music professional, I guess), but now there’s Spotify and all the other streaming services and I simply expect that they make this much more easy and convenient – they actually have to, otherwise they’re simply a content graveyard.

  21. Nice to read from you again, Kyle.
    First of all, I must say, living in Germany, I have never been able to have the experience of using Spotify so I cannot comment directly. But I remember your posting a while back when you wrote about how you downloaded songs from various sources so you could impress people, up to the point where you did not care anymore what it was you downloaded, you just wanted to have it in your library in case a request would come up.
    I presume that is the music which got lost on your broken harddrive. The halflife of harddrives is the important limiting factor to the preservation of digital data these days it seems. It remains to be seen whether cloud server services can help over that or if a more permanent, optical solution is necessary.
    From the point of view of music preservation, the pressed CD certainly has got its benefits over the download which you basically have to curate all by yourself, and there is no standard road map available for that yet.
    But back to you: I believe it must have been hard to lose your collection about 3 times and I can understand you must have had enough by that time to not want to make any effort again on your behalf to try and reconstruct it piece by piece, especially since your thirst for digging for music had already been fully saturated when you started downloading whatever came your way, like you mentioned in the previously mentioned, older article.
    So I’m not surprised you are not into the digging thing again on Spotify because you simply have moved on.
    I feel lucky to have my CDs stored away at my parents’ place as a backup and I’m always happy when I get a reply from an artist which I have written to with the request to buy a CD-R of their album in lossless sound when an album I like is otherwise only available as lossy mp3s. I make safety copies of these which also go into storage.
    But I don’t have the time anymore to make as many playlists as I used to, and with that, my mixing / playlisting skills have gotten a bit rusty somewhat, due to lack of practise. And I have also noticed people don’t appreciate a “mixtape” or a “mix CD” or a “playlist” as much anymore as they used to when I gave it to them as a present say, maybe 8 years ago.
    And yes, I agree, it takes time and patience to be your own A&R man. And it’s always sad when an album which had once been announced and you have been happily expecting, does not get released for the sole reason that the would-be self-releasing artist has decided he would rather do something which brings him a more secure income.
    My way of digging for music has long involved reading album credits and looking for stuff my favorite sidemen and musicians played on, even if I don’t know the headlining artist. This is a divergent searching process. But search engines these days are all convergent towards the most popular search result. That does benefit them in generating their income by trying to sell more of the same product to an increasing number of potential customers. That’s how advertising and industrial production works.
    Thus, being your own A&R man has gotten somewhat more difficult than it was before the meltdown of MySpace in around 2008, and with all promos being distributed digitally to the big discography websites, their databases do not get any album credits anymore, so people who want to dig really deep cannot find said musician info on newly released albums anymore.
    That’s another blow if you are your own A&R man.
    The big labels will probably rejoice at the thought of this because that way, their big act signings will get more pieces of the pie when it comes to public attention and search results, but the fickle music lovers will not play them either way and due to lack of time, maybe once write a small article on their blog about their recent self-releasing artist discoveries which most likely, nobody will notice since it’s lost in the stream of things “happening” online, at which most people don’t even look anymore because it’s all too much information when you have more important things to worry about.
    Kudos to you, Kyle, for having realized you have moved on from spending your time in digging for new music despite feeling your profession in the music business requires you to continue.
    With me, it’s different. I don’t have a profession in the music business but I still love digging for new music, yet don’t have as much time for it as would be necessary to keep up the quality of my playlists with up-to-date material (as opposed to old songs I A&Red for myself when I had more time).

  22. I love spotify, and some apps. I have just found tunaspot where you can discover music, and the world at the same time.

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