Saturday, October 28, 2017

All the music you'd want for $10 per month

Many years ago, in the time of Napster and Limewire, I declared, "What the music industry needs to do is offer a service that gives access to every piece of music ever recorded and make it available to everyone for a set fee per month, like maybe $10."

Fast forward to 2017. We have music streaming services Spotify, Apple Music, and Google Play, none of which are part of the music industry. Because you know, God forbid that the music industry itself should set this up. No, it took the minds of silicon valley to pull it off. Granted it is not a perfect offering, thanks to big-name artists boycotting these services at one point or another. But I digress. Here's my take on the implementation of one of those music streaming services, in this case - Spotify.

Spotify does indeed offer me the opportunity to access pretty much 80-90% of the whole world's modern music library. Which I have to tell you, I'm just not used to (neither legally or easily). I have a fairly substantial mp3 music library of my own (6500 songs give or take), but I decided not to incorporate my collection into my Spotify Premium account, because quite simply, I'm more interested in this service for the purposes of discovering new music.

Because I expected the discovery process to be long and deliberate, and also because I have become aware that Spotify learns your tastes by what you play, I wanted to get at least some of my musical staples into my Spotify Library, so I created a few playlists to indicate and sample the music I enjoy most often. [updated 4 Apr 2018] I ended up with HyperPopsicle (157+); Eclectic Chair (188+); Acoustically Yours (127 songs and counting); Atmospheric Haze (78+); Soul Terrain (229+ songs); Jazz Jam (197+); Sheer Rock Wall (296+); Growing up in the 70s (211+); Energy Bar (121+); Electric Storm (115+); Canadian Maple (98+); and Spotify New, which I'm using as an inbox to store newly discovered but as yet unclassified and undecided music. I have to say, my 70s playlist is my favourite, as it does a great job of collecting the music I grew up to on the radio. I'm not sure if other Spotify users can find it, but let me know if you can't.
( That's the code allowing other Spotify users to load the playlist)

One thing I noticed right off the bat is that when you're looking for specific songs to listen to or add to playlists, sometimes the song listed is not the actual song. I can't remember what songs I found, but there were a few that were something other than what they were labelled. Annoying. Even more annoying was the lack of easy way to alert Spotify of the mistake. I also found their search to be hit and miss. Sometimes I'd search on a song and it came up empty. But if I searched on the artist and navigated to the album in question, there was the song! There were cases where I knew a specific album existed, but it wasn't listed under that artist. But if I looked for instances of songs on that album, I could find it. Weird. The lesson is don't give up if you can't find something on the first try. Speaking of searching, there were times when I felt compelled to look at the entire list of albums by a certain artist, only to (happily) discover that a more recent, re-mastered version was available. Nice.

A feature of Spotify that took getting used to is 'saving'. You see, you have access to all the music Spotify has, but it doesn't get downloaded to your computer. It's out there in the cloud. But if you don't add the music you like into a playlist, the only way to listen to it again is to search or browse for it. Unless you save it. Is there a particular album you love? Find it and save it. Anything you 'save' is added to your list of albums for instant access.

Once a playlist has been created, if you insist on listening to it on your phone, you're going to use data unless you're only listening to Spotify on wi-fi. Luckily, every playlist (and as I discovered later - even whole albums) can be downloaded to listen to off-line. You definitely want to do this, as long as there's room on your device. For example, these days, I'm giving Beck's new album Color a spin.

But the real treat for me is the discovery. Which can be accomplished so many ways. For starters, if you have some songs in a playlist, you can click the ellipsis next to the title and choose 'Go to Radio'. This will open a spawned list of songs that are similar in style and genre. I was amazed at how many suggestions I was already familiar with, and absolutely delighted to try out pieces I hadn't heard yet. Imagine being at a buffet and as you spoon some delicious food onto your plate, you're shown similar food that you probably want to try. It's frankly overwhelming, but when I'm in the mood to eat at a new music buffet, now I know where to go.

And that's just one way to discover new music in Spotify. You'll also be presented with a playlist called 'Discover Weekly', once it gets a sense of what you like. 30 songs to whet your musical appetite. The only thing they could do better with this feature, is to omit songs you already have in your playlists. These suggestions supposedly get better the more Spotify learns what you like. Never mind the countless playlists created by others and the many musical genres to explore.

This is the future of music I had dreamed of. Made real. OK movie and TV industry, when is it your turn?

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