This weekend I finally got out of an abusive relationship that had worn me down unceasingly for over eight years. Weak man that I am, I was only able to leave my tormentor because I have found a new partner, one who won't frustrate or anger me or guard all of my things closely like a paranoid-obsessive. My new consort is nothing at all like my old one: readily adaptable, easygoing, eager to please. I want to tell the world about her and praise her from the mountaintops: a dark-skinned beauty from Sweden, her name is Spotify, and now that we've hooked up, I never want to see that dingbat iTunes again.
It sounds silly, but I really did feel little butterflies in my stomach as I got to know my Spotify. If you missed its ballyhooed launch on July 14, Spotify has been called an "iTunes Killer" by many reputable sources, and an iTunes killer is exactly what it could be.
Spotify, you see, is both a music player for the music you own and a streaming music service for music you don't own but want to listen to. It became available in the United States on the 14th (ah, the day we met, our anniversary!), having been available in Europe for years as the company worked out licensing issues with record labels in the States. Like iTunes, it hosts all of your local music and syncs with your devices; unlike iTunes -- well, how is it unlike iTunes? Let me count the ways.
1: Your music and your playlists exist in the cloud, so you can listen on any computer. Apple recently announced that it would begin hosting its users' music in the cloud, too, including non-iTunes tracks for $25 a year via its iTunes Match service. With Spotify, however, not only is all of the music you own in the cloud, but all of the music you don't own is in the cloud, too.
Confused? This brings us to number 2:
2: You know what's absolutely ridiculous about iTunes? The idea that you would be able to make a decision on the worth of a song based on listening to a 30-second excerpt. This may be acceptable if I'm previewing the Kidz Bop cover of the latest Ke$ha idiocy, but otherwise these snippets are an insult to the artist who created the music and to the listeners who need to follow the arc of a song (or an album) to fully appreciate it.
Spotify not only fixes this, it makes Apple look like some fundamentalist overprotective parent who insists on watching over its 17-year-old at prom. With Spotify, not only can you preview a huge selection of entire albums and songs (they've signed deals with all 4 major labels -- Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group and EMI -- meaning that their music database is stacked), but you can also download them to your device to listen to later, when you're on a plane or on the subway. Because Spotify is a flat-fee-per-month service rather than pay-per-download, you can get music on your computer without entering credit card information or confirming charges twenty times before it downloads.
3: And how much does it cost to access an unlimited amount of music anywhere you want? Well, the fairly pointless free account gives you 10 hours of listening per month, which my friend Charlie pointed out was less than a day-and-a-half of work. At $5 per month, you get unlimited streaming, ad-free; at $10 per month, you get everything you get with the $5-a-month plan, in addition to being able to sync to your devices and listen to all the music you want offline. Basically, if you are buying more than one album per month on iTunes, you would get more bang for your buck on Spotify.
4: A note to the pirates: I was once like you. Eventually, I know, the guilt of stealing will seep in (or has seeped in), and you will find yourself wondering if it is time to come over to the paying side. I never could have done so without Spotify -- iTunes is absurdly expensive for audiophiles, and most other streaming-music services don't allow for device syncing. I am almost ready to remove my torrent client from my desktop. Spotify lets you feel good about listening to absurd amounts of new music every week while simultaneously making you feel as though you are supporting the artists somehow.
And no: those ads that pop up when you start a download on Mediafire are not going to your favorite musicians.
5: Wireless syncing. No more searching for that frayed white cord when you want to update your device with new music: If you hook up your mp3 player -- such as your iPhone, iPad, or Android phone -- to the same wireless network that your computer is on and open Spotify, it will sync your tunes for you through the magic of WiFi.
6: No, I do not want to download QuickTime or Safari while I am updating iTunes for the tenth time this month. Yes, I am sure. Yes, I am really sure.
7: Spotify gets social: iTunes has Ping, a service Apple claims is a "social network for music," but which never really caught on. Spotify has Facebook, a.k.a. the world's largest social networking site. Instead of having to set up a new network on iTunes, Spotify lets users seamlessly connect with their Facebook friends to see what they're listening to, what new songs they've discovered, and much more.
Now, there are some things I will miss about iTunes. The way it stored play counts and let me rank my music by the frequency I played it. The way I could sort my library by genre and year, or browse songs for sale on iTunes via genre, Genius, or other categories. The way it allowed me to sync my favorite podcasts to my iPhone. The way it could store lyrics in my song files so that the indecipherable words to my favorite Radiohead and Strokes tracks would scroll up on screen as they played.
Or perhaps I'm just getting nostalgic for a romance that never was. Mostly I will remember what an obnoxiously difficult schlep it was to transfer music to a new computer. I will remember having to scour the darker corners of the Internet for what I viewed as more reasonably priced albums. I will remember that curious rule of only being allowed to send songs purchased on iTunes to five people, or whatever. And I will leave iTunes with a general memory of frustration, exasperation, overprotectiveness, selfishness, and of shouting at my computer, with sweat boiling under my forehead, "Are you [freaking] kidding me right now, iTunes???"
Goodbye, iTunes. God knows you've had your chances. I'm going to go spend the day with Spotify -- in my apartment, at the office, on the train, and on my co-worker's laptop, everywhere I couldn't take you, iTunes. Good luck with that whole "stingy overprotective police state" thing you've got going.
You're going to need it.