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Why We Don't Use Spotify

Only one reason.

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Spotify was a revelation. We didn't know what to expect when we were offered a demo. We certainly weren't expecting much. We tried it more as a favour to the kind soul who sent us an invite than out of curiosity.

We were blown away. Spotify was going to change the topology of music.

There are those who just don't get it. Rick Falkvinge is one. Rick likes music the same way people in a lift like it - as 'bespoke' background music. You can put in requests for tracks and sooner or later they'll turn up. Maybe.

But that's not good enough for us.

Spotify is a music library. Real world libraries are funded by the state - by the taxpayers. No cost at point of sale. You can go in there and wander the aisles and pluck at any book you want. You can sit down and read all the books you want all day long. You can even remove books if you have a library card. You have to return your books in a given time so others can read them too.

The same with Spotify. Spotify is a musicologist's dream. Searches are incredibly fast. They've got close to everything there. And they're getting closer all the time. We used to tune into infomercials on an evening for a lark. Watch how Time-Life promoted the latest package of 50 CDs with yet another genre of music. And we could invariably summon up the tracks on Spotify as fast as the infomercials could spit out the names.


Spotify put the right things on the right computers. No AIR that would suck CPU. A local client for maximum flexibility and stability. Communications with the Spotify servers meant all the real crunching happened on them and not on the local machine. Brilliant. Perfect.

And it was all 'instant, simple, and free'. At least at 'point of sale'. How can you beat that?

Spotify technology was brilliant. The distribution is based on the perhaps fastest bit torrent technology ever - μtorrent. And the person behind the μtorrent project came on board at Spotify.

The Mac client was brilliant. An almost impossible piece of engineering. Mattias was in charge of the Mac client. He was given the nickname 'Mactias'. He used no NIBs. Everything was hard code. And it was brilliant. And nearly flawless. And fast.

Spotify used open standards all the way. Ogg for file format. And so forth.

So what's not to like about it? Why stop using it?

'Instant, simple, and free'

The original game plan for Spotify was to make it 'instant, simple, and free'. They still have a Vimeo clip up explaining it. CEO Daniel Ek correctly judged that the only way to make an enterprise of that format work in today's Internetted world is to make it free. One gets one's revenues elsewhere.

What's not to like?

Daniel Ek had to suck up to the 'Big Four'. This took some time. Much of Daniel's work week is spent globetrotting. And talking to the same fogies Steve Jobs worked so hard on. Subscription models don't work, Steve told them. They kept losing money but they wouldn't give in. Steve came to them with armies of PhDs who explained in graphic terms why they were bleeding money and why it wouldn't stop.

They finally gave in. iTunes was born. Then everyone looked to Spotify.

Daniel told of one particular early evening on Manhattan when he'd just been through the gauntlet with record company executives, got absolutely nowhere, and was again standing at ground level outside the skyscraper in the rain. He was getting drenched and the life had gone out of him. He just wanted to give up. But he didn't give up.

The Takeover

Daniel eventually got the Big Four to sign. At least for distribution in Europe. At least to a small subsection of Europe. Seven countries. But the price was high. The Big Four bought into a near half ownership of Spotify for a 'spottstyver' - for pocket change. Daniel had sold his soul. Or at least half of it. He and his silent partner Martin still controlled half of Spotify - but had only one quarter ownership each. The Big Four were in the driver seat. The Big Four were now running Spotify.

Recording artists were soon to see how the Big Four loved them. They got their play lists, counted tens of thousands of hits, then looked at the bottom line. They weren't getting paid more than a 'spottstyver' either. They quit. Bob Dylan quit. Magnus Uggla quit. Curiously both of them are CBS recording artists. Magnus really felt his long time 'friend' at CBS Sweden was dicking him over. He was right.

The subscription model was introduced and pushed hard. Subscriptions meant no ads. The ads became (intentionally) more and more annoying. Anything to screw up your navigation of the client.

And all the while everyone waited for the introduction to the North American market - the real cash cow. For that was when Spotify would really take off, be a world sensation, and change the topology of music forever. Daniel announced it several times and still nothing happened. Evidently the Big Four were at it again.

New subscription models were introduced and older 'free' models were phased out. There'd be limits on how many times you could listen to any one track - despite the fact you were prepared to put up with the obnoxious advertising. Free accounts were to be limited so that things just stopped working after six months. And so forth. The Spotify models changed almost by the day.

And all this was enervating for people who'd been big fans and held high hopes. But this still isn't the reason we stopped using Spotify.

Spotify Updates

Spotify updates aren't optional. They're forced on you. You start up the client and immediately see it's busy doing an update download. You abort the program, go and get the update yourself, unpack it and trim it properly, then put it on all the machines in your network. Spotify builds started getting junkier and junkier, so this was essential. There was also the issue of the fat binaries nobody wanted. That too was a waste of disk space. And all the while everyone waited for the 64-bit builds that never came, even though Spotify no longer supported 32-bit on the Mac.

Then Spotify changed the update mechanism. Suddenly you were prompted inside the client that an update was available - would you like to download it?

The first trick was Spotify had already downloaded the update and was going to wait for your approval to install it and overwrite your previous version. At least that's what it looked like. The second trick was that Spotify didn't wait for your approval at all - it just overwrote your files without asking.

This was highly obnoxious to say the least. But it still wasn't enough to stop us using Spotify.

The End

We were all overjoyed when Spotify hit North America. This is going to be a revolution in music, we told each other. We had numerous invites to give people and we started sending them out. And it's now we encountered something that stopped us from using Spotify.

Spotify used to offer a gateway into Facebook for those who wanted to integrate. That was OK - we weren't going to use it and it didn't interfere with us. But then Spotify began demanding users have Facebook accounts. And you know what that means if you know anyone who's ever toyed with the idea. For setting up a ghost account merely to run Spotify won't do. Facebook will nag you to use your account actively and will delete you if you don't.

And there are a lot of people who are so allergic to Facebook that they will stop right there when using one of our invites. Music is great, Spotify is cool, but nothing is worth getting Zuckerberg on your tail.

And that's why we stopped using Spotify. It wasn't a conscious decision. It just happened. And several months later we realised none of us were touching Spotify anymore. Today we get our music off YouTube or we don't get it at all.

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