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In-depth

What is Spotify?

Everything you need to know about the online music streaming service

Spotify symbol with concert

Spotify is the world’s most popular on-demand music streaming service, with around 75 million active users every month.

It’s based predominantly around the concept of creating and sharing playlists, and Spotify has invested a considerable amount in tools to make this easier both for itself and its users.

Like any other streaming service, Spotify allows its users to access content via the internet, streaming music directly from Spotify’s servers rather than downloading it locally.

One of the main advantages of this cloud-based model is that users no longer need to worry about running out of storage space for their songs. 

It also means that they can flip back and forth between multiple devices and platforms, without having to re-download all their music files individually. 

Like Netflix, Spotify has found increasing popularity with the rise of the smartphone. A growing abundance of WiFi and 3G connections means that users no longer have to keep their music with them, as more and more devices effectively have ‘always-on’ connections.

Membership and prices

Like many cloud services, Spotify operates a tiered membership structure, with various benefits and perks. This hierarchy is divided into two levels: free and premium. 

Free users get access to the service and its vast music catalogue, but with some caveats. Paid users have no such caveats, and also get a higher-quality service than those with a free membership. 

Free membership is divided by platform somewhat. Users with Spotify’s desktop, tablet or web app, for example, can expect the same broad feature-set as premium members. 

The main difference is that free members have to put up with periodic ads in between tracks, whereas premium members do not. Paid members also get an option for higher-quality audio, and the ability to cast their music to nearby devices.

Mobile users on the free tier, however, get a slightly rougher deal. Not only do they have to put up with repeated advertisements, fewer features and poorer quality, they also have to settle for listening to playlists, albums and artists in ‘shuffle’ mode. 

This means that rather than directly selecting the track they want on an album, users essentially have gambled that it’ll come on before they get bored. A limited allowance of 6 track skips per day also ensures that they can’t simply keep skipping till they find it.

Spotify charges for its premium tier at a flat rate, rather than grading it according to a level of quality or functionality, and UK customers can purchase a premium subscription for £9.99 per month.

It also offers various deals, such as a free week-long trial of premium membership, a half-price for students, or a free subscription with every Vodafone contract.

Features

Though Spotify hasn’t been doing much to change the core business model at the heart of its offering, it’s continued to bolt on additional features for added value.

The latest of these additions is a feature called ‘Concerts’, which has seen the company partner with Songkick to show users personalised local gig recommendations based on their listening history.

Automatic personalisation is something the company has pumped a lot of money into. Spotify purchased audio analytics firm The Echo Nest last year for $100 million, which netted it a wealth of tools and intelligence about the way users consume music.

Among those tools were automatic taste profiles, which break down the exact components of your music preferences by a number of fine-grained factors, and Truffle Pig, which is essentially Google for music.

Apps like Shazam have found success by helping users navigate the often hard-to-articulate world of music, but Truffle Pig takes it one step further. Used to help editors compile Spotify's curated playlists, it can search by traditional parameters like date range of genre, but can also look for specific qualities like ‘acousticness’, ‘synthiness’ or ‘speechiness’. 

This enables Spotify’s editors to fine-tune their playlists quickly and efficiently, without relying on sifting through the service’s colossal catalogue of tracks. 

Spotify has also recently introduced a specialised running mode, which creates seamless, non-stop playlists that match their tempo to a user’s running speed. The company has also enlisted the likes of Tiesto and Ellie Goulding to create specialised original playlists and remixes, available exclusively to Spotify Running users.

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