I’m really enjoying being a Spotify customer, especially since they released an app for the Android mobile platform (I’m the proud owner of an HTC Magic). I was planning to write a quick blog post simply enumerating the things I love about Spotify, but first, to give some historical context I thought it might be interesting to consider how I consumed music just a decade or so ago.

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The Way It Was

When I started university fifteen years ago, I did the only sensible thing with my first grant cheque. I took it to Richer Sounds and blew the lot (and then some) on a bloody big hi-fi separates system.

For many years it was my pride and joy, and I diligently performed all of the standard audiophile tricks in an effort to make the music it played sound as close to perfection as was humanly possible. The speaker stands were weighted with sand, the components were loving joined together with high-quality directional interconnects, and the amp was always turned on after the sources. Basically, I spent as much time trying to attain musical nirvana as I ever did cramming for my exams on Game Theory and Combinatorial Counting.

From where did the music come that I played on this hi-fi? Religiously each Wednesday I bought and scoured the Melody Maker and New Musical Express, reading the reviews, editorials and adverts and obsessively making lists of the vinyl and CDs that I had to buy the next week. When the following Monday arrived, I would cycle to SelectaDisc, procure my weekly fix, and cycle back to digs as fast as my legs would carry me.

And then there was the whole glorious experience

Slide the inner sleeve out of the outer sleeve. Slide the vinyl out of the inner sleeve. Blow it. Dust it down carefully with carbon fibre brush. Drop the disc on the platter. Set the turntable going. Drop the needle into the run-in groove. Turn the amp on, and the volume up. Lie back, be surrounded by sound, and inspect the artwork. Aaaahhh…

The Way It Is

Well. That was then, this is now. I’m pleased to say that the hi-fi still works fine, but I no longer have the time to give it the attention that it deserves, so I’ve given it to my eldest nephew.

Of course I still love music, but quantity, time and convenience are now of higher importance to me than sound quality and overall experience. And this is where Spotify fits perfectly into my current lifestyle.

For example, a few minutes ago I read that a new Sufjan Stevens LP has recently been released. A few keypresses later, and I’m listening to it. A few more touches on my Android-powered phone, and it’s downloading over wifi for me to listen to at the office tomorrow. The simplicity and ease of use is staggering.

Unlike with managing a large collection of MP3s, I have no files to organise, backup, and worry about losing. Unlike with CDs, there is no physical media to be ripped, stored, and worry about the kids scratching. There’s just the music, on demand, whenever I want, at the touch of a few buttons, and all for just a tenner a month (roughly the price of an album, then).

As a result, I find myself listening to an increased variety and quantity of music once again. On the one hand I can rediscover long-forgotten gems from my younger days, and then on the other I can be more adventurous, the subscription model rendering tracks and albums free of risk. It’s an absolute joy.

No Downside?

Hardcore record collectors must be turning in their graves, and indeed I can’t bring myself to get rid of all the cherished vinyl languishing in my loft. But, for hassle-free accessibility to the music itself, Spotify is difficult to beat.

If I had to pick holes in the service, then the obvious starting point would be the holes in the collection. Nothing at all by The Beatles, Led Zep or Pink Floyd. No sign of Arcade Fire’s first album, or The Proclaimers' “Persevere” and “Born Innocent” opuses. I can’t see any Ian McNabb, which is unfortunate as I have a soft spot for “You Must Be Prepared To Dream”. Older Snow Patrol albums are missing, as is Prefab Sprout’s “Jordan – The Comeback”, and Mull Historical Society’s “This Is Hope”. I’m sure there are many, many others, these are just the omissions that are bugging me at the moment.

The mobile app doesn’t scrobble to last.fm, and the fact that I sorely miss this makes me realise how weak Spotify’s whole recommendation and social networking story is. But this can easily be enhanced over time, and in the short term I think the company are right to focus on extending the catalogue and improving the overall quality of the service (increased bitrate, offline capability, availability on mobile platforms).

Now.. what to do with all those CDs gathering dust on the shelves…?