Additional Notes on Spotify

After about a month of using Spotify, it is time for an update. I got several people asking about how I was doing with Spotify, based on my previous blog post about the service. The results so far have honestly surprised me – it has become my default way of listening to music, despite all of my previous criticisms being pretty much validated. I guess the “access any song” is really a compelling value proposition, strong enough to overcome the limited organizational tools.

The Convenience is Notable

It is really convenient to just have all songs available over the network, compared to loading over music files that I buy to the phone manually (I have found no good tools for that particular application). I have something like 20GB of songs loaded on an SD card, which is just a small subset of my complete music collection.  With Spotify, I can just check things out immediately even if I forget to load it.  Quite liberating.

However, I have not strayed outside of mobile data roaming areas. Next time I take a trip to a place where I do not have free mobile data roaming (i.e., outside the EU), I will see how well things work…

More on Content

Spotify is a fantastic resource for finding oddball cover versions, which I totally love. However, the search is still really dumb, and the results cannot be sorted! Why can’t I click on the headers in the list and sort by things like length, or artist?  Even better, by year of publication – which is a piece of information that Spotify keeps entirely hidden for some really strange reason (when exploring music, I really like to know when it was first published).

A way to filter out duplicates would also help. Many popular songs are present in dozens of identical copies as they have been republished on innumerable random collection albums, but there is no way to do something simple like “remove all duplicates of X from the rest of the list”. Same artist, same title, same length would seem like a 99%-proof way of getting rid of duplcates.

There is a lot of something that has to be called “spam” in the Spotify library as well. Things like near-miss named albums with their own versions of songs.  Like this interesting “Player One Ready”, with off-brand covers of songs related to the “Ready Player One” movie:

A very good and useful function of Spotify is to just check out all kinds of music I get curious about – which validates the original product vision of making all music accessible. I doubt that I would buy a copy of Ingmar Nordströms Saxpartyfavoriter to listen through “Gösta Gigolo” when it is mentioned on a TV gameshow… but with Spotify I can just bring it up and check it out. Once. Not likely to listen to it again, though, but I did learn a small bit of Swedish music history. Kind of.

As to what is available or not in Spotify compared to other services, there are songs and albums that I can only find on Spotify but not anywhere else (for example, the ABBAdance album from 2000). There are also songs that I have in my local file library which are not available on Spotify, but they tend to be extremely obscure (like a Jingle Bells variant by Eurodisco artist Miss Papaya).

Some songs have proven very hard to actually locate in Spotify, even though I saw them flash by in some list of related music or song radio. For some reason, the search just seems to miss certain songs. It looks like the length of search results for a title is limited to some fixed limit, instead of returning all hits, and the default collection is rather random. 

The User Interface is still Annoying

I still haven’t figured out how to use the Spotify queue. It still seems random and brittle. If you press the wrong place or click the wrong button, it just all gets replaced with a new album, or radio, or whatever.   Spotify REALLY needs a way to put songs on a “to be explored” list in an easy way that persists until I explicitly delete songs. 

The history function is also completely broken. At least on the Windows client, I found a history list.  However, it synced kind of randomly with the phone.  For some reason, it missed large segments of certain days.  Useless. How hard can it be to have a complete history of everything I have played, in chronological order? Seems like a trivial thing to track and store, and it would enormously useful.

Organization is Still a Nightmare

Looks like the idea in Spotify is that the only real organization tool you have is making playlists. Which is too limited! The dislike button shows up at random, but not when you want it.

I still think Spotify should separate “like” from “save to library”.  I have use cases for saving songs to my library even if they do not deserve a “like” as a reference or resource (I guess the answer is, “use a playlist”). A five-level star rating is sorely needed too to manage different levels of liking.

Exit Strategy?

Finally, I am still concerned about the exit strategy from Spotify – if Spotify would stop the service or I decide to quit, just how can I save off the information I have collected in the form of playlists and discovered songs?  I understand that there is zero incentive for Spotify to create an easy way to do this.

However, from a user perspective, I would like to be able to save off a list of the songs that I have found that I like. With some form of globally unique ID that lets me find them in other music services, for download, or even on physical media. As a researcher, I am used to handling references in papers, and that is what I think the streaming world needs: some form of music industry ID that identifies each recording ever made.

The best solution right now appears to be to find good things in Spotify, and then head over to Google to buy it as a download if available. Or even search for CDs in online shops for the older rarer recordings that are not available for download, only for streaming. Expensive, but the only way I can see that maintains the music availability in my personal library for the next decade or two.

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