Spotify is a music app for your computer or mobile device that I think of as Napster for the generation a decade later. Like Napster and Pandora (another current music service), Spotify lets you play your favorite tunes without having to burn them from CD, buy them from iTunes, digitize them from your old vinyl or cassettes, or steal them.
Instead, you subscribe to the Spotify service; download the app to your mobile device or computer; then stream your music. Spotify is social. You can find a playlist that somebody else has put together, share or suggest your favorite songs, and make it seem like a music party as you listen.
You can also download apps that add into Spotify, such as last.fm and The Warner Sound. The latter is a bunch of tunes and playlists from the Warner Brothers record catalog, including songs that they are currently featuring from Pittsburgh's Wiz Khalifa. From what I can tell, The Warner Sound is a promotional vehicle for current Warner artists as well as artists in the spotlight. Recently, its featured playlists included Duck Dunn and Robin Gibb, both of whom recently passed away.
Standard Spotify is free, but that's really only compelling if you want to listen on your computer. There you can find songs, create your own playlists and libraries, rate music, find playlists from your friends. It's fun, and you're likely be able to find those tunes you love but don't love enough to buy.
For instance, I just listened to the studio release of "Conquistador" by Procol Harum. Nice song, but I wouldn't buy it because it doesn't have the power of the wonderful live version the band released with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.
The Spotify free edition is ad supported. After six months, it also has time limits. Starting in month seven, you'll only be able to stream your songs 10 hours each month and play any specific track no more than five times.
That's where Spotify Unlimited comes in. This edition will cost you $4.99 a month, but it removes the ads and the restrictions on how much you can use it each month.
Those two editions are pretty lame, though, when it comes to your mobile device. The mobile apps will only listen to your own files already on your device, but won't pick up tunes from the Spotify library. To do that you'll need to purchase Spotify Premium at $9.99 per month.
That's where mobile gets good with Spotify, because it lets you stream your tunes in real time or download/synchronize them so you can listen even when you're not connected to the Net. You can even purchase a separate music system that works with Spotify Premium, so you don't have to use your computer or carry around your cell phone.
In general, I like both Spotify and Pandora but use them differently. Spotify is great when I want to find the exact cut I simply must hear and when I want to program my own playlists or share with friends. I use Pandora when I am in a mood for "songs like (name your artist)" but want a bit of surprise.
Plus, unless I'm willing to pay $10 a month, Pandora is the choice for smartphones. Since I'm an old radio guy, I don't mind hearing commercials to avoid the charge.
Follow David Radin on Twitter @dradin, or learn more at www.megabyteminute.com. First Published June 17, 2012 12:00 AM