Spotify arrives, with (almost) every song in the universe
Published 17/11/2012 | 06:00
They say good things come to those who wait – so surely, really great things must come to those who wait for bloody ages.
That's certainly the hope for thousands of Irish music fans this week, as the music streaming service Spotify finally makes its debut upon these shores – ending a tantalising three-year wait, during which all we could do was watch the international hype go into overdrive.
Sure, rival services such as Deezer and Grooveshark arrived here to prove their worth in the meantime. But this newcomer is the big name of music streaming; it's what Facebook is to social networking, or Netflix to video streaming.
So, that's what all the fuss is about – but what exactly is it?
Put simply, Spotify is a service that allows users to stream unlimited amounts of music over the internet from an almost unlimited catalogue. To use it, just download the program from the website, and hey presto – you've got almost every song in the universe at your fingertips.
It differs from 'traditional' online music sales in that the files are not saved to your hard drive – but inevitably, there's still a catch.
Your blissful immersion into this brave new musical world will be occasionally interrupted by ads unless you pay €4.99 a month for an 'Unlimited' subscription. And if you want to listen to your music on the go, it's €9.99 a month to use the service on mobile devices.
It might seem a bit steep in an era where portability is king and the bedroom stereo has been consigned to history – but it's far cheaper and easier than building up a collection of your own, says music blogger Niall Byrne, aka Nialler9.
"Because there's so much more music to listen to these days, it means that there's more than one person could possibly purchase," he says.
"So, people are moving to these subscription models. They know they can access 99pc of what they want via the likes of Spotify or Deezer. It's a slow move, but it is the way forward."
Finding "the way forward" has been the holy grail for every record company since the late 1990s, when music-sharing sites such as Napster arrived on the web, enabling users to illegally 'share' music for free – thus escalating the war against piracy that had begun with the release of the dreaded cassette tape.
It quickly became obvious that music was no longer a bricks-and-mortar business – and labels have spent the last decade struggling to keep their heads above water.
Only now, with a healthy cut from legitimate services like Spotify, are they beginning to breathe easily again.
But not everyone agrees that this secures the industry's future. Garage rock duo The Black Keys (pictured) withheld their most recent album, El Camino, from the service, saying that it was simply not financially feasible.
And you can see where they might be coming from. Rolling Stone magazine has quoted a calculation that suggests a song must be played 100 times on the service before it generates the same revenue for an artist as a single sale.
"The idea of a streaming service, like Netflix for music, I'm totally not against it," said drummer Patrick Carney.
"It's just we won't put all of our music on it until there are enough subscribers for it to make sense.
"I imagine if Spotify becomes something that people are willing to pay for, then I'm sure iTunes will just create their own service."