About one year ago, I decided to commit to Spotify. I silently chose to leave behind my decade’s worth of MP3s and go all in on streaming. Lugging around my 90GB of music and manually copying MP3s from one device to another had grown tiresome. It’s been a year now, and not a terrible year either. In many ways, it was a fantastic year (the world didn’t even end). But after 400 odd days of streaming an unlimited number of full albums without buying them, creating countless playlists, sending dozens of songs, and playing that music on any device I pleased (for the $10 a month premium fee), I’ve decided I need to quit.
I know what you’re thinking: You’re probably shaking your computer monitor (or iPad) violently asking why I’d possibly want to give up a service that lets you stream as much Lady Gaga, Nickelback, and Smash Mouth as you want?! I mean how can you turn down the ability to listen to Bananarama’s full catalog? These are good questions. Especially considering that I’m listening to The Mowgli’s on Spotify as I type this! But I never said I wasn’t a hypocrite. It won’t be easy and I don’t know where to go – all I know is that I need to get out.
It’s an illusion, Michael
Though its convenience is unmatched, Spotify is designed around an illusion. It’s a lie. Not a public lie, but a lie that we’re all buying into nonetheless. Spotify gives you the illusion that you have a music collection. It lets you import all of your local songs on your computer (in my case, 10,000 or so) as well as all of your iTunes and Windows playlists. Once you’ve let it suck in all of your data, it lets you create your own playlists, which are basically just lists of song names, or data. It gives you authorship over those playlists, control over those playlists, and provides you free access to nearly all of the music you might desire. Not to download, like an MP3 file, but to stream whenever and wherever you want. It sounds great, right?
Unfortunately, though you may think you’re getting a free deal as you spend hours building playlists from scratch and Starring songs in your Spotify collection (to save them for later), all you’re really building is a prison. Once you’re in Spotify, you’re trapped. And as I’ve learned in the last year, disobeying the warden can have dire consequences.
A couple months back, I was listening to some downloaded (Spotify calls it “Available offline”) tracks on the subway when I got a peculiar error. Somehow, with no connection and in the depths of the earth beneath NYC, Spotify on my iPhone decided that I had synced my playlists to more than “three devices” and completely purged all 4GB of music I had synced. All of it. Gone. Just gone. Deleted. To say I was shocked and upset would be an understatement. Some users have complained that this is a bug, but it isn’t going away. It’s something Spotify will do if you sync “your” playlists to more than three devices. Happen to own a computer, phone, and tablet? You’ve hit the limit. Don’t download the Spotify app on another device or you’re in for a world of annoyance and a day or two of resyncing.
It’s not just multiple devices that will cause your entire downloaded collection to be erased from a device. If you accidentally leave a device’s Spotify app in Offline mode (or don’t turn your Wi-Fi on) for 20 days, everything on the device will be deleted. This user lost 20GB of music. It’s happened to me, and even our Editor-in-Chief at DT. Not cool.
Those are not the only setbacks I’ve incurred. After spending a good long while creating an offline playlist on an iPad a few weeks ago, I connected the tablet back up to Wi-Fi to discover my playlist erased and overwritten with a very old, primitive version of … itself. Then there’s the time Spotify erased all of my Starred tracks, deleting the playlist of songs I told it that I liked and wanted to remember.
Bugs are bugs and I’m sure there are sound technical reasons why these and other issues have occurred. The problem is that these limitations only serve to highlight the real problem with Spotify: It makes you feel like you’re in control and still have a music collection when the reality is that you own and control absolutely nothing. Everything can be, and often is, taken away at a moment’s notice because you’ve broken some rule that you didn’t know existed. When you use Spotify, you’re operating entirely in its walls. Everything works by Spotify’s rules. You can’t even share tracks you own (your MP3s) with a friend if they aren’t approved and part of Spotify’s library. So, in that way, it controls the music that you actually do own as well.
Give us everything, leave with nothing
Spotify demands that you create and build playlists, and encourages you to spend hours doing so, and to share your creations with others. I’ve made dozens of playlists that I’ve shared with different people. With one click of a mouse, Spotify will import and suck in all of your iTunes/Windows playlists and make copies of all of your local music that it can. It literally scans and copies every piece of music you own and every ordered collection of song titles (a playlist) you’ve created in iTunes or Windows. Since Spotify is so friendly with the world in what it imports, you’d think it would allow you to export a list of song names too. Wrong. It does not allow you to remove any of the data you put into it. Want to leave Spotify? You’ll be leaving empty-handed. There’s no playlist export function.
Google Play Music allows you to download complete MP3s of your entire music collection. Amazon MP3 allows you to download songs as often as you’d like. Now I don’t expect to be able to remove actual playable songs from Spotify – because it’s not a service that lets you purchase music. But what it does have an ethical obligation to do is let you export and remove the playlists (ordered lists of song names) in usable formats, including your list of Starred songs. Google allows you to export the data you put into it, and other companies like Facebook have reluctantly included the feature as well. With a service like Spotify, this kind of functionality is absolutely essential if it hopes to remain a major player. Imagine how much of a hassle buying a new phone would be if you couldn’t transfer your phone numbers and contacts from one phone to the other? For people like me, our playlists and music libraries are just as important. When we try out new music services, we want to bring our progress with us.
The reason companies don’t let you export is usually because they’re afraid of losing users. Having an open data import and export feature doesn’t let services like Spotify rely on trapping us instead of competing on their own merits. If Spotify began opening up export functionality, other services would begin to do the same and we’d all be a lot happier and sleep with a little more peace of mind.
Will you use Spotify forever?
If not being able to get your data back from Spotify doesn’t sound like a problem, I have a few questions for you:
- How many music services have you used in the last 10-15 years?
- Can you see yourself using Spotify for the rest of your natural life?
- Are you okay forgetting about every piece of music you’re listening to?
Maybe some of you just don’t care about your music collection. If so, Spotify is perfect. Hell, Pandora is better. If all music is just an endless radio station to you, then nothing I’m saying will matter to you. But if you form a connection to the music you listen to, then services like Spotify are an amazing development, but a troublesome reality.
Spotify could go out of business at any moment. Apple might buy it tomorrow just to shut it down like it did with Lala a few years ago. We have no idea, yet millions of us are investing tons of time creating playlist art projects that mean a lot to us, but are forever stuck within Spotify’s green and black walls.
I knew getting into Spotify that I wouldn’t technically own the free music I streamed, but I created these playlists and Starred these tracks. Spotify owns the actual music I’m streaming, but why does it get to own the lists of songs I create too?
I don’t want to quit Spotify. It’s probably the best music service I’ve ever used. But I value the things I create. The longer I am in Spotify’s ecosystem, the greater my loss will be when it inevitably changes, falls apart, or I decide to leave. Outside of the U.S., Spotify used to sell actual music tracks. Now it doesn’t even do that. Right now, Spotify is a cage, and it’s not a particularly attractive one, either. If I have to live like the Gorillaz at the zoo, at least paint my walls like the jungle.
If most of our music services are indeed headed in the direction of Spotify, the music industry may have bigger problems ahead of it. Single companies like Spotify come and go, it’s inevitable. Our entire music history shouldn’t come and go with them.