An Open Letter to Spotify

Dear Spotify:

You know how some families have two children, and one child is a straight-A student who gets in to Stanford… while the other child is a ne’er do well who’s been to jail at least once and still lives at home… yet, paradoxically, the parents are always riding the successful kid’s ass?

You, Spotify, are that successful kid. You’ve grown from nothing to become the most successful music streaming service in the world. You’ve literally changed the way I consume music, and – in a very real sense – you’ve changed my life. You’re standing at the precipice of greatness.

But you’re not perfect. Nothing ever is, really. Which is why I’m constantly complaining about you. Not because you’re awful… but because you’re so close to becoming The One True Music Service. It’s like you have victory inches from your grasp, and you don’t even see it.

So here’s a laundry list of things you could do to to become truly great:

For starters, get rid of the 10,000 song limit. If you’re not familiar with how Spotify works, there’s a “Your Music” section of the app which lets you “save” albums and singles to your account. So instead of having to search for an album every time you want to hear it, you can “save” it to an easily-accessible list of albums in your account. I keep putting “save” in quotes because the app isn’t really saving anything: it just creates a shortcut to the album in your account, not unlike a browser bookmark. Spotify limits the total number of songs in “Your Music” to 10,000 for some reason (Apple Music’s limit is 100,000). There’s no engineering or data storage reason why Spotify can’t allow you to save 100,000 songs to your account, too. And, if you think about it, it actually makes sense for Spotify to raise the limit: the more music you have in your account, the more invested in Spotify you become, and the less likely you are to switch to a competing service.

Secondly, Spotify should really consider a cloud storage option. No music service has everything. Some artists sign exclusive agreements with one service. Some artists, like Peter Gabriel and Prince, eschew streaming completely. A few albums temporarily disappear while the service renegotiates its contract with a record label, much like how TV channels can disappear from cable lineups while networks and cable companies argue over carriage fees. Some albums were put out by labels that have since gone out of business, and the rights holders can’t be easily found. And most music fans have at least some music that’s “too obscure” or “too sketchy” for a streaming service. I’m not just talking about my treasured MP3s of 86, an Atlanta post-rock band from the 80s that no one remembers – I’m also talking about live bootlegs, demo tapes, etc.

Apple Music and Google Play Music both have apps that scan your local music and upload any songs missing from their catalogs. That way, all the music you’ve collected over the years – the bootlegs, the rare remixes, the fan club singles, the vinyl rips of albums that never made it to CD, much less streaming – becomes part of Apple or Google’s cloud. You can stream it to any device at any time. From the end user’s point of view, it becomes part of Apple Music or Google Play Music’s catalog.

Spotify’s solution to the problem is much less elegant. You can integrate local files into the desktop app, and you can add local files to playlists. If you sync that playlist to a mobile device – but only on the same Wi-Fi network as the desktop app – the local files will be copied to your device. So if you create a playlist which contains 2GB of local files, that playlist will take up 2GB of storage space on your device… which defeats the entire purpose of a “streaming service”. With Google Play Music – which allows you to upload up to 50,000 local songs – those files would take up zero space, ‘cos Google’s streaming it to you from the cloud.

Even worse – and this is something Redditors at /r/Spotify just don’t seem to get – once you leave your Wi-Fi network, that music is simply inaccessible. Example: my all-time favorite version of The Cure’s “A Forest” is from The Cure in Orange concert. I have In Orange on Laserdisc, and ripped that track to mp3 years ago. The song has been uploaded to my Google Play Music account. So if I’m at a friend’s house, and we’re sitting around listening to music via Bluetooth speaker and we get a random urge to hear it, I just open GPM and stream it. With Spotify, I could add it to a playlist and listen at a friend’s house… but only if I had the foresight to sync it to my phone before I left. Otherwise I’m just out of luck. I don’t know how much it would cost for Spotify to add the ability to upload 20,000 or 50,000 songs, but they need to do it. Every time I exit Spotify and open GPM just to play one song is a chance Google has to get me to switch. But if Spotify goes public sometime soon, that sweet, sweet IPO money could get something like this going.

While I’m here, Spotify please don’t stratify your accounts. If you do get around to adding cloud storage, don’t create a new “$14.99/month Spotify + Cloud” plan. Either figure out a way to include it in the $9.99/month Premium plan or increase the cost of Premium to $12.99/month. Or whatever you have to do. My point is, don’t make it more complicated. I wasn’t a paying customer when you had Free, Unlimited and Premium plans, but every time I read about it my head hurts. And I still don’t really know the difference between “Free on Mobile Phones” vs. “Free on Tablets and Other Devices” accounts. It doesn’t really matter, since I’ve got Premium… but just… keep it simple.

Speaking of “simple”, could you please post changelogs somewhere? Like any app, Spotify has bugs. It also gets new features. It sure would be nice if you published lists of bug fixes and new features with every version of the app so end users could know if that weird bug has finally been fixed. Spotify sometimes changes the way things work, and it sure would be nice to be able to go to the app’s page on Google Play and to get confirmation that yes, something has changed, and here’s how it works now.

Next, you guys should fix the apps. On paper, Spotify’s apps are great, and work on multiple platforms, like Windows, Mac, Android, Roku and more. But each has its own share of bugs and quirks. There was a 2-3 month stretch where Spotify’s Android app would take forever to start up on Wi-Fi. It was fine over LTE, and the bug affected all my Android devices, not just my phone. And we’ve got a 200Mbps connection with a decent router that can stream multiple Netflix HD feeds over Wi-Fi no problem. The problem seemed to go away for a while, but still comes back from time to time. The Roku app still can’t scrobble. The Windows app has always taken forever to start (although I disabled the Friends pane, which speeds it up some). Just sit down with your developers and figure out a way to make them faster and more reliable. If that means a new development environment, so be it.

And lastly, a personal beef: the gift card situation in the United States. Some people prefer not using credit cards online if they don’t have to. I’ve paid for my phone service with Virgin Mobile Top-Up cards for almost 8 years, and it works because Virgin cards are available everywhere: Walmart, Target, Publix, Bi-Lo, CVS, Walgreens, Lowe’s, QuikTrip and more. There’s a 99% chance I’ll go to one of those stores at least once a month, so it’s no problem to pick one up. However, finding Spotify gift cards is almost impossible. Best Buy is the only B&M store I know of that sells them, so I have to make a special trip to buy a card. This is especially galling for two reasons: 1) Spotify cards are sold everywhere in Europe; and 2) Shops like CVS carry all sorts of “marginal” online cards. Are people still buying Facebook Game cards? Are Groupon cards a big seller? Is the Nintendo Network a big seller? If not, why aren’t Spotify cards replacing them? Again, you should be making it easier for your customers, not harder. And having options is a good thing, especially since you already have the tech on your site to redeem gift cards.

I didn’t quite say this in my opening, Spotify, so I’ll say it now: I love you. I love you with all my heart. It’s a rare day that I don’t open Spotify and listen to some tunes while running errands, or doing household chores or writing articles like these. I want you to succeed. You’re the best app that ever happened to me! I just wish you’d pay a little attention to some of the points I’ve raised. You’re a sexy supermodel, Spotify… but you’re a sexy supermodel who chews with her mouth open.

Sincerely,

Jim Cofer

One thought on “An Open Letter to Spotify”

  1. Brilliant letter. I was with Spotify but switched to Tidal because I wanted hi res music. I wished to God I never did. To list my complaints with Tidal would take up way to much time and space here. Can Spotify please hurry up and and add a hi res music platform!! I own a pair of high quality headphones (B&W P9 Signatures) along with a Chord Mojo so I can say I definitely hear the difference between mp3 at 320 compared to hi res music files on Tidal. BUT I perfer Spotify’ s format. So please, please bring on the hi res music platform so I can come back into the fold.

    Missing you

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