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Introducing Spotify

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Spotify is one of the world's largest streaming video services, with more than 10 million users in Europe alone. This popular service has just come to the U.S., and music lovers are wondering what it's all about (and whether or not to sign up). In this article, Michael Miller tells you what Spotify offers, describes how it works, and compares it with other popular online music services. Who knows? It might be the perfect service for you!
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If you're a music lover, no doubt you've been hearing a lot of noise about Spotify. Just what is this Spotify, and how might it change the way you listen to music online?

Read on to learn more.

What Is Spotify—and What Can You Do with It?

Spotify is the latest online music service to hit the U.S. It's not all that new, however, elsewhere in the world; Spotify was launched in Sweden in October of 2008, and today has more than 10 million users across Europe. That makes Spotify one of the world's largest online music services, right up there with iTunes and Pandora.

Unlike iTunes, which is essentially an online music store for digital downloads, Spotify is a streaming music service. That means you have immediate access to all the music stored in Spotify's online database for one low monthly fee. You don't pay for each download; instead, your subscription covers all the music you listen to in a given month.

How much music does Spotify have available? Lots. There are more than 15 million songs available on Spotify, from all four major music labels and a large number of independent labels. You can find everything from the latest pop and hip hop hits to classic rock tunes, country and bluegrass, and even jazz and classical music.

Using Spotify is as easy as signing up for one of its three subscription plans, installing the Spotify software (it runs on both Windows and Mac PCs), and then connecting to Spotify and selecting what music you want to listen to. If you subscribe to Spotify's top plan, you can even stream music to your iPhone or Android phone, thanks to native apps on both smartphone platforms (see Figure 1).

Figure 1 Listening to streaming music via the Spotify application

In addition, Spotify consolidates its online music database with music you've downloaded or ripped to your PC. When you first install the Spotify software, it scans your hard disk for existing tracks and creates a Local Files library (see Figure 1). You can then create playlists that combine tunes on your PC with tunes you stream from Spotify.

Figure 2 Spotify also plays music stored on your PC.

In this regard, Spotify plays well with your iPod and tracks you've purchased from the iTunes Store. (The Spotify application even looks a little like iTunes.) Spotify plays less well with Windows Media Player because it's not compatible with Windows' .wma audio file format. Spotify is compatible with Apple's .m4a format, as well as the universal .mp3 format.

It's more likely, however, that you'll use Spotify to stream the tunes you want online, in real time. You can browse the latest releases in Spotify's What's New section; search for tracks by name, album, artist, or genre; or share individual tracks or playlists via email or on Facebook and Twitter. That makes Spotify a very social music network—and a great way to find out what your friends are listening to.

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