Who can argue with free music?
Spotify, a free streaming music service formerly only offered in Europe, is now available on a limited basis in the United States. Those seeking a sleek, easily manageable music service with a good selection will find it—if they can get an invite to Spotify.
I say "if they can get an invite," because after attracting millions of European users, Spotify has given out invites for the free service only to a small number of those who signed up. Unless, of course, potential users want to pay for Spotify—then it's immediately available to any and all.
The false cachet created by the invite system makes for a bit of a letdown. Some of my more music-savvy friends have touted Spotify's arrival in the U.S.A. as the Second Coming, and maybe that's because they paid for the premium version.
In the free and therefore most popular version, there are still some glitches. Every once in a while, the service throws a tantrum and skips every other song on a playlist. The sync with iTunes leaves a number of tracks unusable. A recommendation function, a la Pandora, would be welcome; Spotify's "related artists" feature simply recommends common artists most likely already known.
Despite having 15 million available songs, Spotify probably won't satisfy the more hipster or classic rock urges, the latter existing on Spotify only as tribute bands. Led Zeppelin, the Beatles and Arcade Fire are nowhere to be found, which isn't surprising given that Spotify's royalty rate is the lowest of any music service out there. (According to a recent study, artists earn $0.00029 per play on Spotify.)
Compensating for these flaws is the social aspect, by far Spotify's most exciting feature. It allows users to create and save playlists—nothing new, but the connection to Facebook is seamless. Users create public playlists comprising their profiles, and Facebook friends also on Spotify can subscribe to those playlists, lift songs or simply judge them. This eliminates penis-measuring contests over whose music is more obscure or hardcore by laying on the table all the music users are actually listening to. (Users can keep playlists private, but that violates the tacit social contract of the Spotify community: you show me your guilty pleasures, I'll show you mine.)
Because Spotify allows users to merge their iTunes libraries and, if it's the premium version, provides access to unlimited music anywhere, it potentially means the end of dependence on iTunes for those who haven't already decided that iTunes is just an expensive reason to buy Excedrin.
While Spotify may not be the end-all, be-all music service, it's certainly ahead of the curve. If it gets rid of the invite-or-pay system and lets the social scene flourish, it'll be the best music-sharing service out there.