I’ll come out and say it: I’m a Mac user. Have I always been? No, but I’m finding it hard to come up with a reason to ever go back — the sole exception being for certain computer games. I also use an iPod touch but, like the laptop, this hasn’t always been the case. Back in 2006 I hopped aboard the Zune train and I didn’t even bat an eye. Sure Apple had already secured its foothold in the market, but Microsoft’s competitor offered up something that was at the time unheard of in the mp3 market — unlimited music.

The Zune Pass was a subscription-based program where a Zune owner could pay $15 a month and have access to all the music he or she could possibly want, and choose 10 songs to keep even if they no longer wanted to pay the subscription fee. I loved the program so much I even upgraded my standard Zune to the ill-fated Zune HD for a period of time. See, the Pass to me was the perfect answer to any music lover’s dilemma; the only problem was that it was only available for the Zune.
So along comes Spotify, a Europe-based service that allows the streaming of millions of songs from major record labels like Sony and Universal to lesser known indie labels. The service has recently made its way across the pond, and I do believe it will revolutionize the way music is downloaded and streamed.
Spotify has three packages, each offering more than the last. You can use the service for free. This is similar to a glorified online radio. You’ll still have to suffer through ads, but will be able to specifically choose what song you want to hear, even if it’s on repeat. A step above that is the unlimited option available for $4.99 a month, which will get you all the music minus the ads. I personally think the real bang for your buck comes in the premium package, though. For roughly $10 a month you’ll have access to all of the music with as zero ads, and best of all, the ability to listen to the music on any device anywhere, including your cell phone.
It’s the Zune pass only cheaper and more widely accessible. On top of all of these features, it also automatically pulls your iTunes library into the program so you’ll be able to stream that music. One of the best features available overall through the premium package is the ability to create playlists that are available even when you have zero internet connectivity.
Music is expensive. I’ve recently gone back to purchasing CDs and records because I can no longer justify paying the same price for digital media that I do to have a good old-fashioned hard copy. Most albums come with a free code that allows you to download a digital version of the album anyways. So why are we paying the same price? To me, Spotify makes paying for digital media worth it. I’ll go out and buy the discs of bands I know I will forever love and for the rest I’ll pay the price of one album on iTunes and have access to whatever I want, whenever I want.

-Jeff Giorgi

For the most part, I’m content to drown in the abundance of our time. It’s great when I’m trying to use the Internet to make sense of abstract news events in some far corner of the world or when I’ve soured on all the different flavors of water you can buy at a gas station. By that logic, a massive library of music that is accessible any time — like Spotify — sounds perfect. But it’s not. I don’t want to put up with the free version of Spotify. There’s something disenfranchising about dealing with ads in a program that assigns you as the DJ — I just don’t want to do that. I’m willing to put up with ads if someone else has taken the reigns, like on Pandora, but not here. That leads to the pay service. The cards are all stacked against me: It’s dirt cheap and there’s a lot of music available. It all seems to good to be true. But that’s not how I consume music. The musicians I enjoy are of the album-oriented variety, and that is something I struggle to appreciate when I’m listening to the digital version.Services like Spotify and iTunes, by their nature, lead me to grow complacent with the same singles. The song or two that, with the physical copy of the album would lead me to explore the entire thing and walk away more satiated, are the only things I’ll end up listening to when I’m using a digital service. They’re right there, and I know what I’m going to get. With a digital service, I can play songs that I find especially salient until they’re as “fresh and ripe” as all the stuff from the gas station I’m sick of drinking. Once that’s done, I can move on to another set of songs. Lather, rinse, repeat.That’s what I do with digital media. The speed and ease numb the experience of listening to music, and that’s something I’m just not ready to give up. I’m also not ready to give up the album artwork, liner notes and shelf value of physical albums. When I buy something, especially something that’s as important to me as music is, I want a tangible asset when I walk away from the deal.A digital service also leaves you at the mercy of your Internet service provider. You can stream music to mobile devices, but with cellular providers embracing the tiered-data approach, do you want to find yourself jonesing for some Nicki Minaj, only to come to the crippling realization that you can’t stream any more music without subjecting yourself to exorbitant rates for exceeding the microscopic amount of data you’re afforded? Buying the physical copy of the album gives you the whole experience in a neatly prepared package, and that’s something I’m not willing to give up.

-Gregory Connolly