When I first heard about Spotify's launch here in the United States, my initial reaction was pretty much... "so what?" It wasn't that I didn't appreciate the promise of unlimited music for free, it was more that I recognized the potential downside for me -- I'm already swimming in music, new and old, kindie and not, and the promise of unlimited music seemed either like a burden or fairly useless.
But, I dragged out my invite, signed up, and I've spent a few days exploring the library. Not so much for personal reasons -- I'm still drowning in music, though I can see how it could be useful for research/writing purposes (I'm already using it for a particular project). No, I've been exploring the collection of kids music on Spotify.
The verdict? Pretty good, but not perfect.
The upside: The collection really is pretty broad. All of Dan Zanes' family albums, all the Laurie Berkner Band, all of They Might Be Giants' family stuff, all of Justin Roberts' family stuff. Imagination Movers, Elizabeth Mitchell, Recess Monkey, Secret Agent 23 Skidoo, Caspar Babypants, the list goes on. The Many Hands compilation is there, too.
The downside: The collection isn't complete, and it can be hard to find albums at times.
For example, Frances England's first and third albums are in the library, but her second, Family Tree, isn't. Lunch Money's debut disk Silly Reflection is in there. The Deedle Deedle Dees? Not there. Holly Throsby's See!? Not there. Raffi's very first album is there, as is a couple compilations from a few years back, but there's pretty much a thirty-year gap between the two.
Not only is the collection spotty, it's not always possible to find what they do have. Gwendolyn and the Good Time Gang is there for their first two albums, but their name is spelled 3 different ways, so there's more in there than you might think on first search. Dan Zanes' Night Time! doesn't show up unless you specifically search for that album. In other words, gratification isn't instant.
And if you think it's mystifying for the listener, it's mystifying for the independent artist, too, a little bit. I was pleased as punch -- but also surprised -- to see Johnny Bregar's take on "Green Beans Everywhere" for the Kindie Songwriting Club on Spotify. (Find it! Stream it! It's great!) But I'd done absolutely nothing to put it there. And the rest of Volume 1 is nowhere to be found. While I wouldn't have been surprised if Bregar had placed the song there, he says he'd done absolutely nothing to get the song online.
Not that all my (and your) clicking will make Johnny rich. A (non-kindie) musician acquaintance of mine says that his band's payment for each Spotify spin is $0.0004. That's four-one-hundredths... of a cent. Or, as my friend puts it, a million people could listen to a 10-song album in its entirety -- that's theoretically a platinum album -- and generate exactly $4,000 for the artist who made the album.
Beyond that, the ads are a bit of a problem. Not the existence of the ads themselves -- they've got to pay for the licensing rights and bandwidth somehow -- but rather the content. When I listened, I was presented with ads for musicians who were not exactly kid-friendly. Maybe as the content and listening patterns mature in the States, we'll get more contextual ads, but for the moment, if you're looking to stream albums for your kids, you're either going to have to seriously monitor the ads or splurge for one of the 2 paid upgraded memberships ($4.99 or $9.99/month), both of which are ad-free.
But it's hard to be too churlish about a system that more succeeds than fails in its promise to provide unlimited music at your fingertips for free. [Ed.: Sorry -- I had news on, and links to, a new DZ album, but it turns out that Spotify shouldn't have had the album yet. It's OK, patience is a virtue and will be rewarded soon enough.]