Spotify made the news last week, and not for a good reason. To summarize, musician Neil Young stated he wanted his music removed from the streaming service, after criticizing Spotify for hosting Joe Rogan’s podcast. Rogan (for some reason) runs the most popular podcast; Spotify bought exclusive rights to it for $100 million, as part of the company’s bid to emphasize podcasting. Unfortunately, said podcast contains, among other flaws, misinformation and anti-vaccination views about COVID-19. Spotify stated plans to put warnings on podcasts discussing COVID-19, but plans no specific action against Rogan. However, Spotify did remove Young’s music as he requested.
All of this has resulted in a continuous stream of backlash. Several other artists, including Young’s fellow Canadian musician Joni Mitchell has also had her music removed from Spotify. It’s also extending to other Spotify exclusive podcasters, with Brené Brown pausing her podcast. Finally, there’s been an exodus of users switching to other music streaming services.
Why is Spotify doing all this?
Spotify’s the world’s most popular music streaming service. The Verge states Spotify makes up 31% of the global streaming music market, followed by Apple Music (at 15%), a tie between Amazon Music and China-exclusive Tencent Music (at 13% each), and YouTube Music (formerly Google Play Music, at 8%).
Despite Spotify’s dominance in music streaming, it’s not as profitable as they’d like, given they have to share revenue with record labels and deal with music rights. As such, Spotify’s grown interested in an area they can control, and keep more revenue: exclusive podcasts. Spotify’s hoping to lure in and keep users with their own proprietary podcasts, especially with popular podcasters like Rogan. Between that goal and what they paid for Rogan’s show, they’d rather keep him versus lose sleep over losing the catalogs of a few 1960s-era music stars. (I suspect losing current big-name stars like Korean boy band BTS, rapper The Weeknd, or pop singer Adele would do more to get Spotify’s attention.)
The downsides of Spotify’s current state
Still, all of the above leaves much to be desired. There’s no way to add one’s own podcasts to Spotify, so if you’re a fan of a minor podcast they don’t carry, you’ll have to use a secondary app anyway.
Spotify’s selling point is also for its music, not podcasts, which are a nice extra at best. Also, while Apple and Google offer podcasts (via their podcast or music apps), they’re mostly in a passive sense: just a broad catalog of material. In Spotify’s case, you’re paying in part for a platform with Joe Rogan as a specific, advertised selling point. And of course, there’s the paltry rates Spotify pays musicians; a problem with all music streaming services, though Spotify’s rates are particularly mediocre.
Finally, there’s Spotify’s questionable goal of wanting to do to podcasts what Facebook did to open web platforms like blogs: making podcasts a “walled garden” media format that you’ll only access within a specific company’s app, particularly Spotify’s.
A survey in 2021 showed Spotify has 24% of all podcast customers, narrowly beating Apple Podcasts’ 21% and YouTube’s 18%. (It’s not clear if they include all the platforms the latter two have, such as iTunes on Windows and the Google Podcasts app on Android.) Still, given the fractured and mostly independent state of podcast platforms and competing apps, I’m optimistic about podcasts remaining one of the few open web formats that stay widely popular. The fact Spotify’s relying on a controversial podcaster as a base for its efforts doesn’t sound promising for them.
Alternatives to Spotify
Given all of the above, there’s currently no shortage of people looking to switch to a Spotify alternative. Below are a few I’ve read about or used. All of these have web players, so they’ll also work on Linux systems and Chromebooks.
For those that use Apple devices, Apple Music is a pretty decent option. It’s easy to integrate an existing MP3 collection into Apple Music (Mac)/iTunes (Windows). Lossless audio playback is also offered.
Apple Music costs $9.99/month.
I’m currently back on Apple Music, after bouncing around on several other services (including Spotify). For myself, it works pretty well: I use Apple devices, and have an existing MP3 collection. Spotify offers support for the latter, but it’s not as well integrated.
There’s a few apps to make transferring playlists from Spotify to Apple Music easier (SongShift on iOS, Soundiiz on Android).
YouTube Music costs $9.99/month; similar to Spotify, a free version with ads and reduced functionality exists. Also similar to Spotify, you can’t buy any music through YouTube Music. (This was a feature with Google Play Music, but Google closed their music store a few years ago.)
I’m one of those that missed Google Play Music when it switched over to YouTube Music; the latter’s interface feels clunkier.
Amazon has offered its own digital music store for years, and now also offers a streaming service. It comes in several versions:
- Free: Offers a handful of playlists and limited song selection.
- Prime: Prime subscribers get access to two million songs, plus basic features like playlists, etc.
- Unlimited: For $9.99/month (or $7.99/month for Prime subscribers), the full Amazon Music library is offered.
Like Apple Music, Amazon Music also easily integrates MP3 purchases made through its store. However, there doesn’t seem to be a way to integrate non-Amazon-acquired MP3s, as far as I know.
Amazon Music is particularly ideal for Prime customers, who’ll get it cheaper than competing services.
Tidal’s selling point is that it offers lossless, high-fidelity audio streaming options. The $9.99/month tier offers lossless audio quality. There’s also a $19.99/month tier that offers studio copy-level audio quality, plus some extra features.
Tidal stood out more when the other services didn’t offer lossless streaming. However, now that Apple Music and Amazon Music offer such, Tidal seems like a tougher sell.
Bandcamp and other digital music stores (aka go back to buying music)
Finally, one could “pull a 1999” (as PBS’ YouTube series “Two Cents” calls it) and just go back to buying music. Apple Music and Amazon Music still sell MP3s; however, the best option is Bandcamp, which lets musicians keep a larger share of revenue. Bandcamp takes 10-15% of revenue (depending on a band’s sales). Bandcamp’s site also offers some other features for users, including streaming purchased music.
The one downside of this route might be for those who’ve never bought MP3s (or CDs). They might find it expensive or time-consuming to convert their streaming service playlists into an MP3 music collection. See: younger people who’ve grown up with streaming services, instead of buying music.