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Spotify: What It Means For Classical Music Fans

After enjoying more than two years of immense popularity as an exclusively European service, the streaming music giant Spotify arrived in the US this July.

As opposed to Internet radio sites like Pandora, Spotify doesn't decide which song to play next. It has a huge library where you can stream anything (not quite the size of the iTunes Store, but at 15 million songs and growing, it's close). Creating and sharing playlists is the name of the game with Spotify, and websites have sprung up all over the web that feature user-created mixes.

Spotify offers a three-tiered service plan, including a free plan that allows 20 hours of ad-supported listening per month. The Unlimited and Premium subscriptions add unlimited listening and mobile streaming, respectively.

Vast, Yet Disorganized

Admittedly, Spotify has a long way to go when it comes to organizing its classical music collection. A search for "Beethoven" turns up all sorts of results: Many name "Beethoven" as the artist, while others have the orchestra or soloist in that category. Because of this, finding a specific recording of a work can be trying. And the inability to change this inconsistent metadata, even when a song is in one of your playlists, prevents users from fixing the problem. Also, the streaming quality is good, but not great, which is noticeable if you're listening with high-end audio equipment.

Nevertheless, Spotify's enormous library is a killer feature. If you can find them among the convoluted search results, you can listen to ten different recordings of Ravel's Piano Concerto in G without spending a dime. The key here is breadth, not intelligence. Spotify has little idea what you want to listen to next (it recently added an Artist Radio feature, but when the artist is "Philadelphia Orchestra," for example, you're going to get all eras and styles of classical music.) If you're willing to explore its library, though, the options are seemingly endless.

Thankfully, the community is also making it easier for classical fans to find music on Spotify. Yesterday, Gramophone Magazine announced their 2011 Gramophone Awards shortlist, and a playlist is already available that includes those nominated CDs that are available on Spotify. The blog Spotify Classical Playlists is also an excellent resource for updates on Spotify's classical offerings.

Currently, the service is invite-only, but if you sign up on the homepage, it won't be long before you are invited to join via email.

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