Why Spotify Won’t Replace My CD Collection

I love music. I own lots of CDs. We won’t go into exact numbers, but four figures are involved. Shifting to a streaming music service like Spotify would theoretically eliminate the need to store all of those and give me back a lot of floor space. But it’s not going to happen based on the current catalogue.

I’ve been playing with Spotify ahead of the official roll-out in Australia next week. Local pricing and other details haven’t yet been disclosed, and I’m going to leave off talking about how it operates as a service until that happens. But the very first test I put Spotify to (as I would with any streaming service) was to see how well it covered my favourite artists.

Music listening has two elements: discovering new material, and listening again to tracks you know you enjoy. Spotify claims a catalogue of 15 million+ tracks and says 20,000 more are added every day, which means there’s plenty of scope for discovering new stuff. But raw volume isn’t the only metric when it comes to listening to your favourites again. If an artist you like is missing or covered incompletely, then the service isn’t much help.

There are some well-publicised holdouts for Spotify. The Beatles aren’t present, since their digital contract is iTunes-only. Well-known digital music holdouts AC/DC and Garth Brooks aren’t there either. For my own purposes, none of those matter very much.

Some of my more obscure tastes are actually well-met. Every Nik Kershaw album is in there. ABBA coverage is also pretty flawless, though solo work by members of the group is a little patchier. There are all the Spice Girls B-sides you could want.

But plenty of the artists I like are either entirely absent or only partially represented. Kirsty MacColl’s best album is missing. Deborah Conway is represented by just one collection. The Motels are only partially represented. There is nothing by I’m Talking. I could go on and shock you even more with my personal taste, but the lesson is clear: there are hundreds of tracks missing that I’m likely to want to hear at some point.

Another avenue I checked out was how Spotify compares with the list I assembled last Australia Day of Australia’s most successful albums and whether they were available on iTunes. Since that article was written, some of the more notable local holdouts, including INXS, Icehouse and Cold Chisel, have begun making their work available digitally, and that means they show up on Spotify as well. Broadly speaking, the coverage is similar on Spotify, and better than it was last year. However, there’s still no sign of a proper Mondo Rock back catalogue.

For people less worried about completeness of coverage than I am, Spotify will probably be more than ample. But if your tastes aren’t decidedly modern and mainstream, total coverage is unlikely. That doesn’t mean Spotify is of no use to me. But it does mean I’m not going to find it much help when assembling party playlists — or deciding to ditch my massive physical music collection.

(For the record, every one of my CDs has been ripped onto a hard drive which has been backed up several times, so in pure portability terms I’ve already reduced the amount of space my music collection theoretically needs to take up. Not that I can bring myself to get rid of the actual discs. But that’s a whole other issue.)

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