Why Spotify Won’t Replace My CD Collection

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.)

Lifehacker’s weekly Streaming column looks at how technology is keeping us entertained.


  • I tend to agree. Streaming services definitely have a place. They’re pretty handy if you’re on the move a lot (although MP3s on your hard drive are just as portable, really), or use multiple devices, or even as a try-before-you-buy service for music that you might ‘like’ but not ‘love.’ I don’t think streaming can (or should) replace purchasing (i.e. CDs, or downloading MP3s or whatever) music in terms of maintaining a proper music collection. It comes down to ownership. Regardless of how successful a service might be now, the chances of a Spotify or a Rdio being still active in 20 or 30 years are pretty slim, if only due to the insanely fast rate of technology change, not necessarily them going under or being bought out or whatever. Sure most of the music I listen to now might not stand the test of time, but if there is a particular song or album or collection that I do cherish, I want to pay for that music to be *mine*, not simply to access it on someone else’s servers. It’s how I feel about ebooks, too.

  • I’ve had trouble finding much Australian music thus far. I’m going to say that once this is officially launched, a lot of Australian music will start popping up on Spotify.

    • Maybe just on Australian Spotify,. The existence of global iTunes stores doesn’t mean that a lot of Australian music (or other media) is available in other iTunes stores.

  • Maybe I’m just not keeping up with the times, but I really don’t see a big upside to streaming music off the internet. Maybe one day when I can stream music in my car, but until then I’m more than happy to make do with a large collection at home, and an iPod.

    • I know exactly what you mean – it has limited use, and for my purposes free services are just fine.

      For example the VidZone application on PS3 is like having a Video Hits-style TV channel that’s all music. Flicking this on and picking a genre means I don’t have to organise a playlist or anything, and will probably discover some new music (I’m behind the times myself).

      Similarly internet radio stations and music podcasts serve as auto-playlists that will occasionally help you discover a new artist. This is how I found out about Broken Bells, and subsequently bought the album.

    • Well you can, there are official apps for both android and iOS so you could stream over a 3G connection. The paid premium spotify account also allows you to download songs to your device for offline play.

  • I can see it hitting off in either at home or at work. As for traveling you will always need physical media (cds, ipods, ect) cause the telecommunications are already bogged down. Plus the further you go out of the city the more spotty the reception would be so contant stream would be impossible

    • Use it for traveling all the time. Can make your own playlists, so when no 3G or on a plane, you have the music on your phone or iPod. Simple, obviously that isn’t the free version though. Spotify is awesome, have been using it for years since it was first introduced to Scandinavia.

  • I have to agree with the author and hellboy1975. I have some esoteric tastes in music, but most of the time I only listen to music when I’m either at work or travelling. My work frowns on streaming services, and they’re useless when commuting. Funnily enough, I rarely listen to music at home. I still buy heaps of CDs, but I couldn’t tell you when I last actually listened to one. When I buy a new CD it gets ripped to MP3, then put away and I just listen to them on my MP3 player…

  • These services are for people who love music and lots of it. If your the kind of person who keeps saying “Music isn’t what it used to be” then this definitely wont be for you. I just like the idea that for under 10 bucks a month, I can get instant access to new stuff with no major financial risk as well as some of the old stuff. Its also quite economic when artists die, you can listen to their old stuff in full for a few weeks and then move on without actually having to buy any of their stuff.

  • if you subscribe to the paid option for spotify, then you can put the music on your smartphone (any type, iphone, android, windows phone or even my old windows mobile [though barely]), select your favourite playlists as ‘offline’ and listen to them just like local ipod storage during travel…..same thing basically…and for now I’m using the ‘import local music files’ function to fill in the gaps in spotify’s catalogue…..since i already had my collection ripped. it does make things very convenient indeed – as i DIDN’T have a four-figure CD collection to start with.

  • Being a Swede (orgin of Spotify) and using it since it was launched here (2007?) Ive witness its amazing development where they have been adressing allot of the issues you are describing here in the comments. Offline syncing, to pc and smartphone, as well as integrating with your local music collection (mp3s) that also syncs over wifi for instance. However Ive found it really annoying finding that music that I listned to a day ago has been pulled from spotify leaving me to go off and buy it somewhere if I want to keep listening to it. Also, stopping to pay for the service means an empty collection compared to what ever Ive bought and collected. In my opinion streaming music services is the future, where artist get payed more fairly after number of listens and hopefully off some cutting money sucking middle hands.

    Imagine a future scenario where the streaming services would be the majority of the market – everyone would then want (or be forced if you want) to have their music there and perhaps prices for the services would be less as well.

  • I am using spotify for more than two years now, the paid version. Just like you, I thought it would not replace my cd (or in my case mp3) collection. But after these two years I have to reconsider. I imported my mp3s into Spotify, and after that I barely listened to them anymore. Sometimes, when I am feeling nostalgic, I browse the list, listen to some songs and/or albums, but mostly I am listening to artists I discovered through Spotify. It has been an extraordinary roller coaster through millions of songs, that altered my taste for music quite a bit. It is safe to say that about 95% of the artists I listen to now where totally unknown to me just a few years ago, and I am discover new artists every day. Some stick, some go after a few songs, but that is a fantastic experience.

    One thing I hate about spotify is that you are not able to sort your playlists though.

  • Angus, you could not morally “get rid” of your CD collection, as that is the basis for your legal ownership of all that music. My CDs are now in storage, where I can get at them easily enough if I need to.

    I also share your reticence when it comes to services like this. I’d be very surprised if they had anything like a complete set of any of my favourite artists – Armageddon Dildos, Amgod, Die Krupps and dozens of other EBM artists. In fact, I bet they don’t even have EBM as a genre, so my chances of stumbling upon anything I’d want to listen to are probably miniscule. Given your interest in the 80’s, you might be able to tell me how complete their Fischer Z/John Watts collection is – it should come to 9 albums by the former and 8 from the latter (not counting compilations). Zune only manages 4 and 1.

    • MotorMouth,

      It has

      Fischer Z: Word Salad, Red Skies Over Paradise, Going Red For A Salad, Going Deaf For a Living, Collection, Stream, Reveal, Kamikaze Shirt, Fish’s Head, Ether, Destination Paradise
      John Watts: Selected Cuts of Grief, Spritiual Headcase, Ether Music & Film, It Has To Be, Morethanmusic, Thirteen Stories High, Reallifeisgoodenough, Fischer-Z and a bunch of EPs.

      Spotify is awesome (in premium). I have pretty esoteric tastes (listening to Bill Frisell covering John Lennon ATM) and am never really disappointed. It’s amazing having it on at work and just discovering new stuff all day.

      The mobile app is handy because I sync a new album or two I want to check out every morning to my phone, and then listen on the commute.

      Better playlist/favourite artist organisation is a must though.

  • About Icehouse, there is a very interesting update to this article. Last year that band’s entire catalogue (apart from two tracks appearing on compilations) were removed from Spotify as well as from Google Play Music.

    I’ve been looking online for an explanation but so far have found none. Were they not making money? Did Iva and the band decide against streaming, perhaps for ethical reasons (stemming from not making enough money)? It’s a notable absence.

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