You've probably not heard of Spotify yet. That's ok—it's still relatively new over here in Europe, where I live. But I can say in the year I've used it, I've never touched iTunes or used BitTorrent once.
It's a music-streaming service, free to download—though they've tried making it a bit "exclusive" so you have to be invited by a user, but as they've already got 7 million users that's not too difficult. It's worth noting that the users who opt to pay nothing for it will encounter the odd commercial, roughly every five songs. But that's ok, as they're targeted to what you listen to—so I've discovered some great music because of the ads, which is one of the reasons I wouldn't want to pay for it.
Paying for it costs £9.99 here in the UK each month (roughly $14), and for your dosh you get to listen to your music uninterrupted, and also on your iPhone or Android. It can cache your playlists, so you don't need internet access to play them.
But as I said, that's not the beauty of Spotify—though I know a fair few people who pay for it for mobile use. (It's said Spotify has around 300,000 paying subscribers).
So what does it do, and why have I not touched iTunes once (ok, once in a blue moon) since downloading it?
Simply put, the music streaming service lets you choose from the millions of tracks in the database (all legal, since the Swedish company has gone to great lengths to get permission from all the major record labels), so you can create playlists galore. When you get the urge to listen to a particular song, it's there—and you don't need to jump through any hoops to get it. You can listen to complete albums (usually Spotify has them the day of release), individual songs—whatever you want.
I love creating playlists, it's become an absolute addiction. My favorite—and rather infamous—is my "dadrock" playlist, which contains all the sort of cheesy songs my Dad used to play when I was a kid. Dire Straits, Phil Collins, Fine Young Cannibals, and so on.
I've shared the playlist with dozens of people by sending the URL to them, which then opens their desktop program and loads it there for their listening pleasure. They can contribute to it, if you've created a collaborative playlist, or if you'd prefer people not tinker with your choons you can set them as so too.
There are hardly any bands I've searched for which I haven't been able to find on Spotify. The Beatles and Pink Floyd are the only bands I've not been able to find on there, but both bands have well-publicized issues with digital downloads/streaming.
I use Spotify on average about eight hours a day. True, when you're streaming, especially using the free service, it's not the highest bitrate—but when the music is being pumped from laptop speakers it's not that important. If I want to listen to something in a higher bitrate I'll just put on an SACD, vinyl or CD. Or open iTunes and play from my library, though that's a very rare occurrence nowadays.
Get excited for the US launch. It's going to be big news when it's made available over there, just like it's soared in popularity over here. Not a day goes past when I don't see people linking to their playlists on Twitter or Facebook, or hear someone on the street using Spotify as a verb, the same way we say "just YouTube it" or "I'll Google it" now.
I know there's a dozen different music streaming and download services available already in the US (far more than I've got access to here in the UK), but all the US people I've spoken to who've used Spotify while on holiday in Europe or via sneaky means absolutely rave about it.
Details are still hazy about the US launch, but Bloomberg is reporting it'll be available States-side in the third quarter of 2010 after originally being slated for an early 2010 debut. The delay is due to licensing discussions apparently—but that's a good thing. You'll feel so virtuous giving up BitTorrent and streaming music legally, and for free. Sounds crazy, I know.
UPDATE: Any Spotify users who fancy checking out my dadrock playlist can do so here, via ShareMyPlaylists.com
UPDATE 2: This article, originally published in March 2010, was republished to coincide with the news that Spotify has signed its first US deal, Sony. That early 2010 launch schedule mentioned earlier obviously came and went, along with many other 2010 slated launch dates—but now, January 2011, it's looking more hopeful for Spotify's US chances.