No music streaming service is perfect, and not every option on the market is perfect for every kind of user. Your streaming service of choice will likely depend on the kind of phone you use, the sort of music you like, what you prefer in an app’s user interface, and how much you’re willing to pay each month to listen to music — and, at the end of the day, you don’t actually own that music or really control the fate of your library.
Some people are more pessimistic about streaming music than others. (The most pessimistic, it seems fair to guess, are probably still holding onto their libraries of tens of thousands of downloaded songs.) But music fans who are more optimistic about the convenience and longevity of streaming services have realized that for most people, the heyday of giant iTunes libraries has passed. Those users have either committed to a streaming service and have learned all of their chosen platform’s most important features, or they’re comparing their options.
Many streaming services have impressively expansive catalogs. Others have innovative features that make discovering new music easier and more fun. Still others are well-integrated into other software that people use on a daily basis. Spotify is an extremely popular streaming service that seems to have all of those pluses going for it. That may be why many people you know have chosen Spotify to keep them entertained when they’re listening to music at work, at the gym, on the subway, or at home.
But as with most pieces of software, Spotify has its drawbacks. In fact, there are quite a few things that are wrong with Spotify — things that might convince you to either stop using Spotify or to look elsewhere if you’re still searching for the right streaming service. Read on to check out some of the worst things about Spotify and judge for yourself whether all of that free music is really worth it.
1. Spotify’s free service continually subjects you to annoying ads
One of the most common complaints about Spotify is that frequent and obnoxious ads plague users who have opted for a free account. The ad-supported free tier has several costs — lower royalties for artists, missing and unavailable albums, and of course, ads that seem to interrupt users after every song. The ads are there not only to make the free service possible, but also to convince users who sign up for a free account to upgrade to a paid subscription. But as the ads get louder and more frequent, many Spotify users have likely questioned why Spotify’s free tier even exists at all (and whether it’s even possible to enjoy an album or a playlist that’s constantly interrupted by a loud ad).
Some ads tell you about other companies’ products and services, while some of them advertise Spotify’s own features (which is particularly annoying to users who are already taking advantage of the advertised features). Sometimes, you’re lucky to hear just one ad, while other times, you’ll hear multiple ads, one after the other. You may get a variety of ads as you’re listening to an album, but other times, Spotify plays the same ad over and over and over.
It’s certainly easier to get somebody to sign up for a free account than it is to get them to sign up for a paid account. And Spotify hopes that it can convince many of the users who sign up for its free service to pay for a subscription after they become familiar with Spotify’s interface and catalog. But Spotify’s ads are so annoying that it seems pretty likely that at least some users get fed up with the ads and walk away before they get to know some of the more likable features of the platform, and before the ads can annoy them into upgrading to a paid subscription.
2. Many songs, albums, and artists are missing from Spotify’s catalog
Engadget’s Aaron Souppouris reported recently that he was quitting Spotify after six years. The reason? The “steady stream of missing or delayed tracks from big artists.” Nobody expects that all of the obscure albums or widely-unknown artists that they enjoy will be available on a service like Spotify. But most people expect that new releases from major artists will be available on Spotify on a timely basis — and those people are disappointed. As Souppouris writes, “Even when albums I don’t plan to listen to are affected it still rubs me the wrong way. Because their absence is almost entirely preventable, a side effect of Spotify’s stubbornness.”
What Souppouris is talking about is Spotify’s decision to give paying and free members access to the same catalog, despite the protests of artists who argue that making their work available for free devalues their music. Artists who are big enough to take a stand withhold new releases from Spotify. Though there are some artists who would prefer not to make their music available for streaming anywhere, streaming services without paid tiers — Apple Music, for instance — don’t seem to have a problem with missing music in the same way that Spotify does.
Victor Luckerson reports for Time that “the world of digital music is growing increasingly fractured.” Spotify, which is the world’s most popular streaming service, is missing such wildly popular albums as Gwen Stefani’s This Is What the Truth Feels Like, Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo, Taylor Swift’s 1989, Adele’s 25, Jay-Z’s The Blueprint, Radiohead’s In Rainbows, and many other much-loved albums. A missing album or two probably isn’t a deal-breaker. But you may want to look beyond Spotify if you want a streaming service that will do its best to make sure its catalog is complete.
3. Spotify’s playlists really aren’t that great
As John Seabrook reported for The New Yorker a couple of years ago, playlists are key to the Spotify experience. Using song analytics and user data, both human and artificial intelligence curators select songs for certain activities and moods and build Spotify playlists for those moments. Playlists are customized according to a user’s “taste profile,” and Spotify’s assessment of what kind of music you’ll want to listen to can consider factors like your Facebook relationship status, what time of the day it is, or where you are, and what you’re most likely doing. Seabrook reports that you “can design your own Spotify day” with these playlists.
You wake to the “Early Morning Rise” playlist (Midnight Faces, Zella Day), and get ready with “Songs to Sing in the Shower” (“I’m hooked on a feeling/I’m high on believing”). Depending on how much work you have, there’s “Deep Focus,” “Brain Food,” or “Intense Studying.” By eleven-thirty, you’ve hit “Caffeine Rush,” and, after a sandwich at your desk (“Love That Lazy Lunch”), it’s time to “Re-Energize” (Skrillex, Deorro) for the afternoon. A late-in-the-day “Mood Booster” (Meghan Trainor) gets you pumped for your workout (there’s a “House Workout,” a “Hip Hop Workout,” and a “CrossFit Mix,” to name just a few). Then it’s “Happy to Be Home” (Feist, the Postal Service). After “Beer n’ Burgers” (rockabilly) or “Taco Tuesday” (Celia Cruz), you “Calm Down” (Wilco, the National) and then, depending on your love life, click on “Sexy Beats” or “Better Off Without You” (or maybe “Bedtime Stories,” for the kids), followed by “Sleep” (heavy on Brian Eno, king of the z’s).
But Seabrook’s problem with these playlists — a problem that plenty of Spotify users have reported over the years — is that these playlists really are never quite right. He explains, “My problem with playlists is not the Starbucksy rubrics, or the spying on my embarrassing Lana Del Rey obsession. My problem is that I end up skipping most of the songs anyway.” He notes, “I lean forward and check the next song when I’m supposed to lean back. The human or the A.I. who chose Pharrell’s ‘Happy’ for the ‘Mood Booster’ playlist isn’t getting the job done for me.”
Seabrook isn’t the only one who feels that Spotify just doesn’t understand his taste in music. Jezebel’s Fran Hoepfner complains that Spotify’s relatively new Discover Weekly feature consistently creates playlists full of music she hates. “If Discover Weekly is my friend, pouring over an infinite number of songs in a library to send me ones they think I’ll like every week—then Discover Weekly is the shittiest friend I’ve ever had.”
4. Spotify owns all of your data and music
As Jeffrey Van Camp reported for Digital Trends a few years ago, “once you’re in Spotify, you’re trapped.” If you have an extensive collection of music when you begin using Spotify, you’ll likely import thousands of songs into your account. Then you’ll probably spend hours building playlists from scratch, and starring songs in your Spotify collection. And you’ll likely download an extensive selection of music to listen offline. But whether due to errors or arcane policies, chances are good that Spotify will, at some point, undo a lot of that work. Van Camp reports that Spotify wiped out all of the music that he had downloaded for offline listening. He had playlists erased, and his list of starred songs deleted.
As he explains, “Bugs are bugs and I’m sure there are sound technical reasons why these and other issues have occurred. The problem is that these limitations only serve to highlight the real problem with Spotify: It makes you feel like you’re in control and still have a music collection when the reality is that you own and control absolutely nothing.” He continues, “Everything can be, and often is, taken away at a moment’s notice because you’ve broken some rule that you didn’t know existed.”
You can import all the songs and playlists you’d like. And Spotify encourages you to spend hours creating playlists to enjoy yourself or to share with friends. But if you ever decide to leave Spotify, there’s no playlist export function to help you take your playlists with you. Music fans who value the music they discover and the playlists they create have a lot to lose when the system changes or when they decide to leave.
5. Your subscription fees probably aren’t going to the artists you actually listen to
If you’ve decided to upgrade from Spotify’s free tier to a paid subscription, you might assume that the money you pay for your subscription will go to the artists whose music you stream. But as Sharky Laguana reports for The Kernel, “All the money collected goes into a big pool, Spotify takes its 30 percent off the top, and whatever is left is distributed to artists based on their share of overall plays.” That sounds reasonable enough. But the problem is that Spotify doesn’t make money from plays; it makes money from subscriptions. So if you pay for a subscription and your music tastes are anything but typical, the money that you’d think would go to the bands you listen to is actually going to major pop artists.
Laguana explains, “Imagine if physical records or downloads were sold in this manner: Instead of an artist getting money directly from the sale of their CD or mp3, it went into a giant pool, and the artist only got a percentage of the pool based on how often their music was actually played.” He posits, “It’s conceivable an artist could sell thousands of records generating hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue and still get a check for less than $10, with the majority of the money going to more popular artists.”
The royalty bias toward popular artists comes at the expense of independent artists, who have small but dedicated fan bases who would like to be supporting their favorite bands with their subscription dollars. Laguana lays out a compelling proposal for a more fair royalty system. But in the meantime, Spotify (and other streaming services like it) aren’t the best way to support your favorite independent artists.