Road Tripping with Spotify Premium

I did it.  I caved.  If you remember my post about Spotify from last December, I had resolved that I didn’t need Spotify Premium, and that I could live with the free plan and save the money.  However, a few weeks ago, Spotify ran a promotion.  If you had never had Premium before (either paid for it or had a trial), you could get three month’s worth for $0.99 (the same deal they were running in December).  I couldn’t resist.  I’m still not sure whether I’ll keep Spotify Premium when my three months run out, but for right now, I’m really loving it.

One of the main reasons I got it was for playing piano.  I play guitar, and I used to play piano back in grade school, and I’ve been trying to get back into that lately.  In order to learn how to play certain songs, I often listen to the recording.  However, I couldn’t play individual songs on my iPhone (only shuffle), so I would have to run upstairs and get my iPad.  This really wasn’t a big deal, but solving it for $0.99 sounded appealing.  It’s also nice that I have more control over what songs I listen to in the car.  Honestly, I didn’t so much mind having to shuffle things (I usually do that anyway); what I hated were the “suggested tracks” that Spotify would throw in.  Usually, they were songs by the same artist I was listening to, so it wasn’t too obtrusive, but it still got annoying.

I could talk about using Spotify at home for a while, but let’s get to the real point of this post.  Last week, my family went on a road trip to Ohio to visit my grandmother.  This meant four days in the car: and no promises about data coverage.  Coverage was actually pretty good, but sometimes it would drop out or get really slow in the more rural areas of Kentucky.  Because of this, I downloaded a bunch of playlists and albums for offline playing in Spotify (a Premium-only feature).  It was great to be able to listen to music without worrying about cell reception.

For this trip, I spruced up my enormous Road Trip playlist.  I made this playlist about a month ago for another trip.  Every time I go on a long car ride I modify it – adding the stuff I’ve been listening to lately.  I have the main playlist, which changes over time, but I also make a shuffled playlist for each trip.  I like listening on shuffle, but when you have a huge playlist, you can’t get through the whole thing at once.  Then when you come back and hit shuffle again, you get songs you heard last time, and you might not ever get to some songs at all.  Because of this, I shuffle the songs manually, then listen to that playlist straight through.  (This is kind of ridiculous, I know.  However, I’m a control freak, and this kind of micromanaging is fun for me).  This playlist was 6.5 hours long – 102 songs.  And I listened to the entire thing.  It was awesome.  I did it over the course of the four days in the car, over 1200 miles to Ohio and back.  It was so much fun.

So as you can see, I really enjoyed listing to this playlist on our trip.  If you’re interested in it too, I’ve made it public on Spotify.  You can see it here, or you can go to my profile and follow me, onceaneagle56.  The playlist has a bunch of different artists – Imagine Dragons, Relient K, Switchfoot, MercyMe, Blind Pilot, and then a few other random songs in there.  What do you like to listen to on long car trips?  Let me know in the comments below, and give me a Spotify link if you’re also a Spotify user.  Enjoy your music!  ••

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Spotify Changed My Life

I’ve mentioned in previous posts about podcasts that even though I have hundreds of songs in my iTunes library, I’m really tired of all my music.  I could, of course, buy more music, but for some reason I never get around to that.  I’ve used Pandora before, but haven’t liked it very much.  It’s not that Pandora isn’t good, it just doesn’t suit my listening habits.  In Pandora, you pick a song, artist, or genre, and Pandora builds a “station” around that music.  The word “station” is used because it really is like a radio station, in that it plays a variety of music.  That’s great if you like lots of music, but most of the time, I just want to hear one artist, and playing, say, “Relient K Radio” doesn’t just play Relient K.  I was started to get frustrated with listening to music in general, since it seemed I couldn’t find much that I liked.  Then last month I signed up for Spotify.

Spotify does have a Radio feature, which works similarly to Pandora.  Aside from that, though, Spotify’s model is entirely different.  Spotify works a lot more like your iTunes music library – search for a song, artist, or album, and then listen.  Their catalog’s selection is fantastic (almost unbelievable, actually).  I don’t think I have once searched for something and not found it.  Now that I can listen to whatever I want, I’ve been listening to tons of music lately, mostly from bands I’ve always really liked but from whom I don’t own many albums. Not all Spotify features are free, of course.  With a paid subscription ($10/month, or $5/month if you’re a student), you can listen to any song you want, any time you want, with no ads.  You can also save specific albums or playlists to your device for offline listening.  Without premium, the features are limited.  There’re occasional ads, and you can’t play songs offline.  After that, it gets more complicated.  On a smartphone, you can’t play individual songs, you can only shuffle playlists, artists, and albums.  On a tablet or computer, however, you can play individual songs whenever you want.  (Note: This only works on the computer if you download the free client for Windows or Mac – it doesn’t work in the browser.)  At first I thought this might be a glitch, but Spotify acknowledged it in one of its ads, so instead it’s a teaser.  Spotify knows that you will get used to playing individual songs and want to pay money to do so on your phone (and let me assure you, this desire becomes very real, very quickly).  For now though, I’ve put up with carrying my iPad around the house, and I think I can deal with that.

As I said, the ability to play any music I want anytime I want has really changed my listening habits.  I’ve started listening to much more music, and I’m really enjoying myself.  If you’ve never used Spotify, I strongly recommend that you go try it out.  They even have a year-end deal for you.  Through December 31, you can get three months of premium for $0.99 – yep, that’s 97% off for three months.  (By the way, Spotify didn’t pay me to say any of this.  I really do love the service and I’m letting you know about this deal because it’s exactly that, a great deal).  If you do sign up, I recommend you start by listening to Switchfoot‘s latest album, Fading West.  Happy listening!  ••

Podcasts: The Forgotten Medium

We live in a media-centric world.  Everywhere we go, we encounter TV, radio, magazines, and newspapers.  We spend our time listening to music, watching movies, and reading articles on the web.  However, there is another medium, which has been around for awhile, that doesn’t get the attention that I think it deserves.  The medium?  Podcasts.

Podcasts are great in a lot of ways.  Since they are purely audio, you can listen to podcasts while doing other things, such as housework or cooking (contrary to popular belief, it is borderline impossible to watch TV and do something else productive at the same time).  Another great thing about podcasts is that new content is nearly limitless.  Whereas your favorite band probably only releases a CD every three years or so, your favorite podcast often releases new content every week.  Podcasts are also great because you can learn something.  Music is great (don’t get me wrong, I enjoy music and listen to a lot of it), but most of the time its value is purely in entertainment.  Podcasts can be entertaining and educational.  Finally, I like podcasts because – as I’ve stated before – I tend to get really tired of my music, so it’s nice to have other audio content that’s always new.  Now that I’ve talked about podcasts in general, I’d like to highlight my two favorite shows.

The first is Stuff You Should Know, a podcast from HowStuffWorks.com.  This is a great show if you just like learning things.  They post two shows a week (Tuesdays and Thursdays), and cover everything from “How the Space Race Worked” to “Why is Venice So Wet?” to “Archaeology in a Nutshell” (just to name off the three most recent episodes).  The podcast has a very conversational, colloquial style: just two guys, Josh and Chuck, talking.  The show’s content is fascinating by itself, but the Josh and Chuck style really puts it over the top.

The second show I really enjoy is TechHive’s* Clockwise podcast.  This is a tech podcast that is under 30 minutes or you pizza is free – or so they’ve said.  There are two hosts, Dan and Jason, and each week they have two guests, who are almost always members of the PCWorld/Macworld/TechHive staff.  It’s also neat that many guests end up being on the show more than once, so eventually you’ll even recognize the guests.  Each person brings a tech topic, and they go around the table clockwise (aha!) and everyone puts in their two cents.  The conversational tone is still there, but the content is a little less wordy and more condensed, since they are focused on keeping the podcast at a reasonable time limit.  At first I didn’t get this we-don’t-want-to-waste-your-time approach.  I choose to listen to this podcast, and I don’t mind if it’s a little long.  But as time went on, I learned to appreciate their watchful eye on the clock.  Some podcasts (including SYSK) can be 45 minutes to an hour, but I found that 30 minutes is the perfect time frame.  If you’re interested in technology, this show is a fantastic way to get tech news each week (right after this blog, that is).

So now that I’ve shared my favorite podcasts, what are yours?  Feel free to fire off suggestions to me and each other, and maybe I’ll check out what you recommend.  Happy listening!  ••

*Update 11/12/14: Clockwise is no longer a part of TechHive, but it lives on as a part of Relay FM.  I’ve updated the link above.