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!  ••

Why Amazon Prime Gives You More Than Netflix

Almost everyone I know has a Netflix account.  Except for my family.  Instead, we have Amazon Prime.  One of the biggest features of Amazon Prime is Instant Video, a Netflix-like streaming video service.  I’m not sure if Instant Video’s library is quite as good as Netflix, so if you’re a TV and movies buff, Netflix may be the way to go.  However, as a fairly casual TV viewer, Instant Video is pretty good.  The thing is, Netflix only offers streaming video.  “Well of course,” you might be saying.  However, since Amazon has such a deep media ecosystem, Prime also gives you access to lots of other things.  Besides Instant Video, there are three main draws to Amazon Prime.

1.  Free Two-Day Shipping
This feature will save you lots of money.  Amazon already offers free shipping deals to their customers.  However, you have to spend $35 or more (yes, it used to be $25), and it’s only standard shipping.  With Amazon Prime, you get free two-day shipping with no minimum order.  This is really great, because when I need to buy something online, Amazon is the first place I look.  I’ve never been one to actually pay for expedited shipping, but it sure is nice to have.  One caveat: Prime shipping only applies to items sold by or fulfilled by Amazon, so it doesn’t apply to third-party Amazon sellers who don’t have their orders fulfilled by Amazon.  To be fair, this restriction also applies to the $35 free shipping for non-Prime customers.

2.  Prime Music
Prime Music is a Spotify-like streaming music service that is included with Amazon Prime at no extra cost.  As I said before, Amazon is able to do this because it has such a deep media ecosystem.  Netflix would have a hard time getting into the streaming music business, since they would have to start making deals with record labels, and then put all that music on their servers.  Amazon, in contrast, already sells digital music on their Amazon MP3 store, so they have less hoops to jump through.

3.  Kindle Owners’ Lending Library
The Kindle Owners’ Lending Library allows you to borrow and read thousands of books for free as a Prime Member.  The catch?  You have to own an actual Kindle (Kindle apps don’t count).  This is a shame, because I would love to make use of this service on my iPad.  If you’re not a Kindle owner but you really want access to all those books, you can make use of Amazon’s new service, Kindle Unlimited.  Amazon just recently launched Kindle Unlimited, a service that allows you to borrow and read thousands of books on any device.  Kindle Unlimited costs $9.99 per month, a cost separate from your Prime subscription (you aren’t required to have a Prime subscription, but even if you do, you still have to pay the extra $10 a month).

All that discussion leaves one question left to be answered.  How much does all this cost?  Amazon prime is $99 per year (it used to be $79).  This works out to $8.25 per month.  Netflix starts at $7.99 per month, so the pricing is almost identical.  However, when you factor in the extra features Amazon gives you (including free shipping on other things you buy), it really seems to give Amazon the edge.  Now if only there was an Instant Video channel on the Apple TV, so we didn’t have to AirPlay from the iPad every time we want to watch something.  ••

Update 11/6/14: Amazon recently announced that Prime members also get unlimited photo storage in Amazon Cloud Drive.  This is yet another reason why Amazon Prime gives you more than Netflix.