Spotify’s US debut rocks the Bay Area music scene 

Bay Area technorati flooded the servers Thursday of long-anticipated new digital-music service Spotify, which offers users free access to a 15 million-song library.

The Swedish company’s streaming service is big in Europe, where it boasts 10 million registered users and 1.6 million subscribers who pay monthly fees for ad-free listening.

It launched a United States service Thursday for select, invited users in a beta test period.

And its debut created instant buzz.

Spotify said it has a waiting list that is hundreds of thousands of emails long. Bay Area early adopters report signing up for an invite but not receiving one, or receiving an invite but being unable to log on due to volume.

“Everybody is either on Spotify or wants to be on Spotify. It’s the hottest thing out there,” said Brian Zisk, founder of the San Francisco Music Tech Summit.

Spotify, which can be downloaded onto computers or smartphones, may compete with Bay Area music subscription services Rdio, Mog and Rhapsody, said J Sider, founder of RootMusic, the No. 1 music app on Facebook.

“Certainly there are some overlaps,” he said. “It’s in the same area. At the end of the day, it comes down to the user experience and what the average person thinks.”

There’s less overlap with Pandora, the Oakland-based digital-radio company that recently went public.

Spotify is more like a musical Netflix than Pandora’s personalized radio product. Unlike Pandora, Spotify listeners call up any song they want, create playlists of them and skip forward or backward. Subscribers can kill the ads for $4.99 a month, and go mobile on their smartphones for $9.99. The American version of Spotify doesn’t have an automatic radio-play functionality like Pandora, a key difference that protects the Oakland company.

“It’s not a Pandora killer,” Zisk said.

Potential competitor Drew Larner, CEO of Rdio, said he thinks Spotify might actually help his business by creating more buzz for digital-music services.

“It happened with movies and TV through Netflix,” Larner said. “We’re finally where we’re going to hit that tipping point with music.”

Out in the cubicles and coffee shops, the reviews were initially positive. Spotify tightly restricted free access amid the crush of requests, though new subscribers paying $4.99 could gain access.

Salesforce.com sales engineer LeAnne Templeman, a Bay Area resident, said she was a bit overwhelmed by the options.

“Spotify is exploding my head with coolness; I don’t even know what I want to listen to,” she said. “There are too many options — my music, my friends’ music or anything in the world!”

How to tune into Spotify

Access: New free users need an invite; new paid subscribers don’t
Free features: On-demand access to more than 15 million songs on your computer; Facebook and Twitter integration; desktop media player for local music; syncs local content to your smartphone; downside is ads
Spotify Unlimited: $4.99 a month; all the free features, except no ads
Spotify Premium: $9.99 a month; all the Unlimited features, plus more mobile features, enhanced sound quality, exclusive content, competitions, special contests

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David Downs

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Wednesday, Dec 17, 2014

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