Spotify is everything iTunes should be: Simple, free and completely ubiquitous. The internet positively overflows with shared Spotify playlists. But the damned Europeans have the online music service all to themselves. Well, almost all of it.
It's well worth the headaches to finagle a Spotify account from within the U.S. (see instructions below). Spotify is something of a miracle; the service offers a massive, seemingly endless library of music — things you'd find in Apple's iTunes music story for a buck or two — for free, via an advertising-sharing agreement with the music labels. There are plenty of holes in the collection, but we found something to keep us entertained from basically every artist we initially searched for — the original Brigitte Bardot version of Serge Gainsbourgh's "J'taime Moi Non Plus," miles and miles of Bob Dylan tracks, some Manu Chao, Carla Bruni, Mia Doi Todd, etc. Our musical tastes aren't the most eclectic, but what we were in the mood for, we found.
Better still, all that power is networked. This means not only can you log on to your music from your work computer, friend's laptop, or (soon) from an iPhone, but you can also sample collections of music assembled by strangers. This is technically possible in iTunes, but only if you're willing to pay for each track — there's no stacking up playlists and running through them as background music, as you can do on Spotify.
A Google search turns up a cornucopia of Spotify shares. The Guardian, for example, published a collection of celebrity playlists (most are humdrum, but Stuart Braithwaite and VV Brown's had some nice discoveries); on one of the indepdent sites aggregating Spotify lists, you can let Pitchfork do the driving, or visit collections that have been heavily upvoted by listeners.
Spotify has forecast a U.S. launch by the end of this year, and there are reasons to believe it will actually happen; with owners that include major music labels, the company has seen recent cash infusions valuing it at nearly $240 million.
In the meantime, you can get a taste of the music service by following the instructions here to sign up for an account via a British proxy. Unfortunately, after two or three weeks, Spotify will figure out you're a dirty Yank rather than a vacationing Brit, and cut you off. Ouch! Now we understand why our friend, recently returned from a couple of years in London, looked positively heartbroken to be dumped by Spotify.
Intriguingly, though, the service will let you keep listening — err, "traveling" from your "home" in the UK — if you pony up for a premium, ad-free account at a cost of 10 pounds a month, or approximately $46,000 worthless American dollars. Kidding! That's not the exchange rate for at least another few weeks, and we're actually thinking about forking it over. Sneaking into a Swedish music jukebox by posing as a Brit might not qualify as punk rock, but it's a lot more fun than you might expect.