The Many Versions of Spotify

Spotify offers a range of different sign-up approaches and subscription levels. Spotify offers a free version that lets you play around with Spotify and use it to discover new music — with some limits. After building a few playlists, sharing tracks, and engaging with friends, you’re encouraged to upgrade to get rid of the ads, take your music with you, and remove any time limits.

From the reactions on Twitter after Spotify’s U.S. launch, Spotify’s arrival is truly exciting. But a few disconcerted people found not having permanent access to your music collection on your computer, and renting it instead, a difficult concept to grasp.

Spotify Free

This is the open-to-all, basic version of Spotify that you can get when you sign up on the Spotify website. It’s supported by ads; you can track the amount of listening time left on your account with a timer at the top-right of the screen.

A Free account gives you unlimited listening hours for the first six months. After that time, your hours are cut back to 10 hours, and you’re allowed to stream a track only five times before you’re asked to either purchase it as a digital download or upgrade your account.

(Spotify Free used to be an invite-only affair. In September 2011, Spotify opened up this type of account to all. An older type of free account, Spotify Open, is being phased out.)

Unlike personal video recorders, you can’t fast-forward, skip, or even mute the ads on the free accounts. The ads aren’t as annoying as the ones you get on the radio or television (or as loud as what you hear in the cinema), but they are a distraction. Upgrading is the only way to get rid of them.

Spotify Unlimited

With an Unlimited account ($4.99/£4.99/€4.99 per month), you get to listen to music on your computer without the advertisements and with no listening limits or time restrictions. You also get to log in anywhere around the world. The major thing missing from an Unlimited subscription is mobile access.

Spotify Premium

A Premium account ($9.99/£9.99/€9.99) is the ultimate subscription that gives you unlimited streaming, exclusive listens to selected albums, and access to higher-quality audio streams (where available). Most important, you get portability and availability: You can stream music to your mobile device and sync albums for offline listening by using your computer or mobile device.

Hopefully, you won’t ever want or need to leave Spotify; but if you do, you can still preserve what tracks you have in your playlists by selecting all the tracks in a playlist, and then dragging and dropping the listings into a Word document or similar.

You can then use sites such as Playlistify to try to convert the plain text into readable track listings for a range of other services, including iTunes, Grooveshark, Rhapsody, and so on.

You can also leave your account active — it just reverts to the free version after you cancel your subscription. Your playlists are still bookmarked at Spotify, so you can come back to them at any time or resume your subscription if you took a break from it.

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