Over the weekend, I listened to some music I hadn't heard in probably 20 years or more.
The songs in question were quirky contemporary Christian songs I remember from my days at college.
I also listened to pop music from my days as a teenage disk jockey in the late 1970s at WHAL-AM.
I listened to recent music as well, from a variety of genres.
The source of my weekend entertainment was Spotify ( http://spotify.com ), a streaming music service which has been available in Europe since 2008 but which didn't make its American debut until earlier this year.
There are other streaming music services, of course, but Spotify is an irresistible mix of a deep catalog, social sharing features, and (for the basic, ad-supported plan) a free price.
After installing Spotify on your system, you can begin using its search feature to build playlists. I have all my music in a single playlist, but you could easily set up different playlists for different types of music, different moods, different family members, public vs. private (more about that later) or what have you.
The free version of Spotify interrupts the music for ads from time to time. Right now, all of the ads are for Spotify itself; I assume that will change over time.
Right now, the free version is invitation-only. You can sign up on a waiting list at the Spotify site, or you can link Spotify to your Facebook account and see if one of your Facebook friends has a guest invitation with which to help you out.
You can sign up immediately for the paid plans.
Spotify Unlimited ($4.99 per month) eliminates the ads, and also eliminates the limits which will kick in after your first six months on the free plan.
Spotify Premium ($9.99 per month) is like Spotify Unlimited, but it also includes extra features, such as listening to your playlist without being connected to the Internet, or listening from your mobile phone.
Spotify Free accounts have unlimited play for the first six months; after that, you're limited to five plays per track and 10 hours of total listening each month. In Europe, Spotify Free has been replaced by Spotify Open, a free plan which doesn't require an invitation but which has a 20-hours-per-month limit for the first six months, then the same limits as Spotify Free after that. Presumably, once the service has scaled up in the United States, the same thing will happen here.
Spotify doesn't include everything you want to hear. For example, the Beatles have an exclusive agreement with iTunes and therefore aren't on Spotify, or any other streaming music service. There are other bands or record labels missing as well. But what Spotify has is staggering. Trust me, you won't have any problem finding track after track after track of music to keep you occupied. In fact, the catalog is so deep that you have to be careful to pick the exact track you want; you may find you've added a live version when you wanted the original studio version, for example, or you may find an extended dance mix. Some oldies artists will re-record their famous hits years later, for nostalgia's sake, after they've moved on to another label, and the new version may be different enough in tone or arrangement to set your teeth on edge if you were expecting the original.
There are also karaoke tracks and sound-alikes, and in one case I ended up with a sound-alike track mislabeled as the original artist.
The social sharing features are fun as well. You can easily post a Facebook or Twitter link to a favorite track, or artist, or to your playlist. You can also get a web address that you can use to link to your music from a blog post or e-mail message. If your friends using the service have made their playlists public, you can view them, listen to them, or cherry-pick tracks from them to add to your own playlist.
We'll see what happens when I get tired of my nostalgia kick and realize just how cheesy some of my old favorites are. We'll also see how restrictive the limits turn out to be six months from now. But right now, Spotify is more fun than anything I've listened to in ages.
--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government. He is also the author of the self-published novel "Soapstone." His personal web site is lakeneuron.com.