Spotify launches in Hong Kong
It's been a long wait, but Spotify, the Swedish music streaming service, finally landed in Hong Kong last month. The music service which lets subscribers stream music for free already has 24 million users around the world - six million of whom are now paying customers.
So how does the service work? Spotify is essentially a huge online database of music, with a social twist. Users can search for songs or artists, share playlists, check out what celebrities are listening to - if you're curious about what is Justin Timberlake's jam, for instance - or let Spotify suggest a customised radio station based on your favourite song.
When it was launched in 2008 in Europe, the service was hailed as a game changer. For a music industry plagued by illegal downloads, Spotify offered users both easy access to online tracks and a way to contribute financially, either through ad exposure or by paying a subscription. Today it is available in 20 countries and is one of the most popular ways to listen to music legally online.
The desktop version of Spotify is free, but there are ads. If you want a clean listening experience - audio ads are loud and abrasive, and the visual ads force the Spotify window to the top of your desktop - or to be able to listen on your mobile device, you'll have to spring for the premium membership, which costs HK$48 a month.
This gets you better sound quality, the ability to download songs to listen to offline and you can download your entire iTunes music library onto Spotify and save it online.
Even without uploading your personal library, Spotify's collection of songs is large and still growing. The service claims to have more than 20 million songs, but the selection varies from country to country.
Within Spotify there is also a world of apps to enhance the service. One popular app brings up lyrics for the songs you're listening to, while others give best-of-lists from popular music publications, including Rolling Stone and Pitchfork.com
Ultimately, Spotify wants to be a social platform. It encourages users to connect with friends, swap playlists, recommend songs and see what others are listening to. And it is fully integrated with Facebook, though it is wise to tweak the settings so your guilty pleasures don't end up on your wall.
If you prefer to keep your listening habits to yourself, Spotify makes it easy to indulge your tastes without having to suffer the judgment of your peers: simply select Private Session.
Signing up is painless. Head over to spotify.com download the application and create an account, or you can sign up through Facebook. If you can't decide whether the premium membership is worth the price, try it free for 30 days.
There is still some controversy surrounding how much artists are reimbursed for sharing their content, and a few musicians have been outspoken in their criticism of the Spotify business model. However, it is still an improvement from illegal downloading and plenty of famous names use the service.
Spotify may not turn out to be the saviour of the music industry, but judging from the new albums appearing on its home screen, artists must be getting something out of the arrangement.