Sunday, January 15, 2012

Using Spotify in Canada

Edit, August 7th, 2014: Spotify is finally coming to Canada. I just got an invite this evening from the Spotify Canada service for advance users to try the service, and it is currently working well. Hopefully it will be available to the public shortly.

It seems that user awareness of the Spotify music service is pretty low in Canada. That's not surprising, considering that the service isn't available in Canada or about 182 other countries around the world.

Spotify is a music streaming service offering streaming of selected music from a range of major and independent record labels, including Sony, EMI, Warner Music Group, and Universal. As of a couple months ago, it had about ten million users worldwide. It recently got a lot of publicity due to its endorsements from Facebook, and its increasing integration with Facebook. The service supposedly hosts about fifteen million songs at the moment, although it has a few notable exceptions as I'll explain below.

Basically, Spotify allows for a free subscription, although the free service limits users to ten hours per month of streaming, and for each song to be streamed a maximum of only five times. The free service also streams at a lower bit-rate, and inserts some advertising. There is also a premium service which costs around $10/month - that upgrade offers unlimited streaming, no advertising, and higher bit-rates (supposedly 320 kbps for the majority of songs). It appears that about a quarter of Spotify users have premium accounts.

The main problem with Spotify (especially for Canadians, and residents of a ton of other countries) is that the company had to negotiate royalty agreements in each country. They've had problems with this project (not surprisingly), and so at the moment, Spotify is only available to users in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Faroe Islands, Finland, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

I was curious to try Spotify, so I started playing with some ideas today. First, I needed to be able to download and install the software. The Spotify website can detect what IP you're using, and therefore it knows what country you're in. If you're in a country that doesn't support Spotify, you're out of luck. So the first thing I did was to download and install a program that would cloak my ID, so it would appear that I was browing from a US-based IP address. When I wrote this post originally, I recommended a program called "Hide My IP" but I would no longer recommend that you try that one. I didn't have any problems with that program, however, I've seen a lot of brutal reviews, so it might be best to find an alternative cloaking program. Anyway, after you've figured out a way to cloak your IP through a VPN or something, go back to the Spotify website, and you can actually download the Spotify software. Spotify ONLY checks the IP when you're downloading the software. After you have Spotify installed and running, you can turn off and delete your cloaking program.

The Spotify interface is very similar to iTunes. My goal this afternoon was to play with it a bit and see how it works. I was able to do that after using the Hide My IP trick to get the software installed. I'm not going to bother going into detail about the actual Spotify software, because you can read reviews elsewhere, or try it yourself. My only quick comment is that it works and its pretty cool, and $10 per month for the premium service seems like it would be a good deal compared to buying songs through iTunes. One minor drawback though - some songs are not available in some countries, or not available at all, due to licensing restrictions. For instance, because of the agreement that iTunes has with the holders of all the Beatles copyrights, there are no Beatles songs available on Spotify.

Now, here's the next problem. I was going to buy the premium service, so I could really get a better opinion of how it worked. However, I did some digging before I signed up, and it appears that in order to sign up for the premium service, you need a credit card that is registered in one of the supported countries. Again, systems are meant to be circumvented. I considered logging into my banking through my browser, temporarily changing my address on my credit card account to a friend or relative in the States (pretty much everyone in Canada can figure out a US address this way), then signing up for Spotify premium, then changing my credit card address back to Canada. Well, after I thought about that, I decided that probably wasn't possible, because I'm sure that the Big Five Canadian banks don't allow customers to have US mailing addresses, unless maybe you go into the branch to ask them to make the change. So for the short term, that idea appeared to be a dead end. It might, however, be possible to get an American relative to sign up for the service just to get the account set up, then to go in and manually change the payment info to your own Canadian credit card. But of course, this is a bit more involved and requires you to have a relative/friend in the States that is willing to do that - most people would be pretty reluctant to expose their own credit cards to something like this. Mind you, you might be able to give them cash in advance for a year's subscription. Or maybe you have an American relative asking what you'd like for your birthday or Christmas. Depends on your situation. BUT WAIT! Let's try an easier approach, which will work if you use PayPal and have a Canadian PayPal account.

First, set up a US PayPal account using one of your email addresses and an American mailing address (any will do). Next, send some money from your Canadian PayPal account to your US PayPal account (since linking to your credit cards or bank account won't work). Once you have the money for Spotify in your US PayPal account, you can sign up for the Spotify Premium service and pay for it through that US PayPal account. *** September 9th: This may no longer work!! See the comment below from someone who tried to do this recently. Give me some time to look into this again myself.

Well, that's all I have to say about Spotify so far. If you're into music and you're curious about it like I was, you no longer have to wait until it's available in Canada. As long as you have a Facebook account, you can sign up for it quite quickly, and if you don't mind going through twenty minutes of effort through PayPal, you can even buy the premium service.

Just one minor word of warning ... because the cloaking program that I initially used imposes a delay, and because Spotify accesses your Facebook account when you sign up, you could run into a minor side effect. If you have mobile notifications turned on with Facebook when you do this, the IP delay will cause not one, but SEVERAL texts being sent to your mobile from Facebook, notifying you that Spotify is trying to access your account. In fact, Facebook sent me 46 texts in the space of about a minute. I assume that this wouldn't be a problem if you had a cloaking program without an intentional delay, OR if you temporarily turn off mobile notifications from Facebook while you set up Spotify, or if you have unlimited texting on your phone so you don't get charged for a bunch of texts.

That's all for now. If you've been curious about Spotify but couldn't use it because you're a Canadian, now you can enjoy the music ...

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