Spotify Free Vs Premium; Is Paying Worth It?

Spotify is one of the most popular music and podcast streaming services available and has even started branching out into audiobooks.

It has a convenient Web Player, desktop app, and even a mobile app that makes it easy to find your favorite music and podcasts, make playlists, and stream media to your heart’s content.

Spotify Free gives you access to much of the platform’s functionality, while Spotify Premium adds a few features and makes the listening experience more enjoyable. But is it worth upgrading to Spotify Premium?

In this guide we’ll look at Spotify Free Vs Premium and whether it’s worth paying for a subscription.

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Spotify Free Is (Intentionally) Annoying

Audiobooks

Some reports suggest that Spotify Free is intentionally annoying as it has been designed to urge users to upgrade to Spotify Premium. This is especially true regarding their incessant ads, something we’ll look at in more detail momentarily.

Now, some are more than willing to put up with a few annoyances to enjoy their favorite music for free. But there are plenty of users who eventually cave in and end up purchasing a Premium subscription.

Either way, the following four factors are what makes Spotify Free a lesser experience compared to Spotify Premium.

Note that there are some differences between the desktop and mobile apps, and as much as possible, we’ve noted what these are, but just know that your experience may vary.

The Inability To Select The Songs You Want To Listen To (Permanent Shuffle Mode)

This is not a problem with the desktop app. But if you’re using the free Spotify app, you won’t have the option of choosing which song you want to listen to. You can choose albums or playlists and listen to them on shuffle, but that’s it.

There has been quite a bit of backlash against this restriction, even from notable artists, but so far Spotify remains unresponsive to these criticisms.

Of course, if you upgrade to Spotify Premium, there are no such limitations with the mobile app. You can choose which songs you want to listen to, and you can even put them on repeat, without ever having to be interrupted by pesky ads.

There are some exceptions, such as the Spotify curated playlists, which allow you to select which songs you want to listen to whether you’re using Spotify Free or Spotify Premium. But this isn’t much of a convenience all told.

For those who enjoy shuffle mode, this may not be much of a drawback.

Skip Limits

Whether on the desktop or mobile app, there are arbitrary skip limits with Spotify Free. And the basic penalty for using more skips than you have is being forced to listen to more advertising, interrupting your music listening experience.

With Spotify Premium, you never have to worry about skipping too many times. If you don’t like a song, skip away! There are no consequences.

Annoying Ads

Spotify may have started with relatively few ads, but the number has only increased over time, just as it has with YouTube. Nowadays, with Spotify Free, you should expect to hear or see ads every two to three songs.

And I don’t think it’s just a rumor that the ads have been engineered to be annoying. For one, their loudness is usually greater than the music you’re listening to. For another, they sometimes use shrill and harsh sound effects – car horns and alarm clocks to name a couple.

Additionally, I have personally heard ads with gravelly, hard-to-understand voices being overpowered by backing tracks, references to “heavy guitar riffs” that are quite tame (specifically in Soundtrap ads), and ads that intentionally interrupt or disrupt the flow of your activity (e.g., “Hey! You there! Yeah, you!”).

I find some ads are even downright patronizing (“There you are, listening to Spotify, doing whatever it is you’re doing”). I’m working, man. Leave me alone.

With Spotify Premium, you won’t ever need to worry about ads/

Online Listening Only

With Spotify Free, you won’t be able to take your music with you unless you’ve got an internet connection.

This has never been much of a dealbreaker for me as a Spotify Free user, but I will say it would be convenient for me to be able to bring some of my music with me on the road (I usually just use the storage on my phone for media I want to listen to regularly).

With Spotify Premium, you have the option of downloading tracks and listening to your music offline.

Spotify Free Vs. Premium – Where They Are Practically Identical

Music streaming service

There are some significant differences between Spotify Free and Spotify Premium and we’ve covered several already. But some of the available features are essentially identical, whether you’re using Free or Premium.

In this section, we’ll look at some of the similarities between Free and Premium.

Discovery Features

Music discovery has remained one of the key selling points of Spotify, which will algorithmically create playlists for you based on the music you’ve listened to, or even recommend songs based on your playlists.

Your custom “Daily Mix” and “Discover Weekly” playlists are well worth checking out if you haven’t been in the habit of listening to them already.

If you don’t like certain artists it recommends, Spotify gives you the option of blacklisting said artist, which helps ensure it puts more of the music you like in front of you.

There’s also a “Release Radar” playlist, which will compile the latest releases from artists you follow. This playlist is even updated weekly.

If you’d like to browse more music, you can also check out Spotify’s editorial playlists, which serve an array of moods, genres, and categories.

In my experience, Spotify does a relatively good job of identifying some of your musical interests, but it does fall short at times too.

For instance, I love good 80s metal, with ”good” being the operative word. I don’t like just anything. Yet, Spotify will sometimes throw mainstream shlock rock in my face like it was going out of style, and I’m sorry, I don’t think I will ever be a huge fan of Warrant, Poison, or BulletBoys (though their cover of “For the Love of Money” is sublime).

Simultaneously, I’m not sure if I would have ever become an avid listener of King’s X, Winger, or Saraya if not for Spotify, and I am very grateful for those recommendations. That’s why I keep listening.

If you’re trying to figure out whether to use Spotify Free or Spotify Premium, it’s nice to know that discovery features remain relatively uniform across the board. You can find plenty of new music to check out without having to pay a monthly fee.

Spotify has some of the strongest music discovery features of any streaming platform, including TIDAL. If you’re a big fan of finding new music to put on repeat, you will love both Spotify Free and Premium.

Social Features

One of the joys of using an app like Spotify is the ability to share tracks with friends and enjoy music together. Spotify has many built-in music-sharing tools, and there is no need to purchase a Premium subscription to enjoy these.

Whether with Free or Premium, you get access to:

  • Sharing functionality. You can grab a link for releases or playlists and share them anywhere. You can also embed your favorite releases on your blog or website. The desktop app doesn’t appear to prioritize sharing on social media, but with the mobile app, you will be presented with the option of sharing music on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, messenger apps, text/SMS messages, and others, depending on the apps you’ve installed on your smartphone.
  • Collaborative playlists. Creating a collaborative playlist allows you to create a custom playlist that both you and your friends can add to. You can even share the link to your playlist with friends. Collaborative playlists are great for road trips, parties, or even for bands that want to get on the same page musically.
  • Blend playlists. Having created collaborative playlists, Spotify will analyze both you and your friends’ musical tastes to create Blend playlists. There’s even a “Blend Story,” which will show you where there’s an overlap in musical tastes. All songs will have a profile picture next to them indicating whether it’s based on your listening habits or theirs.
  • Spotify and Facebook account linking. When you link your Facebook account to your Spotify account, it makes it easy for your Facebook friends to find your Spotify profile. They can then view your recent listening history, or even browse and add your playlists to their library. Of course, you can see what your friends have been up to on Spotify too. If, for some reason, you don’t want people to be able to see what you’ve been listening to, you can disable your active listening feed and make your playlists private.

Spotify has some of the best social features available, even compared to other popular streaming services like TIDAL. It’s a blessing that you don’t need Premium to unlock these!

Audio Library

Whether on Spotify Free or Spotify Premium, you get access to a library consisting of over 100 million songs, five million podcasts, and 350,000 audiobooks.

This should not come as much of a surprise, as Spotify is poised to become the go-to destination for all audio content.

This is a category where the term “practically identical” applies, though, as artists have the option of pay-walling releases for two weeks, in which case only Premium users would get immediate access to these releases.

If you want to ensure you always have access to all the latest music and audio content, then you should consider Premium.

Compatibility

Whether with the Free or Premium versions, Spotify is compatible with all major device categories – PCs, smartphones, Smart TVs, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Android Auto, Apple Carplay, and more.

Spotify Free Advantages

Naturally, the main advantage of Spotify Free is that it’s free. You can listen to music and podcasts, purchase audiobooks, make playlists, and even enjoy the discovery and social features without issue.

The main disadvantages of free Spotify are noted above, in the section titled “Spotify Free Is (Intentionally Annoying).”

Either way, Spotify Free is good for those who:

  • Are new to Spotify, don’t have much experience with it yet, and just want to test it out. I can honestly say the Spotify desktop app has served me very well for several years and I have mostly been happy with the easy-to-understand interface, though some recent changes have been kind of questionable. This is just one man’s opinion, mind you.
  • Don’t want to be tied down by a (modest) monthly subscription. Spotify isn’t expensive by any means, but if you’re subscribed to multiple streaming services like Netflix and Prime Video already, this decision might give you pause.
  • Don’t care (and wouldn’t notice) the difference in audio quality (Premium has slightly better audio, though there are no high-resolution options yet). The only way you’re going to notice is if you’re using high-quality headphones, speakers, sound systems, etc. Don’t expect to be wowed by the audio quality on generic computer speakers or earbuds.
  • Can put up with the annoying ads (admittedly, I have somehow put up with them for years). Hey, we’ve all got a mute button, right?
  • Don’t need as much control, especially on the mobile app. If you think shuffle mode is gold, there’s no reason you should be unhappy with Spotify Free.
  • Enjoy the great discovery and social features. You get access to the same features whether you’re using Free or Premium!

Spotify Premium Advantages

Podcasts

So, if Spotify Free is so good, why would you subscribe to Spotify Premium in the first place? Some advantages may matter to you more than others, but the following are the main reasons to go Premium.

Note that depending on when you subscribe, you may be able to get up to three months of Premium for free, so you can test it out before you commit to monthly payments. This is a great option for anyone who might want to explore the differences between Free and Premium.

Multiple Plans

Spotify Premium offers multiple plans depending on the number of anticipated listeners. Individual is for one account, Duo is for two, and Family is for six accounts. There is also a Student option.

Pricing is as follows:

  • Individual: $10.99 per month.
  • Duo: $14.99 per month.
  • Family: $16.99 per month.
  • Student: $5.99 per month.

Spotify Premium’s pricing is very competitive with other streaming services available.

Music Selection

A Spotify Premium subscription ensures that you get access to all music, including releases that have been paywalled for two weeks after their initial release. Aside from that, though, the Premium music and podcast library is practically identical to Spotify Free’s.

Choose What You Want To Listen To

The Spotify Free mobile app is the only platform with any restrictions around choosing which tracks you want to listen to.

Either way, with Spotify Premium, you’ll always be able to choose what you want to listen to and when, no questions asked. You’ll never be stuck in shuffle mode unless you want to be!

Sound Quality

While Spotify does not currently offer high-resolution listening, Spotify Premium still offers a better listening experience than Spotify Free.

The maximum bitrate with Spotify Free is 128 kbps on the Web Player, and 160 kbps on the mobile and desktop apps.

Meanwhile, the maximum bitrate with Spotify Premium is 256 kbps on the Web Player and 320 kbps on mobile and desktop apps.

If you’re looking for a better listening experience, then Premium has a leg up on Free.

Spotify’s high-quality listening experience, Spotify HiFi has been rumored for quite a while now, but no official release date has been nailed down, and we’re not sure how much it will cost, either. For Spotify to remain competitive with Apple Music, Amazon HD, TIDAL, and other services, mind you, they will probably want to get on this!

Ad-Free Experience

For some subscribers, the annoying and incessant ads are reason enough to upgrade to Premium. It’s understandable.

One of the greatest advantages of upgrading to Premium is an ad-free experience. This also means no skip limits.

By the way, Spotify is intended for private use only, and public and commercial use of Spotify Free or Premium is a violation of Spotify’s Terms and Conditions. If you want to stream music in a commercial setting, make sure to purchase a subscription with Soundtrack Your Brand.  

Offline Listening

With a Spotify Premium subscription, you can download and enjoy your favorite tracks and playlists both online and off. If you want to take your music on the road, this is a must!

Spotify Free does not allow for offline listening.

Support Your Favorite Artists

Your favorite artists get paid more when you stream their music on Spotify Premium versus Spotify Free. Now, artists can still set up a paywall for their releases in their first two weeks, making their releases available for Premium listeners only. But I don’t know if this makes up for the difference in revenue.

If you want to ensure your favorite artists are being supported properly for your listenership, then you might consider upgrading to Spotify Premium.

New Features

Spotify introduces features on a semi-regular basis. Earlier this year, they announced three (kind of) new features, including the AI-based DJ feature, Smart Shuffle, and Autoplay for Podcasts.

With Spotify Free, there is no guarantee that you will get access to the latest and greatest, but if you have a Premium subscription, you will always be able to take advantage of new features.

Those who want to be on the cutting edge of Spotify innovation should have a Premium subscription.

How Does Spotify Compare To Other Music Streaming Services?

We will be doing more in-depth comparisons in the future, but it’s fair to say Spotify is the current leader in the music streaming industry.

That isn’t to say other music streaming services don’t have something to offer, though, as some are home to exclusive content, video content, better quality audio, and other innovative features.

Some of the other top music streaming services include:

  • Apple Music
  • TIDAL
  • Amazon Music
  • Deezer
  • Pandora
  • SoundCloud
  • Google Play Music
  • iHeartRadio
  • YouTube
  • Gaana

There are some notable differences between Spotify and other music streaming services. If you’re curious, and they offer a free trial period, you might consider exploring them further on your own time.

Is Spotify The Best Music Streaming Service Available?

Spotify music discovery

There is no denying that Spotify is the most popular streaming service available and is likely to stay that way for a long time to come.

Does that make Spotify the best? That depends on who you ask.

Spotify doesn’t offer high-quality audio yet, something that’s probably holding them back in certain markets.

Spotify also doesn’t offer much by way of exclusive content or video content. This is understandable given their focus on audio content domination, but some might consider this a weakness. You can’t do everything at once, though, and Spotify is smart to keep its focus.

All told it wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say Spotify is one of the best streaming services available, though, and depending on your needs, it may very well be the best.

Can I Find Podcasts On Spotify?

Yes, both audio and video podcasts are now a significant part of Spotify’s business, especially given that they are looking to become the go-to destination for audio content (audiobooks are the new horizon).

There are over five million podcasts on Spotify, and that includes mine!

Can I Find Audiobooks On Spotify?

Yes, audiobooks appear to be playing a more prominent role in Spotify’s ecosystem as of late. They have over 350,000 titles you can purchase and listen to, including The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, Beach Read by Emily Henry, The Fire Prophecy by Megan Linski, and others.

If you can’t find where audiobooks are located, try searching for the titles of your favorite books.

Why Can’t I Find Some Of My Favorite Tracks On Spotify?

This may seem like a silly question, but it isn’t! There is an array of reasons why you may not be able to find select songs on Spotify (which can be a little frustrating as a listener, but it is what it is).

Here are some of the main reasons some songs or releases are simply unavailable on the Spotify platform:

  • Rights and licensing issues. There are many artists and record labels out there, and in some cases, Spotify may not have been able to secure the rights or licensing to add certain music catalogs to their platform. The label, artist, or both may have good reasons for withholding. At the end of the day, this is in the hands of the decision-maker, and you can’t do much about that. There could be other reasons too, like conflicts with exclusive rights agreements.
  • Creative license. With some tracks, it’s not a matter of securing rights and licensing with artists or labels at all. It’s an intentional decision by the artist or label to not release their music on Spotify. For instance, one of the best-selling bands of all time, Japanese duo B’z, refused to add their music to Spotify until very recently. Also, some artists may use Spotify and/or other streaming platforms exclusively as marketing devices and opt to sell most of their music elsewhere, like on Bandcamp, or maybe through physical media only. Additionally, because some artists don’t see the benefit of distributing their music to Spotify, they may never do it.
  • Suspicious streaming activity. Tracks can be removed due to suspicious streaming activity, ostensibly because of bots or AI tools artificially inflating stream counts. I have had this happen to me. Although there were no bots involved that I’m aware of, there was a time when I was streaming some of my playlists non-stop, even if I wasn’t there to listen. I guess that was a no-no. I have a suspicion this doesn’t happen to major artists, though, and is exclusively the problem of an independent artist trying to get more plays.
  • Controversy. In North America, at least, we may not think of illicit drug use as a “big deal.” Gangster rappers talk about it all the time. But there are countries, like Japan, where this is severely frowned upon and can cost an artist a release (which will be delayed if not canceled or pulled), and in some cases, their career. Controversial artists in more conservative countries especially may encounter some problems keeping their entire catalogs up on streaming services.
  • Other. There are almost certainly other reasons why some artists never upload their music to Spotify or are unable to. It could be due to cash problems, timing, rights issues (e.g., with samples), legal issues, lack of awareness, embargos, territorial distribution issues, or any number of things. Spotify doesn’t tell us all the reasons, and they probably never will, unless there’s a good reason to.

Can Independent Artists Release Their Music On Spotify?

Spotify paid subscription

Yes! If you go looking for your favorite independent or local acts on Spotify now, you should be able to find them, assuming they have released their music through a digital distributor like CD Baby, TuneCore, DistroKid, Ditto Music, ReverbNation, LANDR, and others.

If you’d like to see their music on Spotify but can’t find it, then reach out to them and let them know that they can use a music distribution service to release their music on Spotify and all major streaming services.

Spotify is already home to a huge number of independent artists, who represent the majority. They can all benefit from your support, so listen to their music often and remember to add a few tracks to your playlists too.

How Much Are Artists Paid When I Listen To Their Music On Spotify?

Spotify pays artists between $0.003 to $0.005 per stream, meaning they would need to get one million streams per month to earn a decent living wage from streaming royalties.

Some platforms, however, do offer artists more. For instance, iHeartRadio offers $0.01 to $0.02 per stream, TIDAL offers $0.008 per stream, Apple Music offers $0.006 per stream, and so on.

Streaming service models often factor user bases into account, so this can affect how much an artist earns per stream on a specific platform.

While streaming royalties can be relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of things, especially for independent artists, smart artists are the ones using streaming platforms to market their music, versus trying to earn an income from them.

Spotify Free Vs. Spotify Premium, The Verdict

Spotify Free and Spotify Premium are essentially neck and neck. That said, Spotify Premium does offer a better overall experience, with one of the main differences being that Premium offers an ad-free experience.

Of course, there are situations where Free is better because there will always be those who can’t afford to, or don’t want to, pay a monthly subscription. Premium isn’t pricey in the grand scheme of things, but we know that some people are already carrying multiple monthly subscriptions.

You could get up to three months of Premium for free with Spotify, so if you’re unsure whether it’s the right fit for you, it would be in your best interest to take them up on the trial.

Ultimately, the main reason Free exists is to encourage you to upgrade. This doesn’t mean you must upgrade, but if you love the app, desire a better listening experience, and want to unlock additional features, then Premium becomes a no-brainer.

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