What is Spotify? Music, pricing, and features explained

Spotify is the first name that comes to mind when you think of music-streaming apps. Love it or hate it, Spotify is currently the most popular music-streaming service, boasting 456 million users and nearly 200 million subscribers, putting it ahead of competitors like Apple Music. But what exactly is Spotify, and how does it really work?

We’re answering all your questions with this deep dive into what you can expect from Spotify. 

What is Spotify?

People with headphones listening to Spotify on a MacBook.

If you spend even a little time online, you’ve probably heard of Spotify. It’s a popular free and paid music-streaming service that now also offers access to podcasts, videos, and highly tailored playlists. The biggest appeal here is that you don’t need to pay a single cent to stream the latest songs.

Spotify’s free version lets you listen to unlimited music, podcasts, and even videos, so you can explore your taste without shelling out a fortune. It does offer much more robust paid options (more on that below), but the free version is more than enough for the casual listener.  Spotify is also quite device-versatile, so you can use it on your smartphone, tablet, computer, laptop, TV, smartwatch, gaming console, and even in your car.

You get the expected, intuitive controls like play/pause, next/previous, loop a song/playlist, and save favorites. But that’s not all. There’s a lot that Spotify offers, so let’s break down what you can look forward to. 

Spotify features: music, podcasts, and more

Spotify's Discover Weekly page on the desktop app.

Spotify has a massive (really, really massive) library of content featuring over 80 million songs and 4.7 million podcasts, so there’s something for every listener here.

You can make your own playlists and share them with anyone, but the fun part is that the app will also make some playlists tailored to your taste, so you always have something new to explore. The Discover Weekly playlist gives you new stuff to try based on your past listening choices, while the Release Radar lets you find new songs from your favorite artists.  Want to find music to match an occasion?

You can filter the search based on genre and mood to find individual songs, public playlists, Spotify playlists, entire albums, and even podcasts. You can create collaborative playlists to get a mashup of your and your friends’ music tastes, which makes Spotify more social than other music streaming apps. Another touch of social integration is the Facebook login option and the ability to track what your friends are listening to so the whole experience feels a bit more communal.

Spotify has also added the lyrics for songs right in the app, so you can have a fun karaoke night without having to leave your couch. The content on Spotify tends to swing local, so you can access regional songs and holiday-themed content based on your registered location. For example, a user in the U.S. may find English chartbusters and Christmas songs on the homepage, while a user in India may find Bollywood songs and Diwali aartis.

This doesn’t mean you can’t access foreign content, though. Anyone from anywhere can access most of the library, and your recommendations will start matching your listening patterns over time. 

Spotify plans: Is Spotify free? 

Spotify Premium on a computer with headphones plugged in.Guillaume Payen/Getty Images

Spotify has a free, ad-based version that gives you full access to the current library, but you have to sit through ad breaks. Some users avoid this problem with an ad blocker, but you can also subscribe to Spotify Premium if you want the ads gone, in addition to receiving some cool features like song downloads and unlimited skips. 

Spotify plans start at £10 per month for individual users and £13 per month for two people living in the same house. This can be useful for couples, roommates, or friends sharing a subscription plan while still maintaining separate profiles. Families can get six accounts for £16 a month as long as everyone stays in the same house.

The best part of using the Family plan is that you can block explicit music and get access to Spotify Kids, which has fun, age-appropriate content for kids, so no more supervision is needed. Finally, you have the Student plan for £5 a month, which gives you Hulu (ad-supported) and Showtime subscriptions along with the usual ad-free listening, download options, and unlimited skips. 

How do Spotify downloads work?

Spotify download songs.

When you “download” songs on Spotify with a premium subscription, they’re available for offline listening but can’t be exported to other devices. So you can’t really buy the subscription for one month, download all the songs, and delete the app.

You need to use the app or the web player to access the content, even if you’re listening offline. The downloaded songs are stored on your device, so make sure you actually have the free space available before getting a subscription for offline listening. 

Spotify streaming quality 

Spotify desktop client showing the home and settings buttons.Daniel Martin/Screenshot

Spotify lets you choose your streaming quality, so you can pick between burning through more data with high-quality music or switching to lower quality if your connection is weak. Spotify Free gets you 128Kbps on the web player, while Premium boosts this to 256Kbps.

Desktop, mobile, and tablet streaming starts at 24Kbps on the Low mode and goes up to 160Kbps when set to High. Premium also starts at 24Kbps on the Low mode but goes up to 320Kbps when set to Very High, giving you much greater sound quality.  Podcast quality is standard at 96Kbps on most devices except the web player, where it’s boosted to 128Kbps.

On the Low mode, this can go down to 24Kbps to save data. 

Spotify Wrapped

Spotify Wrapped for 2021.

One of the most popular and highly anticipated features for Spotify users is the Spotify Wrapped roundup at the end of each year. This is a colorful, social media share-worthy analysis of what you listened to that year. It looks at your most-played songs, favorite artists, and most-listened-to genres.

People from all over the world share their rankings on social media, making it go viral every December. 

Spotify also creates a playlist containing your top songs of the year so you can listen to your favorite tracks on repeat. Along with your own data, you can also see what people as a collective listened to the most and stream the top tracks of the year. 

Spotify alternatives

Apple Music on multiple devices.

While Spotify is the best music streaming service right now, there are quite a few alternatives for you to choose if Spotify isn’t your thing. iOS users have Apple Music, which offers a huge library of content and podcasts, just like Spotify.

Amazon Prime subscribers get Amazon Music, which features about 100 million songs with no ads. YouTube Music is another great option for YouTube fans, and Tidal has always been a popular choice for those more finicky about sound quality.  

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