Spotify vs. Girl Talk: What Is Spotify’s Music Catalog Missing?

Slate's Culture Blog
July 22 2011 5:53 PM

Spotify vs. Girl Talk: What Is Spotify’s Music Catalog Missing?

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Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

Spotify, the Swedish music streaming behemoth that Slate’s Farhad Manjoo called “The World’s Greatest Music Service,” came to the US last week, boasting an impressive library of over 15 million songs. Before you sign up, though, you may want to know whether or not these are the right 15 million songs—not just a few Katy Perry tracks backed by remixes of Gregorian chant.

Enter Girl Talk (aka Gregg Gillis), the mashup master whose albums consist of hundreds of samples and demonstrate an encyclopedic knowledge of music. Last month, Vulture published a 154-track backyard-barbeque mix by Gillis, and, true to form, the songs span six decades and include basically every commercially viable genre from that period. There’s rap, 80s pop, yacht rock, R&B, indie rock, and plenty more. The breadth of the list makes it a perfect test for Spotify, as does the fact that the songs are likely to be ones that you’d actually want to listen to. So I decided to see whether Spotify could match the range of Gillis’s mix.

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How did Spotify fare? Very well. 88% of the songs were available in their original form. 2% were only available as remixes, and another 2% were only available in live versions. 8% were not available at all, pointing to some limitations in the Spotify catalogue. On the rap, hip hop and R&B side, Spotify was missing tracks by De La Soul, Aaliyah, Dr. Dre, Camp Lo, Wiz Khalifa, Hot Boys, and, mysteriously, Joe Budden. On the classic rock side, Spotify was missing not just the Beatles (who weren’t even available on iTunes until late last year), but also Michael McDonald and the Steve Miller Band. Finally, Spotify was missing a handful of tracks of the Holland-Dozier-Holland type, from artists like Honey Cone, the Chairmen of the Board, and even The Jackson Five.

Perhaps tellingly, almost all of the missing songs are from established artists whose back catalogues are very valuable. Maybe the labels feel that there’s more money to be made by refusing streaming rights for “Yah Mo B There” and selling it separately. Spotify appears to be doing fine on the long tail; it’s the seminal albums by retired acts that you can’t count on.

You can listen to nearly all of Girl Talk’s playlist on Spotify here: “Girl Talk’s Backyard Barbecue Mix.”

Dan Check is Slate's Director of Technology.

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