Deezer vs. Spotify: a side-by-side comparison

Dec 2, 2013
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I’m a pretty ardent believer in the idea that it is better to use the best products than local products. I rarely give favor to local versions of products that I use, when I feel they are ‘me-toos’ – I use Eventbrite, and not Weezevent or Amiando, I use LinkedIn and not Viadeo – and this became particularly evident as I began visiting Deezer more frequently this year. Habitually running into founder Daniel Marhely, I never lied – “I’m a premium Spotify user, and I don’t plan on changing.” – but earlier this year, when Deezer announced a re-vamp of their newsfeed (dubbed ‘Hear This’) as well as some impressive subscriber numbers, I realized that I didn’t have a reason why I didn’t use Deezer that didn’t date back to my 2010 experiences with the service.

Switching & Comparing

In early November I set out to switch from Spotify to Deezer, but first I had to define a set of criteria on which I could compare the two services. I took the time to think about my personal habits, likes/dislikes, and needs when it came to music (and specifically, Spotify), and I decided to look at 5 key areas that could be isolated and assessed: Product Design, Music Discovery, the Mobile experience, the Offline experience and the App Store. These five areas corresponded well to how I experience music today, and while I wasn’t going to give specific weight to any of them, they gave me a basis to judge the two services.

I had thought about trying Rdio and other services; however, when Rdio announced in November that they were laying off 30+ employees, I realized that this three-horse race had just become a two-horse race, and decided to just try Deezer vs. Spotify.

Nota bene: it’s easy to switch & the music’s not all the same

Deezer v SpotifyThere were two assumptions that I had initially made and planned on assessing, that turned out to be wrong. The first was that switching services would be hard, which was busted quickly when one Deezer user introduced me to Spotizr, a service that pulls your Spotify playlists into Deezer (there is a similar service, UsesSpotify.com that allows you to do the same thing). Any ‘network effect’ that one service (or its users) claims to have over the other are essentially null.

The second assumption that was proven wrong was that the catalogs of the two services are identical – my realization of this came when I carried my “Chill Out” Spotify playlist over to Deezer, and upon listening found that not all songs had been carried over (specifically, Obadiah Parker’s bombtastic acoustic cover of “Hey Ya” – available here in Spotify, is nowhere to be found on Deezer). Spotify’s press page claims that they have over 20 million tracks licensed,  while Deezer’s november announcement included a mention of 30 Million licensed songs; there is clearly a large gap in music provided by the two services, yet no real way to know what you’re missing out on.

Deezer is available in 150 countries more than Spotify (180 vs 32), meaning that much of their 10 Million tracks may be local artists; however, Deezer isn’t available in the US, so artists only available in the US wouldn’t be available on Deezer. Also, as tracks are licensed on a country-by-country basis, it’s difficult to tell how many tracks a user in any given country has for each service.

Product Design – adjusting expectations

I knew going into Deezer that I was going to have to adjust to the difference in design; however, I likened this to the switch between iOS and Android. No one ever likes a new haircut, so I was determined to not let this get in my way. On Spotify, I had been using the iOS app on my iPhone 4S and the Desktop app on my Asus Zenbook; having rarely used Spotify’s web interface, I was a bit stunned that Deezer didn’t have a desktop app (equally stunned that Spotify had a web interface, which is awful compared to the Desktop app).

I know the tendency is to say that the future of apps is the web, but HTML5 has a huge hole when it comes to ‘offline mode.’

What really let me down about Deezer’s web app was the little things: for example, using the scroll feature on my touchpad would make songs start and stop, and using the left and right arrows would make the song skip forward and backwards – the limitations of web browsers make it such, for me at least, that the hotkeys on desktop apps are ultimately better attuned to the user’s needs, and not to restrictions around use of ctrl and alt.

I moved beyond this, though it took me a bit of time – not having a desktop app really was a minus for me. In the product design department, Spotify certainly took the cake – not only because it’s pretty, but because I feel more comfortable using it, even when it comes to music discovery.

Music Discovery – getting out of the echo chamber

Music discovery is a huge part of the listening experience – I used Pandora exclusively for years because of their ability to pull out what I called “Pandora bands” – bands you wouldn’t have otherwise discovered if it weren’t for your obscure radio station that mixed Audioslave, The Shins & DMX. On Spotify, I had been slowly building my aforementioned “Chill Out” playlist to be the perfect ‘background music while you work’ playlist. In order to grow that playlist, I would use Spotify’s “make a radio station out of your playlist” feature, which admittedly lacked in the discovery aspect after about 50 songs, but was still the most common way I used Spotify.

The Playlist–>Radio Station feature doesn’t exist on Deezer – a point which initially made me go back to Spotify for half a day during my Deezer trial when I didn’t have time to figure out how to hit play and work. You can only create radio stations from artists (understandable), and you have to go to the artist page in order to launch the radio (not reasonable).

Deezer ultimately positions its ‘discovery’ element around its new Hear This feed, and I wasn’t going to pout for two weeks about the features it didn’t have that I was used to, so I began regularly going to the home page to see what it proposed. Initially it was middle-of-the-line music — The Jimi Hendrix Experience, some Pop music, etc. — all curated by Deezer employees; however, at some point it recommended me The Strokes, and I ended up listening to the whole album. After that, the Hear This feed got a bit more interesting – it still had some misses, but I genuinely felt like my choices were being taken into account.

Today, for example, the home page showed a new single by the Nine Black Alps, which happens to be one of my aforementioned “Pandora bands.” The suggestions continue – Less Than Jake, Better Than Ezra, a 90’s radio station, Deftones, … – some are a bit outside of my current tastes (Sugar Ray), but they all actually hit pretty close to that “I wouldn’t have thought to listen to them, but, yeah, I could go for that right now.”

Discovery algorithms are always a question of time – you can’t expect a company to know your tastes from day one, but you have to jump on opportunities to give them data they can use (i.e: listen to recommendations when you like them). While both companies claim to have complex algorithms to push recommendations, Spotify feels to me like it plays it a bit too close to home, quickly putting you in a box of of liking ‘this type of music’ ; Deezer is willing to take a risk when it comes to discovery, and so I’ve got to give it to them for their discovery element.

Mobile & Offline

Here’s a puzzle for you: when the only time you listen to music on your mobile is when you’re underground (in the metro), how are you ever supposed to use the “offline” feature of a music service? 10 days into my trial with Deezer, I had downloaded the mobile app, but I had never used it: every time I went to do so, I couldn’t get network to download my music, and Spotify’s app, which must’ve downloaded my playlists one day when I came home and connected to wifi, kept bidding me to come back to comfort.

Getting beyond that frustration, Deezer’s recent updates to its mobile app have taken it from a clunky app with too many buttons to one that matches its web experience – image centric and all about the feed – and actually has come up with an app that has something to offer beyond being a music player.

photo 1Spotify’s mobile experience is faithful to its desktop app: the focus is around the player – you can seamlessly listen to artists, playlists, radios of either, whatever you want – while Deezer mobile app pushes, again, to the discovery aspect.

Remember my homepage on the web experience? Those same recommendations appear on my mobile app. Deezer’s player is now also on the bottom, like Spotify’s iOS app, but I find that Deezer’s album search and explore section works even better on mobile than on the web.

Deezer’s app has only been updated in the past week, and it honestly makes a “huge” difference, as the developer notes for the update puts it.

As I prefer discovery to comfortable listening, I’m going to have to give it to Deezer for Mobile; however, the lack of a desktop app on Windows is painful for me, and so I’m going to give it to Spotify for Offline listening.

The App Store

Calling either Deezer or Spotify a ‘platform’ today would be a bit much – both have their own app stores, which share about 80% of the apps, but it doesn’t feel like a core feature (or utility) for users. There are cool apps like Seevl that are on Deezer and not Spotify, as well as Tunigo, available only on Spotify (acquired by Spotify earlier this year) – yet most of the apps seem to be attempts at self-promotion. I won’t blame either of the services for Pitchfork magazine’s lack of creativity with its app, but it is evidence that the app ecosystem just isn’t there – mostly coming down to the fact that both services have signed contracts with labels, making it illegal for app developers to make money on the music in their apps.

If either Deezer or Spotify were to enable app developers to make money by incorporating music into their apps, two things would happen:

  1. You would have a sudden influx of apps incorporating music in creative ways, often for free with ads but sometimes paid
  2. Music Labels would officially serve zero purpose.

Labels today are distributors – that’s what they promise, that’s what they offer, and that’s why they take the lion’s share of artists’ money – however, if Deezer & Spotify create an ecosystem where developers can monetize music incorporated into their apps, then suddently the music platforms take over the distribution role. This is why the music services have live music sessions – like Deezer Sessions – because its royalty-free music is the first step towards creating a label behind the music service.

As for now, I have been more impressed with Deezer’s integration into 3rd party apps – eDJing, Soundrop, Seevl, and others – and they seem to make a larger push to developers than Spotify does. Spotify’s attitude so far has been to acquire or invest in any remotely successful Spotify app, which is good for those developers, but bad for creating a 3rd party ecosystem.

Ultimately, Deezer’s integration with apps (the ability to open 3rd party apps via the mobile site and be redirected to their native app, for example) gives them a bit of a boost, and so I’ll give the App Store score to Deezer

Drawing Conclusions – Which Service To Use.

Despite having an open mind about this trial, I went into it expecting to be disappointed in my confirmation that Spotify was a better product all around than Deezer; the reality is that, due to their recent Hear This update, I was convinced to switch to Deezer and I’ll be wrapping up my Spotify premium account in the next week or so and switching over.

I don’t think everyone should switch, but I think that for what I want out of a music service, Deezer is good where it counts. I’m going to keep bugging the team about making it so that I can convert playlists into radio stations; however, I’ve gotten used to pulling an artist out my playlists and making it into a radio station, and I think that Deezer does discovery well, whereas I felt like I was getting stuck in a loop with Spotify.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll be back at the drawing boards in six months, but for now, I find myself happy using Deezer’s mobile app (still waiting on the Desktop app, but who needs Desktop anyway?), and their ‘Hear This’ feed really seems to be more than an image-centric redesign.

Do yourself a favor, and don’t assume that all services are the same: if you’re using Deezer, try out Spotify, and likewise for Spotify users. You may find that one matches your music listening preferences better than the other.