In Light of Spotify’s Plan to Increase Subscription Costs: a Comprehensive Review of its most Annoying ads

Caspar Dowdy, Editor-in-chief

Spotify. I have thoughts.

The music streaming app is arguably the most-used thing on my phone. Whether I’m driving to school, going to sleep, trudging through math homework or chipping away at yearbook layouts, it seems like I always have a podcast or music playing in the background.

My time on Spotify has introduced me to dozens of phenomenal creators, who have provided truly life-changing music and podcasts. But because I’m too cheap to shell out $9.99 a month, the app has also subjected me to a truly shocking number of ads over the years.

More people are likely to get a taste of the malignant marketing soon. The Sweden-based company’s chief executive, Daniel Ek, told the Wall Street Journal that 2023 will see price hikes for its premium subscription services. For subscribers hoping to cut costs as the effects of 2022’s inflation wave trickle into the new year, that could mean letting go of the ad-free listening experience rather than spending a few extra dollars a month.

But worry not. As a long-time user of ad-supported Spotify, I’m more than happy to give soon-to-be former premium users an idea of what they have to look forward to.

The first thing to love about Spotify Free, of course, is the gift of fast reflexes it instills in you after years of using it. As soon as I hear a lull in my music, before my screen can even switch from album art to advertising, my hand has hit the mute button to avoid hearing the same three or four ads every 30 minutes — though let’s be honest, it’s more like every 15 — for weeks at a time. But I suspended my habit of muting Spotify’s ads for a few days to get an idea of what repetitive commercials were dominating the service for the foreseeable future. The things we do for journalism.

Seasons change and advertisers come in and out of Spotify’s lineup, leaving one entity inescapable: Spotify itself. One of the most common interruptions you’ll get to your music is other, unsolicited music. This often comes in the form of a relaxed beat that lulls you into listening to a pitch for Spotify Premium, hawking sales and plan styles that promise a life of listening without having to hear ads.

But an equally common ad from the service itself will simply show off the fact that yes, Spotify does indeed host music. Is a song trending on TikTok? Prepare to hear the most viral 15 seconds of it played incessantly as Spotify tries to show you how in tune they are with culture. Has Spotify told you they host music yet? Really? Just to be sure, they’ll make sure you hear about the most recent “Hot Hits USA” playlist they’ve curated, even if that means playing the same ad for it three times in a row. I hope you’re not the type to get songs stuck in your head easily.

If having today’s top hits drilled into your head ten repetitive seconds at a time isn’t your style, you’ll get used to the same roster of familiar third-party ads coming to greet you every time your 30-ish minutes of ad-free listening have run dry. The service is prone to cycling through ads, playing the same handful for weeks or months at a time until a fresh batch comes in. There are staple companies, though. To this day I’m not entirely sure what Shopify does, but the Pavlovian rage response I have to the cha-ching of a cash register that characterizes their ads is one with a storied history.

For however long an ad sticks around in Spotify’s rotation, you’re sure to hear it often enough that you’ll memorize it against your own will. Hearing an old stand-by return after having disappeared for a while, like an old friend you drifted away from, stirs up those familiar feelings of “oh God, not this thing again.”

If I were a more miserable person, I’m sure I could categorize chapters of my life by the ads that tormented me just as much as I could with the music I listened to: the game-show-style Lufthansa announcements that made an unwelcome home on my car speakers as I drove to school my junior year, the Mike & Ike ad that I prefer radio silence to when it crops up every summer, the ad for Wendy’s french toast sticks currently testing my high-speed-mute-button reflexes.

In that way, even though their being free is the entire point, Spotify’s truly ridiculous ads serve a purpose in their annoyance. I am truly sad to say they are a sign of the times, a snapshot of this moment in history.

What stage of capitalism leaves us looking for meaning in Spotify ads?