Music playback on PlayStation consoles gets a boost today with the arrival of PlayStation Music featuring Spotify, which replaces Sony's Music Unlimited service. The app is launching in 41 markets worldwide, allowing most of Spotify's 60 million users — three-fourths of whom use the ad-supported free version of the service — to stream music while they play games on their PlayStation 4.
You can use PlayStation Music completely for free: It doesn't require a PlayStation Plus membership, and you can use it with a free Spotify account or Spotify Premium, which costs $9.99 per month.
Representatives for Sony and Spotify told Polygon during a demo of the PS4 app last week that the two companies worked together closely on PlayStation Music, and it shows: "Seamless" is the best word we can think of to describe the experience.
Eric Lempel, vice president for Sony Network Entertainment's business and operations in the Americas, explained that for third-party services on PlayStation consoles, Sony usually lets those outside companies handle the app development themselves. Not so for PlayStation Music and Spotify.
"This was a real collaboration [between Sony and Spotify], to make sure it really fits the PlayStation audience and kind of stays true to what Spotify is," said Lempel.
Upon opening the Spotify app on PS3 or PS4, you can link your existing Spotify account or create a new one. A 30-day free trial is available for new Spotify users, and people who previously subscribed to Music Unlimited get a 60-day trial. The linking process is simpler if you use the Spotify mobile app — the app can see your console on the Wi-Fi network, so you can hook up your Spotify account to your system without having to type in your login information.
PlayStation Music lets you stream music of your choosing while you're playing games, just like Music Unlimited, which had been available on PS4 since the system's launch. The streaming option remains less flexible than what was available on PS3 — the PS4 didn't support MP3 playback at all at first, and it's still impossible to store music on the console — but now all you need is a free Spotify account, whereas Music Unlimited was a paid service. Only PS4 users can listen while they play; a Sony representative said this feature won't be coming to the PS3 app.
The app is split up into two sections, Browse and Your Music. Once you sign in with your Spotify account, you'll see all your existing playlists and saved songs in Your Music. In the Browse section, you can peruse Spotify-curated playlists like "#ThrowbackThursday" and "T.G.I.F." and look for music by genres and moods. If you want to search for music, you have to go up to the magnifying glass icon in the top right corner; we wish there were a shortcut, such as the triangle button, to let you search from anywhere in the app.
It's easy to turn your PS3 or PS4 into a Spotify-based jukebox with PlayStation Music. While there are no visualizers in the app, it displays a high-resolution image of a song's album art during playback. You can control the console app using your controller or your phone (via the Spotify mobile app), doing things like changing songs, browsing for music and adding tunes to your queue. Navigation through the PS4 app was snappy during our brief hands-on demo.
PlayStation Music works very similarly to Music Unlimited when it comes to listening to songs during video games. The app doesn't replace the game audio; instead, it leaves it up to you to adjust the sound mix. You can turn down the game volume in the game's settings, as always. If you hold down the PlayStation button, you can change the volume of the Spotify music. You can also change tracks with L1 and R1 directly from that screen, without having to go into the PlayStation Music app.
All PS4 games support music playback via PlayStation Music. Lempel noted that developers can disable the feature, but said that nobody has done that so far. You can listen to music even if you're broadcasting games to services like Twitch. The stream just won't carry the Spotify audio — not that you'd want it to do so, anyway.
Asked if Sony and Spotify had to leave any PlayStation Music features on the cutting room floor, Lempel demurred, but said that the companies are committed to adding to the app over time.
"We're not going to just launch this and walk away," said Lempel. "We'll continue to work with the Spotify team to create even deeper integration, and other experiences that people tell us that they want."
Spotify is on the same page, according to Graham James, the company's head of communications for the Americas.
"We view this as a true partnership," said James. "It's the product and engineering teams, it's the marketing teams, it's everybody in between that got together to build something together that was right for this platform and this audience."
Even so, the app's name — it's "PlayStation Music featuring Spotify," not just a Spotify app on PS3 and PS4 — seems to suggest that Sony has bigger plans for the service, such as, perhaps, the integration of other streaming-music platforms.
"At this time, Spotify is the exclusive partner," said Lempel. "That could change over time, but right now, that's all we're focusing on, is Spotify."
Update: PlayStation Music featuring Spotify is available now.
Update 2: A Sony representative clarified that only PS4 users can use the PlayStation Music app to listen to music while they play games. The feature is "not planned for PS3," the rep told Polygon. We've edited the article to reflect this.
Asked about Spotify Radio, the spokesperson said the feature is not available directly within PlayStation Music. However, users of the Spotify mobile app can start Radio playback there and then push it to their PS3 or PS4 using Spotify Connect.
Update 3: The app's Your Music section only shows playlists you've created or are following, and individual songs you've saved — not saved albums. We've edited the article to reflect this.