Spotify  just announced a slew of new features for the music streaming service designed to help users more easily discover new music, keep track of their favorite artists, and organize their personal collections. And along with changes to the service itself, Metallica drummer (and onetime vicious opponent of early filesharing service Napster) Lars Ulrich took the stage to announce that music from the band's 30 years is now available on the service for the first time.
"I was stunned at the ease of it," said Ulrich during a panel with Napster cofounder Sean Parker, in which he called Metallica's 200 lawsuit against the music service "misunderstood."
"If you're going to stream music, you want the practical part of the experience to be effortless," Ulrich added, of Spotify.
The new features are all designed to help users answer the question, "What do I listen to next?"
"Spotify is great when you know what music you want to listen to, but not so much when you don't," Ek said at a press event in New York City on Thursday. This notion gets to the heart of Spotify's longstanding problem with the "lean-forward" music listening experience, which helps users navigate content they haven't discovered yet.
Ek says the updates will roll out across all supported devices after the new year. For now, here are the features you need to know about:
The Discovery tab serves up personalized new music recommendations. Ek said he was looking for a smarter, more intuitive recommendation service that didn't follow the traditional playbook standard of, "If you like X, you might like Y." So Discover will pick out music for you ranging from new single and album releases from artists you follow, to music and playlists shard by influencers you follow (more on influencers below). It can also draw from Spotify's large well of data on your listening habits and ancillary information, such as your birthday, to suggest songs. Ek's personal Spotify, for example, asked, "Do you remember this song  by Kris Kross from when you were 9? We think you might like it."
Music Graph and Influencers
Spotify's new Music Graph is another music discovery mechanism based on what "influencers" are listening to. The inaugural group of influencers includes cultural luminaries such as Metallica (naturally), Barack Obama, Justin Bieber, and Entertainment Weekly, who can all share their playlists, which users can follow for a continually updated selection of new music. One of the Music Graph's most useful features is a notification system that alerts users about new tracks and albums from their favorite artists.
The new Collection tab helps you automatically organize the music you've already saved to your various playlists across Spotify. Subcategories within "Collection," such as a Recently Added section, let you keep tabs on the music and albums you're collecting. A nifty "Unplayed" flag banner icon will now show up on songs you've saved, but haven't listened to yet--in a sense, "Unplayed" is another form of discovery.
The Audio Preview feature lets you sample a snippet of a track you're thinking about checking out, but reverts back to whichever song you were already listening to, so you don't have to stop your entire current session to go listen to a new song.
Ek also announced some updated numbers:
- Spotify users have created 1 billion playlists to date
- Spotify now has 5 million paying customers of 20 million active users in 17 markets
- Spotify has 1 million paying U.S. subscribers
- 70% of Spotify's profits go to rightsholders, totaling $500 million to date
... And Frank Ocean performed "Pyramids" and a version of Radiohead's "Fake Plastic Trees." Someone captured some of that on YouTube, see below:
Stay tuned and follow @christinchaey  for more updates from the live press event.
[Image: Flickr user Alexander ]