|« How not to do a half-marathon||The Six Hour Song »|
Head in the Cloud, part two
The way I consume music has just changed.
A month or two ago I signed up for Spotify. I had heard what an amazing service it was back when it was only available in Europe, and I was anxious to try it once it saw its North American debut. As advertised, Spotify offers its users streaming access to 15 million songs, which is a very impressive selection. There are some artists who do not have deals with Spotify (including the perpetually behind-the-times Beatles catalog), but aside from the usual holdouts I was hard pressed to find artists who were not available, no matter how obscure.
What really sold Spotify for me, though, was when I finally figured out a way to install it on my Linux-powered netbook, which spends most of its time sitting idly around the house. I realized I could hook that up directly to my living room stereo, leaving my primary laptop free for other uses. Soon I was streaming music around the clock, listening to all the albums I didn’t have the money to buy.
Spotify is not without its drawbacks. First of all, I have to install their music player on my computer, which is fine at home, but is not allowed at work. Second, their free service is unlimited only for the first six months. After that it will be limited to ten hours of music per month, which I would probably surpass in a matter of days. It’s also supported by ads, which at first seems like a small price to pay for unlimited music, but it does get annoying. Of course I can pay $10 a month to take away all these restrictions (and add streaming to a smartphone if I owned one), but I’m just not willing to pay that right now.
Then I found out about Rdio, which, aside from having an annoyingly unpronounceable name, rivals Spotify’s services and resolves nearly all of my complaints. It boasts ten million songs to Spotify’s fifteen, but I have yet to find anything on Spotify that is not on Rdio. If anything, the latter has produced positive search results where the former has not. In addition to a desktop app, it also offers browser-based streaming, which means I can listen to it at work. In fact, if I begin listening to an album on one computer, all I have to do is close the browser, drive home, and open the browser on my home computer, and Rdio will automatically resume where I left off. Pretty neat. Rdio is not ad supported and offers a limited amount of monthly streaming with a free account. They won’t say how much you get because they intend the free account as a trial, not as a long-term subscription (although there's no time limit on it that I'm aware of). I probably would have reached my monthly limit in a couple of weeks, but I just signed up for a paid account. Why? It’s only five bucks for a computer-only streaming plan, which is exactly what I need.
That’s where I am now: listening to the new releases that catch my attention, the classic albums I read about, and the artists about which I’ve always said, “I really ought to give them a try sometime.” And if I ever want to listen to some rare release that isn’t available on any music service (like the ultra limited edition stuff The Flaming Lips have been doing this year), there’s Google. This summer I turned my entire music library over to Google Music, which has since become my preferred music player for stuff I actually own.
So for most of the music that exists in the world that I don’t yet own, there’s Rdio, and for everything else there’s Google Music. Currently, I’m working my way through listening to Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest albums of all time, in addition to checking out whatever new releases grab my interest. I’m finding that there is so impossibly much music out there to discover and so little time to do it in. More significantly, though, I think I may be changing the way I think about music ownership. With millions upon millions of songs at my disposal (and not likely to go anywhere), I find myself questioning whether, aside from the occasional rare release, I will really need to buy or download music at all.
I was having this conversation with a friend from work. When he was younger he amassed a sizable record collection, which he later sold and switched to the physically smaller format of CDs. When mp3s came about he again made the switch, filling terabytes of space on his hard drive. But he says that’s the end for him. He can’t get on board with music streaming because then he wouldn’t own the music. I thought it was really interesting that someone can gradually go from a completely physical, analog format to a completely digital one with no physical product, yet that final step from storing files on one’s hard drive to merely accessing audio files over an Internet connection is too great a shift.
I have to admit I’m not sure I’m completely ready either. I’ve had time to get used to subscription models of media consumption through other services. Thanks to Netflix I’ve quit buying TV shows on DVD, and I’ve virtually quit buying movies. I think I’ve come to see these as things I can enjoy without owning. But a piece of music by a favorite band I do feel like I need to possess, even though it exists only as data on a hard drive and I may go years without listening to it. It's just nice to know it's there. I think the generation growing up right now will have no such problem. For them, music will not be something you own. It will be what you listen to on your computer or on your phone, and the actual location of the file will be irrelevant.
Thanks for the Rdio heads up. Just put it on my ipad. Had enjoyed Grooveshark, but it’s flash. The date on the app is dec 09. Pandora is fun, but sometimes I want to hear what I want to hear.
My thoughts exactly on Pandora. It’s okay for discovering new artists, but most of the time I have a specific artist I want to listen to. I’m also big on hearing whole albums in their entirety.
Love the blog, man. I am definitely going to try out Rdio, and I wanted to give you the heads up–you need to check out Jeffrey Foucault (Foe-callt, not the French pronunciation.) He’s amazing.