It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of music as a consumer and have been for a long time. I heard an interesting podcast the other day from the Danish radio station P1. The program was “Harddisken” and the topic of the podcast was on consumption of music in a modern world with a panel discussion between different lobbyists, one from the streaming service WIMP, one from the public library streaming service Bibzoom and one from the semi-public Danish music rights organization KODA.
The discussion wasn’t really a discussion – all of the panel members seemed to be in agreement that music streaming services are the best thing since sliced bread and that it will revitalize the music industry. But it got me thinking about the way my own consumption of music has changed over the years. The way I consume music is really a combination of my great two greatest interests: New music and technology.
The Napster Years
My preferences in music are very picky. I don’t want other people to choose for me, I believe in my own taste, although I am heavily inspired by some music resources, in particular Soundvenue Magazine and Pitchfork Media. But I don’t want anybody to choose my music for me, so some of the classic online music services like online radio and more modern genre-based services like Pandora don’t really work for me. I was one of the heavy users of Napster back in it’s prime for that very reason. To me, Napster was basically a gigantic music library where everything seemed available. My music taste wasn’t very evolved back then, and that might have been the reason why it felt like I could find everything I was looking for. After the slow death of Napster I had kind of a dead period of music consumption myself.
The CD years
When I eventually picked music up again I became bit of a HIFI geek, buying a decent amplifier, a CD deck and a set of very good (and very BIG) Dali speakers. I still had quite a large collection of illegally downloaded music, but my collection of music started growing by buying CDs which I then ripped to my computer. One thing that I’ve always really hated about illegally downloaded music is that the quality is usually quite bad and that it’s very hard to keep it organised because the various pirates around the world apply their own organisational schemes instead of relying on proper ID3 tags. Because of that and because I wanted to go in a more legit direction I eventually deleted the entire collection of crappy illegal music and started maintaining my own collection of music ripped in high quality and with decent ID3 tags from my own collection. That collection has continued until today, and I now have around 90GB of music, which is nowhere near the 2 TB of music the typical music pirate “owns” but quite a considerable collection considering it’s mainly from physical music.
But finding new music has always been a problem. I’ve never really enjoyed going to record stores and listening to music because their selection (at least in Denmark) is always so limited and the prices (also in Denmark) are ridiculously high. I prefer exploring in front of my computer by reading the reviews and recommendations from my peers, but the problem is that it’s very difficult to actually HEAR the music you’re reading about. As mentioned I’m quite concerned about quality, so the crappy samples offered by services like MySpace (please die soon, it’s a pain to watch you suffering like that), allmusic or the crappiest of all: YouTube (ptui!) wasn’t really a solution. So I admit that I still had to resort to the flavour of the time in P2P networks like DC++ and various torrent clients to find the music before eventually buying it on CD online at UK prices (roughly half of Danish prices). I also subscribed to a number of music providers over the years, including the monthly Soundvenue Sampler and the montly Fabric! and FabricLive! CD.
Enter Spotify! (and Rdio)
Spotify had existed for some time before I eventually picked it up. You couldn’t get it in Denmark without going through some trouble and I still had my large CD collection and huge, expensive HIFI system so I was quite happy without it. But moving to the states left me without my huge stereo and CDs, and the only quality equipment for consuming music I had left was my UltraSone headphones and my (second set of) Etymotic earbuds. I still had my collection of music, some of which I could store on my new 16GB iPhone and listen to, but I had to find a way to find new music. The answer was pretty obvious in Spotify. So I went through the trouble of getting a Spotify account, which was just as complex in the US as in the States, but it was definitely worth the effort. I pretty much completely stopped downloading illegal music as soon as this service was made available to me. Being fortunate enough to have unlimited data on my phone I could connect to and find all the music I wanted. I since lost the debit card I used for my Spotify trick and had to close my account, but fortunately the very similar Rdio service had launched shortly before that, and I switched to that. Being an early adopter was a bit painful, but they’ve definitely caught up and now offer a very solid service.
Cloud music libraries
Unfortunately services like Rdio and Spotify have one big problem: While they have a HUGE collection of music, they don’t have EVERYTHING. In particular I’m missing some of the music from my old collection, which I now rarely get to listen to, because it’s so bloody inconvenient to have to sync the music to my iPhone. It just feels so old-fashioned having to connect to a computer and decide what music you want to put on a device with limited storage. But I believe I’ve found the answer in the cloud-based music libraries. I’ve started uploading my collection to my Amazon cloud drive, and that music is now available to me in the quality that I like (because I’m the one who ripped it) while I’m on the road. The big drawback is obviously that I can’t play the music from my iPhone, since Big Brother has decided against it, but at least it really rocks from my computers and my Android devices. My Amazon cloud drive is free for now, but it only has 5GB of storage. Another player I’m waiting with excitement for is Google Music, which is unfortunately in closed beta. And I guess Apple will launch a similar service with their iCloud this Monday, which is a bloody shame, because that’s probably the real reason why Apple won’t allow the Cloud Player in their app store – we all have to use the Apple approved service instead. This all puts me in a very awkward position, since the iCloud will probably only work on iDevices, but as the iPhone is my primary device, it leaves me with little choice.
My future as a music consumer will consist of a combination of streaming services, Rdio currently being my weapon of choice and one of the cloud based music services to serve my music collection to me wherever I might be. The next month or so will tell which service I choose, but I really hope Apple will allow me to make the choice myself, although I seriously doubt it.