My current battle cry is “I need new music.” I am finally sick of the 400 songs on my iPod Shuffle, which I just discovered Apple no longer makes. It’s time to reassess my music listening options in a world this has changed the way music is experienced.
So, how do I get my needs met in the digital music world. I’m clear about what I want.
- I want to store and have access to all the music I’ve ever purchased or uploaded, and currently maintain in my iTunes library.
- I want to organize my songs into playlists to fit my many moods.
- I want to listen on the go (metros and subways where WIFI is not available).
- I like to listen at home, and I want my music to pump through my state-of-the art speakers.
- I want to listen on a device that is light and portable for workouts, one of the things I loved about my little shuffle.
- Occasionally, I want to hear new songs, and its even better if they are recommended for me. If I fall in love with it, I want to buy it, easily.
So, armed with that shopping list, who can meet my needs?
Streaming music services is the only way to get everything I want. CDs are headed the way of vinyl. Streaming has become so popular that the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) now factors music streaming into its Gold and Platinum album certifications. The Life of Pablo, a Kanye West hip-hop album, went platinum based entirely on online plays, streaming more than 3 billion times worldwide.
The companies with big subscriber numbers could be the best choice to insure the best music choice. Spotify last announced 50 million paid subscribers and Apple Music has 20 million. Both Apple Music and Spotify account for a large percentage of record labels’ royalties, which makes it increasingly difficult for labels to walk away.
Own or Rent
Do you want to own the songs you listen to or is music discovery equally important to you? For some they know exactly what they want and are ready to pay for it. Music ownership is more important to them. Others say that paying a monthly subscription gives them the flexibility to listen to music online with a virtually unlimited supply — not to mention the freedom to listen to it almost anywhere (and on any mobile device).
When you use a digital music download service you can physically move your purchased music around in whatever medium you need. You can store it on your computer, or in the cloud, and sync to your iPhone, iPod, Android, MP3 player, PMP, etc. Digital music ownership means that you can create your own CDs using a software media player (iTunes, VLC Media Player, etc.) to build your physical music library.
Still Need a Backup Plan
If you are willing to manage your own digital music library, owning the music without continually paying a subscription fee could be your best option in the long term. The problem is your digital music isn’t accessible on multiple devices. And, you will still need a digital music player and device to listen to your music. If you are not using a music storage service some digital music stores don’t allow you to re-download your purchased music, so your music collection could evaporate in a technology crash. To prevent digital music disaster, you need a disaster recovery plan. If you regularly back up your computer, then your digital music files are safe somewhere.
Offline and Online
There are two important needs when it comes to listening to our music. One is listening online and the other is listening offline. Listening offline involves downloading, storage space and purchasing the music or paying for a subscription service. Some cloud music services like Spotify, Amazon Music and iCloud offer an offline mode.
So, what’s the right combination of owned and borrowed music. How do I listen offline when I’m doing my commute or on a fitness walk? How much music variety do I need before I’m sick of my playlist?
Music Streaming Services
There are pure music streaming services, no storage provided. They sell you their ability to source and organize music you want to hear. If you want to purchase the music you are directed to a music store. The top contenders are Spotify, Pandora and indie music’s SoundCloud.
Remember, unless you purchase the song, you are just renting the privilege of listening while you have a subscription. Once you cancel the subscription the dance party is over.
Spotify, which started in Europe, offers a music buffet. Spotify has a vast catalog of music available, and you can share your playlists with other users to get ideas about new music. This music service gives you weekly recommendations from an expansive library. Some claim Spotify has better predictive technology than anyone else.
Spotify also scans your existing collection from iTunes or any other folder and replicates your playlists without having to upload them. Spotify works well on a variety of devices and you can take your playlists offline.
Don’t forget, Spotify songs only play for as long as you’re renting them, so if you decide to cancel the account, you’ve cancelled all your songs.
Pandora lets you create a radio station and feeds you the songs it thinks you will like based on the artist or genre. It’s a streaming only service, so you can’t listen when you’re out of WIFI range. You also can’t pick and choose which song plays next, although you can purchase a song (you will be directed to a separate music download service). You can use it for free, or pay to have an ad-free listening experience. Pandora doesn’t do anything with the songs you already own.
Sometimes I listen to Pandora because it still thinks I’m in San Francisco and the San Francisco ads make me nostalgic.
This is not the place to find the mainstream hits. If you have the patience to listen to hundreds of indie music songs to find your cult classic, this is the one for you.
Is it Time to Pay to Play? A Look at Music Subscription Services
Most streaming services have tiers of service, from free to paid to premium. Free accounts typically limit your ability to skip songs to just six per hour, and they feed you ads in either audio or video form. The free tiers are for more casual listeners or people who don’t find it worth spending a dime on music.
Paid and Premium accounts offer unlimited song skips, on-demand playback, and other benefits.
There are several pay services, and I had to ask myself is it time to trade dollars for music satisfaction. I’m already a Prime member, so I’ve been testing out Amazon Music. I have created great playlists and find most of the music I want. The trouble is listening offline. Can I only download songs I own and what about my music library, purchased through iTunes? How can I manage my digital music ecosystem, which includes iTunes?
I’ve been a customer of the ITunes store since I bought my first iPod Shuffle. We’ve had a spotty history as I changed from one laptop to another. Finally, iTunes became much more sophisticated and the transition was painless. Since I’ve had a chain of bottom of the line smart phones there has been zero interaction between the two. Now, things may be different. My Samsung Prime may have to replace my iPod Shuffle.
The iTunes Store has “an enormous catalog of 40 million songs, curated playlists,1 Beats 1 radio, and more..” It also has more audiobooks, podcasts, and apps than other digital content stores.
Some listeners like the unpredictability of radio, and Apple Music includes a live, 24/7 radio station called Beats 1: Paid subscribers can listen to featured DJs and shows from artists like Anna Lunoe, Dr Dre, Elton John, and Frank Ocean.
With Apple Music, combined with iCloud, you can listen to all your music on all your devices all the time. Your entire music library—no matter where it came from—available wherever you can access a Wi-Fi or cellular signal on your Mac, PC, Android mobile device, iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Apple Watch, or Apple TV. When you’re offline, you can listen to all your downloaded music. I could even continue to feed my iPod Shuffle with new tunes. All for 9.99 USD per month or $99 for a year. Apple Music isn’t available everywhere, including the Czech Republic. Check out the list here.
Amazon Music + Amazon Cloud
Amazon offers a free online storage service called Amazon Cloud Drive, and you can play music files you’ve stored there using Amazon Cloud Player. It’s similar to Google Music, only with a worse interface and better shopping experience.
Like Spotify, when I opened the Amazon Music app on my PC, where my iTunes catalog is stored, it scanned my existing iTunes collection and replicated the playlists without having to upload them. That experience did not translate to my Android phone.
You can upload your files from your iTunes account or other music folder, and any songs you purchase from Amazon.com can be transferred directly to the Cloud Player or downloaded back to your computer. You’re not limited to only using their service to purchase music.
Amazon Music also offers cloud storage. The first 5 gigs of storage are free to anyone with an Amazon.com account. After that, Amazon will charge for storage.
- uses ultra-compatible MP3 format.
- Over 30 million tracks.
- Personal Amazon cloud music locker that you can also upload songs to (250 songs maximum).
- Not available in as many countries as some other competing services (e.g. iTunes Store).
- Amazon Music’s downloader software must be used for album downloads.
Amazon Prime vs. Amazon Unlimited
Amazon Prime membership (around $99 per year) includes Prime Music features. Fire tablets and other Amazon services may also come with Prime Music without an additional subscription fee. You can have up to 10 different devices authorized to use Amazon Music on your account. Prime Music titles can only be accessed and played within the Amazon Music app—they cannot be exported for use on other apps and devices, or copied onto CDs and other external storage.
Amazon also offers a Spotify-like all-you-can-eat subscription service, Music Unlimited for a 30 million song catalog. There are individual and family plan options, and even an option designed specifically for the Amazon Echo, the digital bot that has found it’s way into millions of homes around the world. Expect to pay $7.99 a month for full music access.
So, who should I go with? Apple Music or Amazon Music?