I’ve done it. I have a Spotify Premium account now, free through February, 10€ per month from then on. I am still not sure if I won’t miss something by not buying music, but I thought, heck, this is nothing you can solve purely by thinking it through. My resistance against not “owning” music was mostly emotionally motivated, and in such a case you simply have to try it to see how it feels. As a result I decided to jump right in.
During the last 30 years I have bought more than 3000 CDs and hundreds of albums as digital downloads. I am way beyond remembering each end every one of the songs on these albums. All of the non-classic CDs and maybe a third of the classic CDs have been ripped over the years, and therefore I have beyond 40,000 files with music on my hard drives, organized by artists and albums. I have a file with a list of all song titles in my DropBox, and that file is where I look when searching for a Song of the Day. Thus my collection is not only property, it is also a database of the music that at least at one point in time meant something to me. Much of this music has a close correlation to fond memories and all the power to evoke them. How do you get that out of streaming?
Spotify has playlists and a very primitive rating system (give one star) for organizing music “collections”. Playlists can be organized in “Playlist Folders” (even nested!), although I have not yet tried how deep the folder structure can be. Nevertheless it seems as if I could create a folder structure that would resemble a physical collection.
The problem is, so far I can’t export it. If you tie your memories to the cloud, you will without a doubt lose them. Companies come and go and I have seen many once big corporation go out of business. In computers Digital Equipment Corporation, Sun Microsystems and Compaq come to mind (or HP if you think that the survivor of the merger feels more like Compaq). Computers and software are especially short-lived and I have no expectation of seeing any of today’s cloud-based services ten years down the road. Some may survive, most won’t. And even if, there is no guarantee that the survivors will keep today’s services running.
Of course I can always keep track of what I hear and what I like manually. I suppose I won’t do it though. Inertia will keep me from doing it.
What we really need from a cloud-based service is the ability to export our data, our memories. Google is quite good at that and while their solutions are hardly accessible to non-programmers, at least I was able to export my complete blog from blogger and move it over to WordPress programmatically.
Google Music All Access, their own music subscription service might turn out to be the more viable option in the long run. So far it lacks proper offline-playing on everything other than Android though. It has a better way to organize collections, but it is pretty much a walled garden. You can’t easily stream to Squeezebox (I have one in Vienna) or Sonos, and they also have not yet published an application programming interface for third-parties.
In fact this whole question of which service to commit resources and time to, the fact that we need to choose between Spotify and Google and who-knows-what, this alone brings back sad memories of system/format wars. I once had a respectable collection of video tapes for the then technically most advanced system, for Philips’ Video 2000. It was better than Betamax and miles ahead of VHS. Unfortunately it died long ago and my video collection was nothing more than a heap of plastics.
It doesn’t always turn sour like that. The CD was a successful standard, DVD was one and BluRay seems to be here to stay as well. For all three standards there is continuing hardware support, helped by the fact that compatible devices can be built.
Digital downloads of MP3s are another such standard. It was not as easily accepted as the CD, but in the end we were pretty happy with it. So far nothing like that happens in the cloud. Everybody builds a walled garden, compatibility and cross-system data sharing are not designed into the services and that seemingly on purpose.
There will be much more to say about streaming services. For now I am trying and I’ll keep you informed about how I feel about it.
The Song of the Day is “Icicle” from Patty Griffin’s 2004 album “Impossible Dream”. I found it on Spotify by searching for a song with “Icicle” in its title. Among the first few that I sampled, this was the one that I liked best. In the meantime I have saved the album as a playlist and downloaded it for offline hearing, along with Patty Griffin’s latest album.
I could “share” the song here via an embeddable player, but in order to hear it, you’d need to have a Spotify account. The free account would suffice, but I guess it’s still easier to share a link to YouTube as always. Tell me if you want me to begin sharing Spotify links though.