Elliot Jay Stocks is a designer, speaker, and author. He is the Creative Director of Adobe Typekit, the founder of typography magazine 8 Faces, one half of Viewport Industries, and an electronic musician.

Music collections in the era of the cloud

Posted on 24 October 2012 18 comments

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about music recently; specifically, what it means to own and use a personal digital music library whilst subscribing to streaming services such as Spotify, Rdio, Pandora, and Deezer. I published some loose thoughts on The Pastry Box a couple of months ago, but in the weeks that followed, I’ve stumbled across some thoughtful pieces on The Bygone Bureau and Pitchfork that have spurred me into writing something a little more refined. Whilst this post slowly evolved in my ‘drafts’ folder, Rob Weychert posted a brilliant analysis of his own listening behaviour during a year’s subscription to Rdio and his views highlight my own belief that the music-streaming services — in their current guises — are not replacements for personal music libraries.

I’ll try to explain why.

Music has been an important part of my life since my teenage years; first as a listener, then as a creator (a hobby I still entertain for a few weeks a year), and then as an insider within the music industry: my first ‘proper’ job was Junior Designer for EMI Records and after two years with the company I moved to indie label Sanctuary Records, again as an in-house web designer. So I like to think that I’m able to watch the industry develop from a variety of standpoints without too much bias for any one side: listener, creator, publisher.

Given the developments in digital music distribution in recent years, my interest in the industry also blends with my appreciation for the web and cloud-based apps. I was an early user of Spotify and jumped onto Rdio when it finally found its way to the UK some months ago. However, my eagerness to embrace this new method of consumption is somehow at odds with my more traditional desire to ‘own’ music. That desire most definitely comes from my interests as a designer: the part of me that loves elaborately packaged box-sets, well-designed inlay booklets, and the simple pleasure of looking at music on a shelf and thinking, ‘this is my music. This is a representation of who I am.’ It’s what caused me to convert to digital pretty late in the game and it’s why I still hang onto a relatively large collection of unplayed CDs in a box under my desk.

This ownership conundrum — and it is very much a conundrum when you appreciate digital’s negative effects for artists and labels — is something that’s plagued many music fans, but it is of course something that can be overcome. Even some of the most ardent record collectors have became accustomed to playing digital files through iTunes. As Jonathan Sterne notes,

With an MP3, you’re obviously not going to have the same enjoyment that vinyl collectors talk about in terms of the physicality of the medium. Although for a lot of people, that pleasure has been directly transferred to computer electronics. The whole fashionable-portable-audio-player phenomena is very much of a piece with the enjoyment of records […] MP3s are closer to what I would call the social demand for music — the desire to be with music, to move with it and share it. They’re much closer to that than a record is.

~ Jonathan Sterne

We’ve now come round to the idea that renting — rather then owning — music actually makes a lot more sense in the vast majority of scenarios. Finally, I’m listening to most of my new finds via Spotify or Rdio, rather than downloading them to keep.

But there’s still a problem in this equation. Something that, for me, doesn’t quite sit right. Because although our habits might move towards streaming media as we decide that renting isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the concept of ownership isn’t just about desire; sometimes it’s about need.

There are two scenarios that brought me to this conclusion.

The first is my own taste: I like a lot of obscure electronic music on small labels that simply don’t have a presence on streaming services like Spotify or Rdio, whether that’s by choice (because they see such meagre revenue from those models) or by exclusion (for operating in such a niche market). So for the majority of the stuff that gets pushed by the excellent Boomkat in their weekly newsletter, I’ll buy it directly from them and own the downloadable files (as much as anyone can own anything digital, of course). As a consumer I don’t particularly mind where my money goes — ownership or rental — but the key thing is that in many cases, there’s simply no choice. I buy it because it’s the only way I can hear it. (It’s worth noting that even illegal acquisition of these files would still technically result in ownership.)

The second scenario is the ‘personal’ music I have in my collection. Some of my musically-inclined friends are signed to small labels that aren’t on the streaming services (see above), but more importantly I own digital files of their music that will never be on those services. Some are old recordings taken from self-released CDRs; some are songs from groups who have long since disbanded to get proper jobs; some are my own songs. So if I want to throw some demos for my new EP on my iPod to see how they sound in a different environment, I need an app such as iTunes to handle those files — the streaming services will never, ever enter into that equation.

And this is why I can never completely move over to Spotify or Rdio or Pandora or whatever. Perhaps iTunes Match is a step towards something more unified — because at least I can upload my obscure / old / self-authored MP3s to the cloud — but the whole service is still based around an iTunes concept of ownership that seems to have one foot in the past.

Quite some time ago, Spotify tried to kill off our iTunes dependency by integrating ‘local files’ into the app. In my opinion, the implementation was poor, but the idea itself was solid: use the UI to merge the user’s ‘owned’ local files the service’s ‘rented’ streaming files. Having already experimented with the idea once, they’re well placed to make a more refined attempt; perhaps better placed than Rdio, who have yet to touch on local files. However, what Rdio have done is introduce the notion of the ‘collection’. In terms of functionality it’s nothing more than a slightly more refined playlist, but it does at least appease our desire for ownership.

Music streaming may enable us as consumers of music, able to call up and listen to virtually any well-known track in an instant, but it fails to empower listeners as collectors. It’s possible to bookmark songs in applications like Spotify and recall them at will, but for now at least, it’s not possible to gather together the songs you like in an enduring, sharable library the way we might arrange books on a bookshelf.

~ Kyle Chayka

Because Spotify lacks a collection — but because its music library is far broader, at least in terms of my own tastes — I’ve resorted to ‘starring’ albums and treating that automatically-generated ‘starred’ playlist as my collection. It’s a hack.

It’s not just about the physical ability or disability to create a collection, either. I strongly believe that streaming services devalue music, simply because we’re not as invested — neither physically nor emotionally — in the recordings. Rob Weychert sums it up perfectly:

When I buy an album, I’ll make an effort to enjoy it for the sake of my investment, even if I don’t immediately like it. I spent money on it, it’s taking up space on my hard drive and/or shelf, and I want that to count for something. But subscribing to Rdio is a different kind of investment. Rather than investing in one album, I’ve invested in all the albums, which is the same as investing in none of them. If something doesn’t grab me right away, I don’t have an incentive to return to it, which limits my repeat exposure to only the music with the most superficial rewards. And even that stuff is quickly overcome by the newer and shinier stuff constantly spraying from Rdio’s fire hose.

~ Rob Weychert

What we need is something in between a streaming service and a personal, file-based collection. Could Deezer be the answer?

I heard about Deezer just before going away and at first I rolled my eyes and thought, ‘oh, yet another music streaming service,’ but upon closer inspection it appears to offer the exact functionality I’m after: the ability to upload your own library to the cloud. I must admit that I’ve yet to try the service, but this feature is something I’d like to see adopted by the others.

Perhaps the company with the most potential to do something in this arena is Apple. Rumours have bubbled up — and then fizzled away — about a potential streaming service from Apple, and although many consider it unlikely, it would make perfect sense: Apple’s relationships with the labels is tight; iTunes Match is already an attempt (although admittedly a buggy one) to represent local files in the cloud; and iTunes itself is the familiar face users trust. At last month’s iPhone event, where Apple also revealed the redesigned iTunes, I was half-expecting to see a streaming service baked into the new UI. What a shame that didn’t transpire, because I strongly believe that the MP3 is not going away just yet.

The ubiquity of online music hosting now means that friends can post single tracks to their Tumblr, and we can spy on what they’re listening to through Facebook feeds, though we might not be able to download them. These ephemeral glimpses at others’ listening habits are fascinating and inspiring, but unstable. The thing about clouds is you never own them — they have an instinctive tendency to drift away. MP3s, obsolete as they may become, stick around.

~ Kyle Chayka

It feels to me that a further refinement of the music streaming model must be just around the corner, and I’d like to see Apple behind it. For me personally, this potentially game-changing new app / service / model should allow the user access to both a vast library of music (for a subscription fee) and the user’s personal library of obscure recordings. And although such a proposal would of course be intrinsically cloud-based, it should also allow the user to curate some sort of collection — to have a sense of ownership, because ownership is an outward gesture that speaks about our own, deeply personal relationship with music.

A shorter, earlier draft of this post first appeared on The Pastry Box.

18 comments

  1. Michael Fink

    Michael Fink

    24 October 2012 @ 01:49PM #

    I happened to read the Rob Weychart piece which you tweeted about before reading this, so I was somewhat surprised to find your thoughts made some sense. Because his sure as hell don’t.

    Intriguingly, though, you chose to quote a few lines which revealed just how bizarre his financial ‘investment’ argument is:

    “Rather than investing in one album, I’ve invested in all the albums, which is the same as investing in none of them. If something doesn’t grab me right away, I don’t have an incentive to return to it, which limits my repeat exposure to only the music with the most superficial rewards.”

    The incentive to listen to a piece of music should simply be the expectation that you’ll derive pleasure from it. Nothing more, nothing less. (There’s certainly no incentive in chasing a sunk cost.)

    Choosing to listen to music you’ve already heard before necessarily means forgoing the opportunity to listen to new music which you haven’t. Prior to the advent of music streaming services this decision was also rather dramatically influenced by financial and practical considerations – it was much cheaper and more convenient to listen to you own music collection than going out and buying a new album. But that’s no longer the case.

    So if Rob is no longer re-listening to as much music as he used to that merely suggests that at any given moment he expects he’ll get more pleasure from trying something new than from returning to something he’s already listened to.

    If upon reflection he thinks he was wrong, then the concept he’s actually grasping for is ‘delayed gratification’.

    I suspect most of us get the most pleasure from our favourite music somewhere around about the tenth listen. But that’s got nothing to do with some misguided sense of getting a return on an ‘investment’ in the sense of money that’s already been spent, or space that’s been taken up upon a shelf or hard drive. Instead it has everything to do with the pleasures that can come from investing time in a piece of music which didn’t reveal all it’s glory to us on a first listen.

    Rdio, Spotify and all the others don’t make listening to our old music any harder than it used to be. We just need to recognise, as Rob perhaps belated does, that ‘newer and shinier’ won’t necessarily make us happy.

  2. Aaron Gustafson

    Aaron Gustafson

    24 October 2012 @ 02:02PM #

    Like you, I’m struggling here. As a former music journalist, I have a rather massive music collection (too large for iTunes Match) and I do want to maintain a local library, but as a technologist, I also recognize the foolishness of not having an offsite backup of all of my digital music.

    Thus far, I have been uninspired by Spotify and Rdio despite making a concerted effort to try both services. I am half-tempted to try the Amazon music service simply because it offers 10x the song limit imposed by Match, but I suspect like you, that having an integrated solution from Apple would be a better overall experience.

  3. Chris Ferdinandi

    Chris Ferdinandi

    24 October 2012 @ 03:17PM #

    I like that you’ve been able to articulate WHY I feel the need to buy songs rather than just rent them. The reality is, as Michael Fink mentions above, that after X number of listens (somewhere around 10 to 20), I hit the maximum value on any given song and move on to something else. But still, the idea of renting the song rather than owning it bothers me.

    About once every month or two, I’ll put my entire iPod on shuffle. It’s always amusing when a favorite song from years past that I’d forgotten about pops up in the mix.

    I rarely have those throwback moments on Pandora the way I do shuffling music I own.

  4. Michael Fink

    Michael Fink

    24 October 2012 @ 03:51PM #

    Whilst I can certainly accept the musings of a graphic designer about the joys of owning the tangental parts of a traditional album, I wonder how much of this angst is because we all define ourselves to some degree by what we own, and choose to display.

    Who, upon entering a new house, doesn’t sneak a peak at the bookshelf and the CD collection?

    Short of projecting our recent play lists onto a wall we can’t do that anymore. Except of course with Spotify we can, onto Facebook. But I’m of an age where it feels a little gauche to do so, whereas I feel no such compunction about having my bookshelves and CD collections in prominent positions.

  5. Eric Miller

    Eric Miller

    24 October 2012 @ 03:57PM #

    Great article Elliot. Like you, a good part of my professional design life was in the music industry. I was the web designer for BMI for 9 years, an interesting place to be as music went digital. For years I went out to live shows almost nightly, and had the opportunity to meet some of my favorites. And as much as any other kid growing up, music was huge for me.

    So, this article made me think about not just my music collection, but how my relationship with music has changed since I bought the first iPod. And I found this…

    I’ve never fully committed to any of the online music services. Relative to when I used to swing by Mr. Cheapos with my friends to pick up used CD’s, I’ve barely bought any music since going MP3. My 8 year old car has a tape deck, and my old mix tapes play regularly, which frankly, makes me and any passengers quite happy. And, I miss the awesome packaging of a Springsteen box set.

    I think what made the most sense was the comment about making an investment, and then taking the time to appreciate it. Spending the time picking out my next album purchase, and then listening to the last few tracks over and over because I dropped 10 bucks on it, made me appreciate music more.

    So, maybe I’m stuck in the 90’s, or maybe the right music service just hasn’t come along. And maybe I’m in the last generation that will care. But, something isn’t quite right.

  6. Michael Fink

    Michael Fink

    24 October 2012 @ 04:44PM #

    Elliot, Rob and Eric Miller all seem to be bemoaning that they don’t feel about music the way they used to.

    But whilst Rob thinks the way music is now delivered is why he doesn’t go back enough to the music he likes best, Eric seems to think it’s the primary reason he mostly only listens to his old favourites.

    I wonder if we’re just not all of a certain age where music typically no longer plays the role that it did in our late teens and early twenties.

    Was it in desperately avoiding the elephant in the room that we used to make distinctions about whether the music was pressed into vinyl, looped on magnetic tape, pitted into a polycarbonate disk or stored on a hard disk platter? Instead now we ponder whether the cloud — renting rather than owning — is to blame (when the reality is legally we only ever enjoyed a limited licence to enjoy the music in certain situations anyway).

    Is it just that we’re old men — and yes, it’s typically just the males worrying about these things — who don’t want to accept that we’re not twenty any more?

  7. Jeff Finley

    Jeff Finley

    24 October 2012 @ 04:49PM #

    I felt the same way about my music and movie collection. It was a representation of my personality. I identified with all those obscure titles on my shelves and in my itunes library and when guests would come over and browsed my bookshelf, I felt as if they were getting a peak into my life.

    But I ran out of space on my bookshelf and the chore of having to get a new addition curbed my desire to buy more DVD’s or CD’s. In fact, I used to burn every DVD I got from Netflix just to feel like I had a physical archive of my viewing history. It also represented my personality in the real-world.

    But somewhere along the line I lost my desire to obtain the physical product. Part of it was decluttering. Part of it was realizing that I never rewatch or re-listen very often and they just gather dust. They only serve as a nostalgic look at what I used to be like. My musical and cinematic journey.

    With Spotify and the like, I have actually gotten back INTO music and listen to more music than I have in the past few years. My wife has actually reignited her love for music out of shear convenience of being able to listen to all her old stuff without “committing” herself to putting a new CD in her car or in the player. I’m quite excited about her new excitement over music because that’s something we had in common for years before she just stopped caring about new music. Spotify brought it back. But she’ll buy the physical product of a new band she discovered and really soak it up in her car for months at a time. Listening to the same record hundreds of times and REALLY experiencing it like we used to.

    But since I still identify myself with my “collection” I feel that I’m happy with how last.fm has kept track of my listening habits all the way back to 2004. If only Netflix and all the other TV/Film streaming services scrobbled your history to some sort of online profile, that would be cool.

    You don’t need a physical product to listen to something intently. You don’t need to multitask while you listen, you can just listen. With Spotify or a vinyl record. If you want, just collect the stuff you are most attached to and save it.

  8. Michael Fink

    Michael Fink

    24 October 2012 @ 05:06PM #

    Frank Chimero just covered everything I’ve been trying to say, and a whole lot more besides, far more elegantly and concisely (and with an apt illustration) – http://frankchimero.com/blog/2012/10/siamese-dream/

  9. Chris Ferdinandi

    Chris Ferdinandi

    24 October 2012 @ 05:56PM #

    “Short of projecting our recent play lists onto a wall we can’t do that anymore. Except of course with Spotify we can, onto Facebook. But I’m of an age where it feels a little gauche to do so, whereas I feel no such compunction about having my bookshelves and CD collections in prominent positions.”

    I’d say that’s absolutely part of it for me. The music I listen to is in some ways a reflection of who I am.

    I’m too young to get nostalgic about vinyl, and I hated dealing with cassettes. I actually love the convenience of mp3s and don’t even miss owning CDs. I think for me it comes down to wanting to own music forever, even if my subscription lapses.

    Paying even $2 a month for two years, and then stopping and having no music in my name to show for it, is an odd proposition for me to wrap my head around.

    Like Frank Chimero noted in the article Michael linked to, I use services like Pandora for discovery, and then iTunes for deeper exploration if I enjoy a song for more than a few listens.

    Oddly, I don’t feel this ownership need with other media like movies. I’m perfectly content to, with rare exception, watch a movie once and never own it. I think this is a reflection on how I (and many people, I’d imagine) consume movies versus music differently.

  10. Karolina Szczur

    Karolina Szczur

    24 October 2012 @ 08:25PM #

    I’ve tested various streaming services – started of with Grooveshark, gone through Deezer, Rdio up to Spotify (in a very hacky, purchasing a gift card way though). And I must admit that Spotify definitely “does its job”. The iPad app is very good. Also, it gives you some kind of ownership feeling by letting you sync playlists offline, which makes it similar to having a real iTunes library.

    Although I’m still an analogue person, I own a bunch of CDs (still buying them!) and vinyls. And same as Elliot I love having amazingly designed booklet in my hands.

    Streaming services seem to be the future, although the problem of separation of iTunes library (which is necessary for iPhone users) and Spotify resources and the issue with less common artists might be the dealbreakers here. With Spotify in particular you never know… sometimes you can find really independent artists there and fail with something fairly popular (such as early M83 albums).

  11. Pete Clark

    Pete Clark

    24 October 2012 @ 08:40PM #

    After much consideration I signed up to Amazon Cloud Player (£20 per year for up to 250,000 songs!). It’s awesome. You can use it as a full-on streaming service for your personal library or simply as a cloud-based backup if you want. I now listen to all my music this way, through the web interface at home and through the iPhone app on the go. I have to say, I trust Amazon way more than Apple and I’m very happy with my decision so far.

  12. Rob Weychert

    Rob Weychert

    25 October 2012 @ 01:46AM #

    Eliot: Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this! Finding the right way to unify renting and owning music is an interesting prospect, but I have a nagging feeling it ignores some larger, more elegant paradigm yet to reveal itself. Of course, I have no idea what that is. :)

    Michael: You contend that “the incentive to listen to a piece of music should simply be the expectation that you’ll derive pleasure from it.” I disagree, for the same reasons I would disagree if you said the same thing about food or personal relationships. It’s the difference between the short game and the long game, and I’m more interested in the latter, which allows me to know and absorb music rather than merely enjoy it. The concept of investment happens to be a real factor in how I experience music. It doesn’t have to be the same for you.

    As for the idea that hemming and hawing about this stuff is a prelude to a mid-life crisis, I’m confident that my love for music hasn’t diminished with age, it’s just changed and matured. And I don’t think the examination of renting vs. buying is the same as arguing the virtues of LPs vs. CDs. My issues have to do with personal investment (as described above) and autonomy as a music consumer (keeping middlemen to a minimum). My hand-wringing isn’t about nostalgia or maintaining the status quo; it’s about adaptation.

  13. Geof Harries

    Geof Harries

    25 October 2012 @ 05:59AM #

    Inspired by one of your previous posts, I wrote something about uploading, storing, syncing and listening to my music in the cloud, and more specifically, SkyDrive. It took a while to get it all up there (Internet speeds in Northern Canada aren’t the quickest) but now I can access the same music library from any machine that I connect to SkyDrive. My music collection is a mix of iTunes purchases going back to 2003 as well as osbscure CDs, videos and other stuff I’ve collected over the years, like you. I can even stream songs on my phone using the SkyDrive app. Might be worth a shot.

  14. Stefan Baumschlager

    Stefan Baumschlager

    04 November 2012 @ 11:26AM #

    hi,

    first of all I’m sorry for not reading all comments before writing this myself. So if I repeat something that has been said, please excuse the repetition. I’ll keep this short.

    Streaming is simply about convenience. It’s having (nearly) all the music in the world in your pocket, hence available everywhere and always. It’s that convenience you pay for. And of course knowing that for the price of one CD (€10 / £10 / $10) per month, you’re protecting the livelihoods and variety of creators of music around the globe is also a good and worthwhile thing.

    Why are some artists and labels not on streaming services yet? Simply put, because they believe that they still make more money from selling physical and download releases. This believe is less and less accurate, because we’re in a transition period, where even though streaming is ubiquitous, it’s by no means mainstream yet. We’re only at the beginning of what seems from my perspective a pretty evident progression and sooner than you think the CD will be as obsolete as the cassette is today. The only physical format that endures the test of time is vinyl and being a DJ and collector myself I cannot see that changing; ever.

    Ownership will become less and less important as long as there’s access. The British artist and writer, William Morris (1834–1896), famously ahead of his time said in one of his lectures in 1877: “The Decorative Arts: Their Relation to Modern Life and Progress,” which was later published as “The Lesser Arts” in Hopes and Fears for Art (1882): “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

    All the best

  15. dsdsds

    dsdsds

    20 November 2012 @ 09:38PM #

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  16. Steve

    Steve

    29 November 2012 @ 02:15AM #

    I have been running this through too. I will buy a physical album of a very select group of artist. Other than that I’m digital and portable with portable being the important word.

  17. Vincent

    Vincent

    30 November 2012 @ 11:18PM #

    Very interesting article from you. That’s exactly what I was thinking.

  18. Brian

    Brian

    16 January 2013 @ 12:22PM #

    Very interesting topic for discussion that compelled me to chime in here.

    I agree with many comments made – Rob W., Jeff F, Elliott and others. But let me give a slightly different perspective. I will present what I see as the “problem” and then recommend a very viable “solution”, one that no one here has mentioned [WARNING: WALL OF TEXT BELOW]:

    Don’t Join The Cloud, Be The Cloud!

    You are your cloud – say it after me, I am a cloud! Write it 50 times on the chalkboard, no really! Okay, I jest, but only a bit. Don’t assume that the solutions you all have named are the only solutions out there! All this talk of clouds, all this assumption being made that Google, or Amazon, or iTunes Match, or Spotify, or Pandora, or whomever comes next, should be enough to make each of us happy is simply a false argument – it’s a Hobson’s choice, they all suck more or less equally, and yet we feel no choice but to choose one! Henry Ford famously said “You can have the Model T in any color…so long as it is black”. How’s that for choice?? Now, before you throw flaming spears my way, I will tell you I enjoy Spotify, and I previously enjoyed Pandora, and I love iTunes and even Amazon for its movie and music approach. BUT! I love them for what they are, and I realize the limitations they all have. It’s about expectations – they are all flawed, they all leave me wanting more, more sense of ownership, more sense that I can show off and share my collection with friends/family in a controlled manner, more sense that I have access to MY digital assets, my music, my movies, my preferred podcasts, my preferred Internet radio stations, and I can share them with my friends and hear what they think, let them share theirs, and thereby socialize the music enjoyment experience – remember when we used to get that new record, or CD, and our friends came over to our house and we listened to it til our ears bled? Is it just me, or do you remember many songs/albums by where you were when you first heard them, who you were with, what you were doing, etc. How do we recreate that experience now that the physical medium is fading away, and our socializing with friends/family is increasingly reduced to being online? Again, maybe I’m the only one but most of my friends from youth that shaped my musical tastes and I theirs, are in far flung locations, with wives/children/demanding jobs, etc. and we rarely get together in person and that’s not likely to change. So the challenge is recreating something meaningful for those of us for whom music has meant so much in our lives, either because we play music, we write music, we have purchased a ton of music, we record live music (legally of course), or we just enjoy the heck out of listening to music?

    Oh, and that new song I heard on Spotify last week that is so great, that I just have to share with person X, it compelled me to purchase a download or CD of it, and now I want to share it with my pals, etc. That is what is missing in ALL of these cloud options, sufficient though they may be for some.

    The World Is Not Enough

    The truth is that the cloud is not enough, and local storage is not enough, like good old Ian Fleming “The World Is Not Enough”!!!! But what then? What do we do with our most cherished digital media assets, our beloved music and movie collections? I suspect I am not alone, and having put some serious thought into this, I think I can boil it down to 2 major themes that many of us in this thread feel are lacking in current cloud or local solutions for musical enjoyment:

    1. Music collection as representation of who we are – Jeff Finley made this point earlier – we believe our music collection says a lot about who we are. Our favorite music has shaped us, and our friends have shaped our musical taste, and ours theirs, and we have this strange desire to (legally) collect music we love, and then display our music for others to know us better. As others have noted, who hasn’t arrived at a person’s house for the first time, and in wanting to understand them better, see what makes them tick, we gravitate to their CD collection. We want to display our music for others, because after all, it is part of how we define ourselves, and as humans, we long to be understood, to be heard…our musical tastes say something about that, they speak for us.

    2. The desire to share music with the important ones in our lives, ie. The social aspect of one’s music collection – whether it was the old mix tapes we made for our girlfriends to impress them out of their knickers in the 80’s, the CDR’s we burned for the next generation of girlfriends in the 90’s, or the playlists we make today for the gym so we can lose our middle aged gut, or for those long road trips with the fam-damily (errr, dam-family), etc. – how do we share those with others, again, to enjoy them ourselves, but equally importantly, to share our brilliance with our old buddies, our wives, our families, in a way that encourages feedback from them, and lets us peer into their collections, see what they listen to and like, let them rate the music, and lets us explore music more as a social phenomenon, the way we used to??? The last.fm approach did actually hit home well in some respects, with the ability to show people what you were listening to at all times, so that somehow, however far away they were, my peeps could feel closer to me through music, because they knew I was listening to Barry Manilow, so I must be in my plaid smoking jacket, enjoying a pipe on the porch, with my hot toddy and my slippers. You get the point. Didn’t E.M. Forster say something like “To connect, that is all…” “Only Connect”..there it is..connect through music, early and often. You know you want to, stop fighting it man! It’s completely natural, honest!

    The Solution

    I’m putting myself out there, I have no shame. At the risk of sounding like a vacuum cleaner salesman. Be the cloud! Become your own cloud! Stream til your sound card begs for mercy! In short, Subsonic music server – Subsonic.org ladies and germs. It’s NOT a cloud solution. It’s a solution for you to become your own cloud for streaming. No I don’t write it, no I don’t own it, no I don’t have any connection in any way to it except that I have been a user of the software locally here on my network for years now – anyone remember Simplify Media? Before they were snatched up by Google and buried??? The flaw there was the streaming relied on servers at Simplify that your music “bounced off of”, and when they went down, so did you! Like when Google bought the company and buried them. But with Subsonic server, YOU are the cloud, you run the software, like the Good Lord™ intended! I, like many others, have found it to be a nearly perfect solution to the dilemmas I described above. You don’t need to know anything about server/client tools, databases, server software, how to optimally run a server, coding, etc. If you do, great, but you don’t need to, trust me. If you have an old PC or Mac sitting around, throw Subsonic server on it, point it at your music/movie collection (local to the PC or network-based), and it will start serving up your collection, for you and your friends/family to log in and use, whether on their computers or tablets or mobile phones, etc. There are all kinds of social sharing capabilities within Subsonic user preferences that can be toggled on/off per user, or enforced by the Administrator (you). For instance, I can allow my friend johnny to stream, but not to download anything. Or I can allow my friend Billy to “Upload” to the server, because he records his band’s concerts on the weekends and wants to make the recordings available for our circle of friends. It displays full album art (part of the joy for all of us, right?!), allows user ratings/favorites, custom playlists per user (private or public), and access is via authenticated user accounts in a nice, simple, customizable web interface. For mobile devices, you can use mobile players as clients to the Subsonic server – apps like iSub (5bucks on the App store), Z-Sub (4 bucks), or for Android, the author of the server software makes the Android client himself and its brilliant, and FREE. There are client solutions for Blackberry, iPad/iPhones, Android, Adobe Air, Windows Mobile, Chrome, and on and on. Most of them are free, or a couple bucks for the app depending. The server software is free, though the author likes a one-time donation to acquire a license key so your users can avoid seeing ads on the right–hand side. You can even stream movies, or in my case, create and make your streaming webcam available for users upon login, so they can keep an eye on me in my office and see when I’m wearing that plaid smoking jacket. Or point it out my window and let them watch for deer or snowstorms or giant approaching black bears – or cops maybe. But that’s the deep end of the pool – the simple main functions of Subsonic server are to share music primarily, and movies/video secondarily (or not at all). Worried that not everyone you know will be an official user on your server with a login/password of their own? Want to occasionally “share” the enjoyment of a song with someone who is not a registered user of your system? No problem – you can “share” a song/album via a temporary link via embedded sharing features for sharing the link via Facebook, Twitter or Google+. The ad hoc sharing feature is a great way to just post a link quickly so folks can listen alongside you without needing their own login. Users can see what others are listening to, and drill right into it if they choose. The other day, I saw one of my users was listening to an old Tom Waits album, and it inspired me to check it out myself, remembering some songs I loved from it. That’s the whole idea, people sharing music with each other in a way that doesn’t require them to download anything, which allows you the server to keep some control, or to keep tabs on who is accessing and how, but most importantly, to bring the human connection back to the enjoyment of music that each of us shares. Users can rate music with one click, which builds a Favorites area, that others can choose to listen to, or not. There’s even a Chat feature embedded, so you can call out your buddy for listening to the same Spice Girls album for 4 hours on his iPhone. I should mention that the clients for mobile devices, iSub, Zsub, Android client, etc. also do automatic cacheing of music as it is streamed. So in other words, it is a streaming solution, but the local iPhone or other mobile device is also storing that song locally, and even looks ahead and cacheing upcoming tracks if you want it to in a playlist, so that if you lose connectivity while you’re mobile, your music won’t stop playing. There are optional controls on this of course, but it works great, just the right mix of streaming with the benefits of local storage on the playback device as well. Perfect for subway commuters, or others that frequently lose connectivity on the go.

    That’s it guys – check it out, www.subsonic.org – the author is a gentleman and a scholar, an acrobat and all – and he has hit on something so important to me, I had to share with you all – as you can tell, I’m not at all passionate about it, not in the least….HA!

    Cheers,
    Brian

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