December 22, 2017
The forthcoming demise of Amazon’s Music Storage service, limiting my access on its streaming services to songs it has licensed, prompted me to assess my approach to digital music. The rapid pace of the digital world’s evolution makes it powerful and responsive, but also makes digital services and devices quite ephemeral.
In my experience, there is considerable value in retaining access and control of one’s digital data amidst the churn of devices and services. So the growth of cloud-based storage and streaming services poses a challenge. While they offer distinct advantages over the decades-old reliance on standalone applications and local data files on our personal devices, even the largest cloud services are vulnerable to temporary service outages as well as permanent shuttering, and they seldom play well together.
Downloading vs. streaming music
It is hardly surprising that the demographics for streaming music skew younger than those for downloading it. The fall 2016 AudioCensus by MusicWatch showed that of the people who routinely use on-demand streaming services, 35% are between 13 and 24 years of age. In comparison, only 26% of regular download purchasers are 13 to 24 years of age.
Now over 50% of all music revenue in the U.S. comes from streaming, and YouTube currently accounts for 25% of all music streaming. Anecdotally, while I turn to YouTube for music merely to access obscure tracks not available on other paid streaming or download services, Wendy uses it routinely.
For the over 15,000 songs in my iTunes Music Library, I paid for every one that I could, via iTunes or Amazon or by ripping them from purchased CDs. The only unpaid tracks in my library are ones that were simply not available for licensed downloading, leading me to extract the audio from a YouTube video or the like to ensure I had a local copy for long-term continuous access and retention.
This increasingly unusual behavior is a personal habit borne of both necessity and convenience. I have curated my iTunes library and playlists since I bought my first iPod in 2004, when streaming music was impractical. iTunes remains the most convenient way for me to quickly access music on my desktop computer, Apple TV, and iPhone. Plus I never want my music to “disappear” when someone fails to negotiate a licensing deal, shutters a service, or internet service is unavailable. But my method of accessing digital music is increasingly unpopular.
One digital cloud evaporated in a year
I am among the 1 in 3 music downloaders who also have music streaming accounts. I pay $10/month for Google Play Music, although I actually just use that account to get the ad-free YouTube Red service. I also subscribe to Amazon Music Unlimited for $79/year to make that large streaming music library available on the Echo devices at Meador Manor. But I never use Google Play Music, and I seldom use the Amazon Music apps in Windows or on my mobile devices, as they are even slower and clunkier than Apple’s deservedly maligned iTunes.
In April 2017 the frustrations with the inadequate music search on the Echo devices led me to pay for Amazon Music Storage for $25/year. I then uploaded over 12,000 of my songs to Amazon so that I could search that smaller library on an Echo, making it much more likely it would play the track I really wanted.
But now that will end after only a year of use, with me unable to renew my Amazon Music Storage subscription when it expires. No doubt Amazon calculated that it was better for its bottom line and its ecosystem of devices and services to kill that service, despite the inconvenience to folks like me.
I’m used to companies like Google and Amazon shuttering services I rely upon, forcing me to adapt. Apple could one day falter as well. I view this as an unwelcome but inevitable by-product of evolving technologies and free-market competition. But it also reinforces my 13-year habit of buying my music in iTunes, ensuring I have a local copy that should always be accessible.
But now rumors swirl that Apple could stop selling music downloads in 2019. The download model I’ve relied on since 2004 may be doomed. So in another year I may need to re-assess my approach to digital music. While streaming services will no doubt continue to improve in their usability and the extent of their collections, I’m leery of relying on the cloud.
12/28/2017 UPDATE: Two trustworthy former students, Daniel Quick and Brian Taylor, independently urged me to try using the Plex media server, something I had heard about but only briefly explored a few years ago. Prompted by their recommendations, I’ve now installed its server software on my Windows 10 desktop and have Plex apps installed on my iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV. I splurged on a lifetime subscription to Plex Pass to ensure I would not encounter any limitations. Next I need to link it up with Alexa. Then I get to start building new habits on accessing my media around the manor.