Physically owning your music

posted by Jeff | Sunday, December 24, 2017, 12:12 AM | comments: 0

I remember the first few cassettes that I received as a kid, and how excited I was to have them. They included the Beverly Hills Cop 2 soundtrack and Genesis' Invisible Touch. There was something amazing about having those little boxes, lined up on a shelf in my bedroom. You could fold out the liner notes for those tapes and read the lyrics to all of the songs. By the end of my junior year of high school, I bought a CD player, and that magic continued in to college, with the magic of Columbia House subscriptions. Walking into the music room of my college radio station for the first time was something of a religious moment for me.

But I loved collecting those things. Any time I had a new CD, I'd play it and crash on my bed, listening to it start to finish, and looking at the little book in the CD case. I imagine that part of the reason for this is that there was a limit to how many CD's you could have, especially as a poor college student. Even if the music wasn't very good, you had to listen to it, end to end. I would say that I probably had an 80% success rate, maybe better, with the music I would buy.

I remember while Stephanie was working at a CompUSA while in grad school, she scored a tiny little MP3 player, which I think was actually Windows Media at the time, and you could put maybe 25 songs on it. I didn't see the point, but I started to get it when I brought it to a volleyball tournament while coaching. Then a dude at work showed me this thing, iTunes, on his Mac, and I thought, "Why would you want all of your music stuck on your computer?" Then I saw an iPod, and I bought the third generation one, with a 10 gig hard drive. It changed everything. I would only buy one other, the fifth generation with a 30 gig hard drive, and it played video. The iPhones and other smart phones came after that.

The transition was weird tough. I bought a lot of songs on iTunes, despite my concern about the DRM at the time. I would burn every one of them to CD, which was practical for playing in the car and for having a backup. By 2007, I stopped making the CD's, and just made sure I had backups on other hard drives. I think it wasn't long after that when Apple "released" all of the music from DRM and let you convert most of it to standard MP3 or AAC.

While all of this was going on, of course people were stealing and trading music, sending the whole industry into chaos. While I admittedly "acquired" some 80's tracks here and there, I've been a content creator my whole life, and never felt right about taking "free" music, so I kept paying for it. My collection habits shifted from the physical to the virtual. While something felt lost without liner notes (though some albums did include PDF's of them), I still wholly felt that at least I could keep these sounds for eternity.

But the whole mess with synchronizing your music from your computer to your devices sucked. iTunes was always awful. By 2010, I was buying most of my music from Amazon's MP3 store, because they were often cheaper than iTunes, and MP3 vs. AAC always felt more device agnostic to me. That was also the year that Amazon announced their music service, which included a locker component. You could upload all of your music to their cloud, and listen to it in your browser. At the very least, this was the perfect backup solution, and a steal at $25 a year. I signed up the first day, and started uploading all of my ripped CD's to their service.

In the years after, I was still manually syncing music to my phone, because I held on to Windows Phone for too long, but I did use the Amazon music app on my iPad. When I flipped to Android, I had it there, too. Then a year ago I bought a bunch of Echo Dots, and I could just shout into the air what I wanted to hear, and it magically played. That's amazing.

Then, yesterday, it was all over the news sites that Amazon would very slowly sunset the locker service, holding on to only the music that you bought from them. While that's still most of the music I have, it doesn't include the prior two decades of my music, not to mention random audio files of things I made, my podcast archive or old recordings of me on the radio. To say that I'm annoyed doesn't quite cover it. It's hard to say what happens next, because at the very least it will continue to work into 2019, but the language is vague and suggests that you could stay on it as long as you keep renewing annually.

The weird part in all of this is how the tech coverage describes this as an obvious outcome and no big deal, because "most people" just use streaming subscription services anyway. I don't buy that. I can't be an outlier freak. My objection with the streaming services is that my memories and life soundtrack are at the whim of the licensing deals with the record companies, which means stuff comes and goes or simply isn't available. It's not my collection, which is always mine. I use the streaming features of Amazon Prime now and then, to try new things or hear something I don't care about enough to buy, but I don't rely on it. I'm not cool with that arrangement.

I also don't want to go back to managing data. I want it all in the cloud, accessible from anywhere on anything. Synchronizing music between objects is a terrible way to do things. My video game saves, my documents, photos, and increasingly, my movies, live somewhere else. I don't want to go backwards. But I do want to collect stuff, so that it's mine forever, regardless of where it lives. I'll probably have to go to Google next, and hope they don't also kick collectors to the curb.


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