We need a better way to do online music

posted by Jeff | Friday, July 10, 2020, 8:00 PM | comments: 0

The idea that you can keep all of your shit in "the cloud" is actually fantastic. Computers, phones, tablets and Etch-a-Sketches are all ephemeral. None of them last forever. But the promise of someone else's computer, with redundant storage, that you don't have to manage or own, that's awesome. There are some things where this is already awesome, like photos in any number of services, Google docs and most any backup service that doesn't involve a hard drive in your house.

But music? The situation sucks. It's not portable, the rules keep changing, someone wants your money at all times, and it's difficult to own anything. Even video is in a better state, where you buy a movie via any service, and it's just available on the other services, without you having to spend any money with them.

In the old days of digital music (get off my lawn!), you had to keep all of your music, probably ripped to MP3 files from your CD's, on your computer. Then you had to synchronize them to your iPod, and later your phone. And if you had even a slightly non-trivial collection, you didn't have enough room for it all. Then, I think in late 2009 or so, Amazon was like, "We've got all of this infrastructure, so upload all of your shit, and then you can play it anywhere with our web-based player!" I think you had to pay like $30 a year for this, and I immediately signed up. By that time, I was buying all of my music there anyway, having left the DRM'd bullshit from Apple, which they then charged you more to unlock without the DRM. I still had to sync to my iPhone, and after that my Windows Phone, but it generally worked. When I switched to Android, then I had access to the Amazon Music app, and I was in a good place.

At the end of 2017, Amazon was like, "Yeah, we're not gonna do this anymore. You can subscribe to the service, but we're throwing away all of your uploaded music by the end of 2018." Shit. I mean, their app was terrible (still is), but at least they had the vault service. So I moved everything over to Google, which made sense being on a Google Android phone anyway. We enjoyed 18 months of stability.

Recently, Google decided that having two music services was redundant, so they were merging Google Music and YouTube Music, migrating all of your junk over to the YouTube. The good news is that they would keep your uploaded music and all of your playlists. The bad news is that if you don't pay them $15 a month, you can't play stuff in the background on your phone, they will play ads and you can't download local copies to your device for offline listening. Shit.

So you're probably like, "Why do you need to 'own' music anyway?" That's a good question. The first part is that we subscribe to SiriusXM, which is known for satellite radio, but we use the streaming service almost every day. For six bucks a month, to have curated music channels (and none of the streaming services do this well, I might add), with all of the personality-driven things like the Broadway channel and even the DJ's on Lithium and AltNation, it's totally worth it. Based on that curation, we still buy music, and that will be ours forever. We'll always own it, no matter what services are around. That's also important because we have a surprising amount of things not available on the services. So the "locker" or "vault" service has a lot of value to us, and our spend is still probably less than a typical music subscription service. It works for us really well.

The music industry has made a lot of strides to accommodate the digital world, but it still has a lot to do to be consumer friendly.

  • Playlists need to be portable. I don't mean you can export a text file, I mean there's some machine readable thing that allows you to save your stuff and use it interchangeably between services, whether they be subscription only or locker services.
  • If you want my money, store the stuff that I own. Not everyone is OK with having access to a song until you lose the licensing rights to it.
  • Don't replace my uploads with what you think are the right songs. Amazon was notorious for this, and the mixes or versions were often wrong.
  • Have a web player, and an app that works on Android and iOS.

Is that too much to ask?

The situation makes me want to create my own app, not multi-tenant, but just for me, and open source.


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