Changing how we consume music

One of my first experiences involving listening to my own music was with a plastic Sesame Street record player (as seen below).

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It’s crazy to think about how the method in which people consume music has changed during the 28 years that I’ve been alive. As I was a little older cassettes became the primary medium on which I listened to music. Every now and then I would be able to browse the music section at Wal-Mart and pick up a new cassette tape (one I particularly enjoyed was Will Smith’s “Big Willie Style”).

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I would often find myself listening to the radio and recording my favorite songs onto blank cassette tapes and then using the second tape deck on my stereo to record songs in a particular order, creating a ‘mixtape’ to listen to on my Walkman. If I wanted to listen to a song on repeat I would record the same song over and over again to the second cassette (rewinding the first each time). At one point I had a tape on which one side consisted of Notorious B.I.G.’s “Notorious Thugs” over and over again. Before I had a portable CD player I would record CD’s to cassette to listen to on the school bus or while in the car. Road trips and vacations would often begin with stopping and buying massive packs of AA batteries to last the entire trip.

Eventually I got a portable CD player and before long I was lugging around bulky CD keepers in my bookbag all the time.

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Before long the way we acquired music was revolutionized with the advent of music sharing via P2P services such as Napster, Kazaa, Limewire and others. Was it legal? Of course not, but everyone was doing it. We had dial-up internet during this time and it would take twenty to thirty minutes just to download a single song, but it was such a cool thing to be able to do we didn’t’ mind. I would spend entire nights staying up searching for and downloading songs one by one to make the perfect mixes. In high school I had a portable CD player that could play MP3 CD’s and all of a sudden I could have a single CD with 100 or more songs on it which was absolutely incredible!

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Around the same time I began using Napster and Kazaa I managed my music with a program called Musicmatch Jukebox, which at the time seemed like the coolest time ever (even as it eventually begin to include all sorts of spyware and bloatware such as the infamous BonziBuddy).

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If I wanted to listen to music my TV (or through a surround system) the easiest way to do it was to burn an MP3 CD (or data CD) and play it on a DVD player. At the time it seemed really neat, but compared to just broadcasting via Bluetooth today the method seems terribly archaic.

A few years after all of this I got my first iPod, the iPod Video, which again revolutionized how I consumed music. I could fit thousands of songs onto the 30GB device and even watch movies on it! How cool!

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At this time I had a Motorola Razr for a cellphone so the features on the iPod were pretty mind-blowing. I could carry thousands of songs and a movie or two in my pocket, how awesome was that! Another revolution came in the form of iTunes which for the first time made paying for music easier than pirating it. With a click of a button you could download an album from a reliable source and get quality sound files with nothing extra. Unfortunately, I was still on dial-up during this time so I still tended to buy CD’s.

Before long we had the iPhone and at this point you could download music directly to your phone, no computers acting as a middleman. This again changed how people bought, managed and stored their music. Many people never used a computer at all to download or manage their music, and instead just carried their entire libraries in their pockets. No more organizing files, editing tags and keeping track of everything you owned, Apple did it all for you.

For awhile this is how people consumed their music, but today the act of downloading music at all seems silly. Just how CD’s replaced cassettes before being replaced themselves by downloads (first illegally, then legally), the download has all but been replaced by streaming services. MP3 sales are down and continually falling as more and more people simply listen to music rather than purchase or download it. They do so with services such as Pandora, Spotify, Amazon and others (soon to include Apple / Beats).

So much has changed in the music industry, and it’s never been a better time to enjoy music. I use Spotify (Premium) on a daily basis and can’t even imagine a world where such a service didn’t exist. Every Tuesday I check out the new releases page and download albums to my phone to check out on the way to work. I have playlists including my favorite albums or favorite songs that I can access at anytime. It’s so easy to create workout playlists, or to simply download favorite albums to listen to as I please.

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Using Spotify is like having access to almost every album in a record store at the touch of a button. It’s so easy to discover new music by either listening to random albums or throwing the new music Tuesday playlist on shuffle. Find something you like and all you have to do is press a button and save it as a playlist that you can download for offline music should you choose.

I almost never buy albums anymore, and when I do they’re on vinyl (strangely enough). Is the trend toward streaming positive in every way? Possibly not, at least if you ask artists such as Taylor Swift who pulled her music from Spotify after claiming streaming hurts the artist. However, with so many services that make it easy to legally consume music, 2015 is certainly a great improvement over the wild west days of the early 2000’s. The evolution of the music industry has made our lives better and I can’t wait to see what happens next!

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In 2014 paying for music is easier than stealing

In the early 2000’s up until the advent of iTunes store one of the most common reasons given for pirating music was that it was too easy not to. In recent years, however, going legitimate and supporting artists has become easier than ever. I’d even argue that that act of buying individual albums (even via iTunes or Amazon) will soon become as obsolete as renting movies at Blockbuster.

The reason for all this is the rise of streaming services such as Spotify, iTunes Radio, Beats Music, Pandora, Xbox Music and so on. Spotify has completely eliminated my desire to download albums, either by way of the Pirate Bay or legitimate services such as iTunes. For $10 a month I can stream or even download nearly any album I desire to any of my various devices. At any given time I have at least 20-30 albums downloaded to my phone via Spotify in addition to various playlists I’ve created, such as my gym playlist.

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It’s so simple to build a collection of albums, and the fact that you can listen offline is even better. Simply save an album as a playlist and tell your device to download it and you’re done. It’s nice to have the option to save music to your device so that you can listen in the car, gym or on a flight and not use any data or require a WiFi connection.

I should note, you can use Spotify for free and still save albums to playlists, however you must listen to albums on shuffle and Spotify will insert related music into your playlists as well as commercials. You also cannot download music without subscribing to Spotify’s premium service.

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On my Mac, however, I stream all of my music. I used to have countless hundreds of gigabytes of storage tied up storing music, however Spotify has allowed me to free up almost all of that space. There is one minor disadvantage to this form of ‘renting’ music as I like to look at it. Although you have a seemingly unlimited supply of new and old music at your disposal, nothing is permanent. For example, I really enjoyed Morrissey’s 2014 album World Peace Is None of Your Business, yet it recently disappeared from Spotify. The album was rescinded due to a record label dispute, and now I have no access to it at all (legally). Had I purchased it via iTunes I would presumably still own and have access to it.

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Beyond Spotify (which, if you can’t tell is my favorite music service) I also subscribe to SiriusXM and Xbox Music. I use Sirius mostly in my car, but I also enjoy the ability to stream it on my computer, phone or iPad on occasion. I enjoy using Sirius when I feel like giving up control of what I’m about to hear. It’s nice to discover new music on Alt Nation and pop open Spotify and add the album to my collection.

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I subscribe to Xbox Music because it’s an easy way to stream music from my TV and I love the interface. Xbox Music gives you the option to play music videos in place of songs when available so it’s nice to have on the TV as background noise while having drinks or conversation. Xbox Music doesn’t have quite the selection that Spotify has, but the enjoyable interface and music videos make the $10 a month seem justified.

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Thanks to streaming services I’ve saved hundreds of dollars a year while still supporting artists. I do, however, still enjoy purchasing albums on vinyl that I really enjoy. I pre-ordered Weezer’s upcoming album, Everything Will Be Alright in the End on vinyl via their Pledge Music page and am quite excited for it to arrive.

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The new and improved Spotify

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Spotify has been one of my favorite music apps since it allows you to add specific songs or albums to playlists and play them at will, so long as you’re a subscriber for $10 a month. However, today Spotify has rolled out a new free service which allows you to play any album or playlist on shuffle for free. You can’t start with a specific song, but you can add specific songs to playlists and play it on shuffle. There will be ads of course, and Spotify occasionally throws in related songs that aren’t in your playlist to mix it up a bit, but it’s still a great service. I usually listen to albums on shuffle anyway, so it’s great to be able to do this without paying the monthly fee.

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Thanks to the new free service today I discovered a new artist and album I’m really enjoying. I had never heard of Sevyn Streeter, but the album cover enticed me and I started listening. Her debut EP Call me Crazy came out last week and it’s certainly worth listening to. She has a sort of Katy Perry sound, if at times a little slower and more provocative. My favorite track is “Sex on the Ceiling”.

Sirius XM, worth another shot?

Nowadays nobody listens to the radio. Instead most people have turned to streaming services such as Pandora and Spotify, and that’s not such a bad thing, but I think you lose something when you turn to these automated services. I’m a Pandora One subscriber and I enjoy the service, however I find myself skipping unfamiliar songs all too often, trying to listen to only my favorite songs. Also Pandora is just too robotic. By that I mean there’s no human interaction. Just song after song. For some this is a good thing, however I’m starting to think it’s not for me.

Furthermore, Pandora doesn’t often play brand new music. That’s why I’ve decided to give SiriusXM another try. I had been a subscriber to XM before the merger and enjoyed it, however in the long run I had to cut the service from my budget. Now I think I may end up getting a Sirius radio for my car.

I’m currently on a 30 day trial of SiriusXM Internet Radio, which lets you stream the service via your computer or phone and it’s been quite enjoyable. I’ve already discovered quite a few new songs I hadn’t heard through Pandora, and I like the human component. I love the news breaks and commentary by the DJ’s. Furthermore it’s nice to be able to listen to the news via CNN or MSNBC if I feel like it, or check out ESPN Radio and SportsCenter throughout the day. There’s also streaming play by play, and of course Howard Stern!

I’m enjoying it so far, and look forward to having the service in my car again. I’d use the app on my phone in the car, except I don’t have 3G coverage until I drive an hour off base.