Choosing a Music Streaming Service

It seems like it wasn’t that long ago that the music industry was still resisting any attempt at allowing consumers to access music in any way other that buying CDs. So many other industries have been disrupted by digital technology, and while a few notable ones stuck doggedly to their “principles” until they literally vanished (I’m looking at you Kodak and Blockbuster), most industries either embraced the disruption or eventually waved the white flag and gave in.

One of the industries that probably should have most logically embraced the opportunities of being digital was the music business. After all, with a product that is essentially just a collection of digital bits, the decision to move those bits directly to consumers via the Internet should have been a no brainer. Yet the record company cartels fought the inevitable digital transition for years.  Rarely have I seen such a group of people with so little vision for the future be so obstinate about protecting their incumbency.

Thanks in large part the disruption of Apple and the iTunes Store in popularising the idea of moving music off plastic disks and making it into downloadable files, the door was opened to companies like Spotify to avoid all that messy iTunes syncing nonsense and just let you listen to music directly on your device as a stream of bits.  And of course, without the pirate attitude of early filesharing services like Napster, it may have taken a lot longer to get to that point.

So here we are in 2018, and we are now almost spoilt for choice when it comes to streaming music services. Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play Music and Amazon Music seem to be the popular choices, but there are plenty of others to explore like Deezer, Pandora, IHeartRadio, and more.

I’ve been using Google Play Music for a while now, and I quite like it. While it was a bit rough when it started, it has definitely improved it’s recommendation algorithms over the past year or so (although sometime the stuff it serves up based on my apparent listening tastes still seem quite bizarre).  As a paid subscriber I also get access to YouTube Red, which apart from access to special YouTube Red limited content (which I don’t really watch anyway) it’s nice to not have ads appearing in YouTube.

My biggest gripe with Google Play Music is that it’s tied to a single Google account (my Gmail account), so it’s a nuisance when I’m logged in to another account, like my work account.  Yes I know can have multiple windows open, I understand that, but I think this idea that my content (files, music, photos, etc) is tied to an account and not an identity is ridiculous and a major problem with the way Google handles these things.  I am still me, and my content is still mine, regardless of which account I am logged into.

Like many people, I also have a free Spotify account.  Because it’s free I have to put up with ads, so I’ve tended not to use it as much as Play Music. But the predictions and recommendations of Spotify seemed to be quite good, and it’s a great way to discover new music or hear old favourites. However, what I really like with Spotify, is that I’m allowed to be just me. I can log into Spotify completely independently of any other accounts I may or may not be logged into. I like that a lot.

That independence carries across to devices as well, with Spotify also playing nicely with most major hardware platforms.  It plays nicely with Chromecast, which is important to me, but also with many other services and devices. And of course, because it’s so widely used by so many people, it’s pretty easy to share and access playlists with friends. I signed up for the three month trial and am digging it so far.

That said, it’s not perfect. For example, there is no option to upload your own music. I have a number of files that are simply not available online because they are not commercially available.  Old singles, obscure bands, recording of my kids when they were little, songs recorded by my musically talented daughter, and so on.  None of these are available online. Spotify has a Local Files option, so I could theoretically access these things from my local drive, but the files don’t sync across devices, so I’d have to copy them to every device I own, which not an ideal solution.  With Google Play I can simply upload these tracks to the service and access them via Play, so that’s a definite benefit.

I’m trying to decide which of these pros and cons are most important to me as I think about which streaming music service I want to continue using going forward.

I also need to factor in that Google Play Music is going away soon and is being replaced with a new service called YouTube Music.  I have been given an early look at YouTube Music and I’m not sure it’s grabbing me yet. The new pricing model removes the Ad-free YouTube option unless I pay more. I also don’t have the option to upload my own tracks (although I hear that feature may be coming). And while it can be used just an audio playing service, there’s also a focus on music videos which I don’t particularly care about. The interface also seems a little unintuitive (although maybe I just need to get used to it). Overall I haven’t warmed to YouTube Music yet.  It’s possibly another case of Google being too late to the music party – a party that is well and truly being led by Spotify at this point in time – with yet another confused strategy of multiple semi-great apps all competing for our attention.

There are other services I could consider, like Apple Music, but to be honest I am actively avoiding getting sucked into any ecosystem that Apple runs simply because of their proprietary approach to most things.  Deezer has the biggest library of music, and works on my Fitbit Ionic (if you consider the way Fitbit expects you to get music on the device to be “working”). And Amazon?  Meh. Probably not.

Right now, given that Google Play Music is going away, I’m leaning towards a switch to Spotify. Although if the New YouTube Music service adds the ability to upload my own files, then I could be swayed to stay in Google land, even if they do want an extra $2 a month to remove the ads from YouTube.

Wikipedia has a good comparison table of all the streaming music services if you’re interested.

Decisions, decisions!  So tell me… what do you use? And what advice do you have for me?  I’d love you to take the poll about your choice and leave me your thoughts in the Comments!

Which streaming music service do you prefer?

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Header Image CC BY-SA:  Ian Hunter Rant Band on Flickr by bobistravelling

Disrupting the Bloodsuckers

A couple of years ago, I coauthored a book about teaching and learning with interactive whiteboards. I’m not going to debate the pros and cons of IWBs here, but believe me when I say I can see both sides of the arguments for and against them. Regardless of your opinions about the worth of IWBs, I was pleased that the book was able to focus on the importance of quality teaching, and I think we made a pretty solid point in the book that any classroom technology is only as good as the pedagogical expertise being applied to its use.

It was an interesting exercise, as I’d never written an actual book before. As this type of niche book goes, it’s been reasonably successful. It sold out of its first, and then second editions, and has now been reprinted several times. It got some excellent reviews. The company that published it, ACER Press, tells us that it’s actually their number one selling book, so it’s rather nice to know that it’s been well received by so many people. It’s been translated into Swedish and reprinted there, and there was also some interest in translating it into Turkish too. Sales of the book outside Australia are apparently doing quite well. By all accounts it’s been a reasonable success for ACER Press.

My fiancée Linda has also just finished writing her first book. It’s a novel, with a hilarious storyline that follows the adventures of a woman about to turn 40 who decides to give Internet dating a go. Linda’s been working on it on and off for about 6 years now, so there is a certain sense of jubilation in our house that she’s finally finished, and she’s currently going through the process of designing covers, organising a final proofread, and getting it published.

The difference with Linda’s book is that she has decided to self publish. Not only has she written it, she’s also managing the cover design, layout, typesetting and publication. She’ll buy her own ISBN, write a marketing plan for it and oversee its execution (she is, after all, a marketing gal through and through). She originally wanted to try and sell it to a publisher, but after seeing how little value traditional publishers add to the process she has most definitely decided not to do it the traditional way.

Her decision was further vindicated today when I checked the mail to find a royalty cheque from the publishers of my book. I get them twice a year. Don’t get too excited about it.

My most recent book royalty – for a book that is relatively successful – was $101.  It retails for $34.95.  I did the math based on the number of books sold and it turns out that I’m making 64 cents per copy. Yes, 64 lousy cents.

Of course, I didn’t write it all myself so my coauthor, Mal Lee, gets the other 64 cents. Had either of us written it on our own, we would be raking a princely $1.28 per copy. Awesome, huh?  I wonder where the other $33.67 goes.  Oh, of course, the publishers.

It seems that we got royally screwed in the book contract deal, because the fine print stated that we would not get any royalties from overseas sales, only Australian ones. Nice one ACER. Way to look after your authors.

Watching Linda pursue the self-publishing path got me thinking about the way so many industries are being disrupted. How the record industry was reshaped by not only “illegal” filesharing, but also by the fact that emerging digital technologies put a great deal of power into the hands of musicians to not only record their music independently but also to distribute it. We saw the same thing happen to the travel industry, as people go online to make their own travel arrangements. Look at the photographic business, and how disruptive digital technologies have been there. Look at what social technologies are doing to the way people freely share reviews of products, services, restaurants, hotels. Even the crowdsourced service that Linda used to design her book cover, 99designs, has a business model that is causing great disruption in the graphic design industry. It’s happening absolutely everywhere.

The thing that struck me tonight as I looked at my piddly little royalty cheque, was that the reason so many traditional industries fight this disruption so much is their claim of needing to protect the artists, writers and musicians. “You have to pay for the music, or musicians won’t have any financial incentive to keep producing music!” say the record companies. “We have to fight to protect the rights of authors so they can keep writing books!” say the publishing houses. They argue that their role is to provide content creators with sufficient protection so that they can keep earning an income and so continue producing their work.

I call BS on this.

Book publishers are greedy, self interested leeches that do very little to support the authors that do the actual hard work of writing. I think the same could be said of the music business, and probably many other businesses too. They are far more interested in protecting their bloated out-of-touch business models than they are in protecting the rights of their authors and musicians.

Linda is absolutely doing the right thing by self publishing. If I ever write another book, I would never, ever, on principle, work through a publisher again. I’d rather sell a few hundred books on my own terms than sell a few thousand on theirs. I will never again sign away my rights as an author to a publisher. Ever.

It’s not about the money. I write this blog for no reward. I continually turn down offers to monetise this blog, and I license everything here (and most other places I make stuff) under a Creative Commons license. I’d rather give my stuff away than have some bloodsucking publisher insult me by paying me 64 cents for the privilege of “protecting” my rights as an author by taking the other 90% of the profits.

Never again.