Cloud wisps by flickr user turtlemom4bacon
There's been a lot of talk lately about cloud-based music services. [Editor's note: all of those links are worth reading, if you have some time.  You know you do.]  If the concept is new to you, here's the gist:  instead of storing your MP3s (or ideally, FLAC files) on your computer, you store them on someone else's server, and access them over the internet.  It's not a new concept, but recently it's gotten a lot of buzz and helped revive the horrendously overused term "cloud" to mean "something that lives on a remote server."  All web sites live in the cloud, and you access them from wherever you are.  The big difference here is that music used to be something you owned, not something to which you (essentially) rented access.

I've had my own version of the cloud for a while now.  Before there was Google Music, Apple's iCloud, or Amazon Cloud Player, there was the Squeezebox.  For years now, I've used some simple server software, a decent home internet connection, and a dynamic DNS service to let myself stream my music from any other computer.  The benefit for me is that I don't have to upload my sizable music collection (most of which is in FLAC, meaning the files take up a lot more space) to someone else's servers.  This could realistically take days if not weeks, since I have a pretty low upload speed at home.  Second, I'm not relying on a third party to give me access to my music.  If Google or Amazon decides that they don't trust the provenance of one of my tracks, that's too bad for me - I simply lose access to it.  Or if they decide that cloud-based music services are no longer a good business for them to be in, that's the end of that.  Third, I have control over how my files are organized, tagged, listed, sorted, etc. - basically I am in control of the metadata and how I access it.  And as we all know, metadata is cool [PDF].

But it goes deeper than that.  At heart, I'm a collector, and I like the idea that I own my music.  I don't want to give up control over to it to someone else, nor am I remotely comfortable with the idea of renting my music from a service like Rhapsody. I used to feel the same way about DVDs - I wanted to own them (I still do), because owning them feels good.  A DVD library, much like a book library and certainly a music library, says something about its owner.  I know this is somewhat ridiculous, especially in my case because all of my DVDs are in crates (New York apartments aren't huge on storage space), not visible to the public.  I have similar qualms about switching from printed books to the Kindle (which I love).  It just doesn't feel the same to be renting access to books as opposed to actually owning them.  And yet I couldn't wait to move from physical CDs to digital files.

But despite all that, I do download books to the Kindle.  And I love streaming movies from Netflix.  But music is different - I'm not reading a book or watching a movie for 8 hours a day, but I have music on non-stop during my workday.  And on my headphones when I ride the subway or walk the dog (unless I'm listening to the radio or a podcast).  Music occupies a unique and very large place in my media consumption pantheon, and so for now, at least, I'm not willing to give mine up to someone else.  I will suffer for this, I'm sure.  For example, there is still no good, reliable way to stream from the Squeezebox to my Android phone (I've tried other services like Subsonic, with less-than-great results).  And while it's easy for me to stream my music to any computer, it takes some setup and a bit of work - not a lot, but not as little as just downloading and installing the Google Music player, for example.  But despite some drawbacks, maintaining my own "cloud" just feels right to me, and so that's how I'll be rolling.  At least until something better comes along.

How do you store/manage/stream your music?  Tell me in the comments.


DBL said...

I uploaded my collection to both Amazon and Google. Amazon came first, so I'm partial to that. Haven't had any problems with Amazon, though sometimes when streaming it to my Droid, songs take more time than I'd like to load. (What I'd like is instantaneous.)

Recently I've started taking a sick pleasure in using Dropbox to stream music to myself. I access the songs on my iPad and they play fine. This seems the most illegal of them all (since Dropbox is so easy to share), and I probably get off on the thrill.

John A said...

I listen to less music than you do, but I just keep all of my music on my main PC (backed up on a 2nd laptop, an external hard drive, and through Backblaze for quartenary redundancy), and just keep my main listening batch on my two iPods (one semi-permanently seated in the car, and my iPhone). Those get updated every few weeks with my latest obsessions. Between that, Pandora and YouTube, I can get everything I need.

On your topic of collecting, we just made the step of starting to sell off our our physical CDs since we've been digital for a few years now. Fun times.

Will said...

I'm all over the map when it comes to my music collection. Zune and Amazon are my primary sources for getting tracks. The files are stored in multiple locations, including my backup server and in both Amazon's and Google's servers. I stream from Zune or Pandora when discovering music or from Amazon when listening to my own collection (like DBL, I am partial to their service since it came first).

When described in that way, it sounds far more chaotic than it really is. I've managed to make sense of it all, at least.

As big as cloud-based music streaming has become, there are too many factors involved to make me trust it. Servers get pounded with traffic. My home IP changes. I run out of bandwidth on my "unlimited" data plan.

When I'm serious about listening to my music, I listen to it locally, whether from my laptop or a portable music player.