Adventures in the Music Streaming World

These last couple of years have brought (along with some new wrinkles and occasional grey hairs) some interesting changes on how I manage and maintain my “digital belongings”. For a long while I used to worry about backing up and storing in a safe place all the files, photos, books, movies and music I’ve collected through the years. I have also managed to collect a variety of different external USB hard drives to keep up with this digital sprawl, where for each iteration the next device would increase in size and sometimes in speed compared to the current one. It got to a point where I got tired of the backup/restore game and found myself paying less and less attention to the things I had spent so much time maintaining.

Music was one of the last items that I eventually stopped backing up. One day last year I took my entire collection of approximately 9000 (legal) songs and uploaded them to Google Play! The very next time I re-installed my desktop I didn’t have to restore my music collection anymore. All I needed was a net connection and I was off to listening to my tunes! I also had full access to that collection via my Android phone and laptop! Triple yummy! Sure, without net access I would be out of luck, but I could always keep a smaller subset of my collection around if I wanted to listen to anything while offline.

After a while I noticed that I seldon played my own tunes, often spending more and more of my music listening minutes on sites such as Pandora and Grooveshark to experience new types of music and genres. At one point I found myself subscribing to Pandora, Rdio and Spotify, looking for what in my opinion would provide me with the best listening experience. After about a month I think I have finally found the combination that gets me closer to that goal: Pandora + Spotify.

A little background though. I have been a Pandora (non-paying) customer for many years now and I can’t say enough about the music quality and the variety that you can get for this service! I mean, for the completely FREE option (with the occasional advertisement) you get to listen to (what feels like to be) hand picked songs that match whatever criteria you can come up with! Be it a song, a word, an artist or an album, Pandora’s matching algorithm is by far the best I’ve seen out there. Period! It is because of this plus the fact that I can access it from anywhere and any device with net access that I became a paid customer.

But how about those times when I specifically want to listen to a given song or album or even make a playlist with some of my favorite jams? After a while I learned a nice trick that lets you sample an album from Pandora but that wasn’t enough for what I wanted to do. So Grooveshark was definitely a great find for me and for a while I really enjoyed the freedom and wide selection that it offered me for free. Something really simple but it also made a difference for me was that I could “scrobble” the music I listened to my account, something that Pandora doesn’t do. But alas, I couldn’t listen to my playlists on the go or even using my phone, so I started looking for options.

Now Rdio impressed me right away for being exactly what Groveshark was but with the added capability of being available on multiple platforms, and including some of the newest and latest releases! The pricing model was a bit more expensive than Pandora, but it did give me the ability to create my own playlists and interact with my friends via different social networks. I definitely enjoyed the experience and would have stuck with if it wasn’t for the small music collection that is available right now. I understand that Rdio tries to add as many new (and old) titles as it can, but at the end of the day, I couldn’t always find what I was looking for.

Spotify was the “dark horse” during my experimentation, mostly because it didn’t offer a first class client for Linux. There was a “half baked” client out there that never worked for me/or crashed too many times… I even ran the Windows client via Wine for the first 2-3 weeks but it felt “dirty” to pay for a service that would not run natively or provide a decent support for my platform. The Android and iOS apps worked like a charm, but I spent the bulk of my days in front of a Fedora box and listening to music from my phone was not going to cut it for me. The music variety is definitely much larger that what Rdio offers and it even has its own “Radio” streaming that provides something similar to what Pandora does. But the matching algorithm is still light-years behind Pandora and I often found myself wondering how certain songs and genres ended up in the “station” I was listening to.

After about a month into the experiment, it looked like I was going to keep Pandora and Rdio to get great music selection and variety (Pandora), web front end access and multi-platform support (Pandora, Rdio), and playlists (Rdio)… until a co-worker mentioned that Spotify had just announced their web based player! All of a sudden Spotify went from being in last place to bumping Rdio out of the equation!

Spotify web player

So now I am using both Pandora and Spotify at home and on the go (Spotify lets you download your playlists for offline listening) and so far the experience has definitely been positive. I feel that the streaming quality and variety has provided me with many enjoyable hours of music while I work and even my kids have started experimenting with Pandora as they get more exposure to the musical world. And if I ever feel like listening to some of my own music, some of which is not yet found on Spotify, I can always turn to Google Play… and I definitely enjoy not having to manage my backups anymore. :)

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