by James Wallace Harris, Sunday, February 12, 2017
I love music. I love technology. And I love music technology.
Decades ago I daydreamed the perfect music delivery technology would be one where I could say out loud the name of the song I wanted to hear and it would instantly play. I even pictured myself taking walks with a cloud of music following me like the dirt cloud following Pigpen, the Peanuts character. The iPhone and ear buds almost creates such magic. Now that I have an Amazon Echo, I feel like a Jetson when I declare to the air I want to hear a song and Alexa plays it. However, I’ve since revised my dream music delivery system. I no longer can remember all my favorite songs or their titles, so the “open sesame” bit isn’t as fantastic as I once imagined. Now I dream about having instant access to all music using a savvy streaming music database that knows everything about the history of music.
I’ve subscribed to many subscription music services over the years, starting with Rhapsody. I’ve hopped from one to the next trying to find the perfect blend of technology, user interface, and music catalog. Spotify is my current favorite. It has 98% of the music I want. It’s very close to a perfect streaming music service. However, in recent months it crashes on my Roku 3, my primary device for listening to music through big speakers. Before Spotify I used Rdio and loved it. But then I tried Spotify on the Roku and it’s user interface blew away Rdio’s. Plus, Spotify would play songs nearly instantaneously, which wasn’t true of Rdio. So I switched. I’ve been mostly content with Spotify, until it started loading slower on the Roku, even freezing up quite often. Spotify is still instant on my computer, tablet and phone, so I assume the problem is with the Roku.
I love my Roku 3, and thought maybe buying the latest Roku model could fix this problem. But what if it didn’t? Since I’m an Amazon Prime customer, I thought of giving the Fire TV a try. But spending $89 to fix the problem via hardware might not be the only solution. I wondered if subscribing to Amazon Music would allow me to keep my Roku 3. So I signed up.
In every way I prefer Spotify except one – but that one feature might make me switch. However, Amazon’s user interface is so clunky that I don’t know if I can. Oh, that one feature? Well it’s going to be hard to explain if you don’t use streaming music. But I will try.
Streaming music services have vast catalogs of music – not everything ever recorded, but it almost feels that way. Once you start using streaming music it’s just too inconvenient playing LPs, CDs or MP3s. They’ve become a damn bother. I stopped listening to The Beatles for years even though I bought their remastered CDs. I was just too lazy to play them. Spotify is that convenient. (The Beatles are now on Spotify.) But every once in a while I really want to hear songs not on Spotify. I have to get out my CDs or play the MP3 from my Amazon cloud player. Not a lot of work, but not my idea of my perfect music system.
For background listening I use playlists, especially one playlist, the “Top 1000” list I’m building. I HATE that I own songs I can’t put on Spotify playlists. Well, that’s the great feature of Amazon. It allows Amazon Music subscribers to play songs from their personal cloud collection. I have 1700 ripped CDs, and some LPs converted to MP3 on my Amazon cloud storage. Making playlists using songs from both pools of music is a snap.
This means I can create playlists that contain 100% of the songs I want to hear. 98% from streaming and 2% from my personal collection. Now, that’s an over-the-top feature! Maybe it’s a time to switch feature. Of course I’ll have to recreate my Spotify playlists on Amazon. That’s will take some work. Mainly because looking up songs on Amazon Music isn’t as quick and easy as Spotify. Not that Amazon doesn’t have some nifty UI tricks that Spotify doesn’t, but Spotify is what I know, and it’s much more refined.
I could switch to Amazon Music with the hopes that Amazon will perfect its user interface over time. I’ve written a number of essays begging music services for features I want. Being able to upload my music was the major wish. There are many features I want that could get me to switch services again, though. The next biggest feature I want, is for streaming music to incorporate more song/album metadata information. That way I could search for “Jazz albums of the 1950s” or play songs that came out in July, 1965. I want streaming music to have the kind of information that record collectors use. There’s no reason why streaming music couldn’t catalog every album/single ever recorded. But that’s for the far future, maybe 2019 or 2021. Here’s some of the sites I use for music information:
- Best Ever Albums – great for search by year
- Billboard 200 and Billboard #1 Albums at Wikipedia
- AllMusic – for year ranges by genre searches
- MusicStack – where to buy old music
- Playa Cofi Jukebox – play hits by year, and it has Cash Box hit lists
There are many different companies offering streaming music. Competition isn’t about price, since $9.99/month is standard, so user features will be everything. For years I’ve been jumping from service to service looking for my music streaming utopia. But as I build longer playlists switching services is getting harder. I thought I was committed to Spotify, but Amazon’s feature of mixing their collection with mine is tempting. However, if a streaming service offered the data services from the above sites, it would make me want to switch again.
To be honest, since streaming music is about convenience, Spotify is more convenient than Amazon Music right now, so I’m sticking with Spotify. What I might use is Amazon Music’s $3.99 a month subscription for Echo owners, and create playlists for Alexa to play me when I want to hear missing music from my collection. However, if Amazon improves their software I would switch. If you’re an Amazon Prime user and are a casual music listener, it’s $7.99 Unlimited plan might be the best deal.
Another feature that would be handy, is a universal file standard for playlists, so we could easily import and export them.
Update: I’ve since discovered that the Amazon Music app on the Roku does not play or show music from Amazon Music – just my music in the cloud. I hope they fix this. I can play music from the blended libraries on my iPhone and send it to my receiver via AirPlay, and that works much better than the Roku App.
[By the way, the album covers I’ve added here are albums not available on streaming.]