Living in the Cloud: Google Music, Amazon Cloud and iTunes Match

I have over 18,000 songs ripped from CDs I’ve been buying since 1983 or 1984.  It was a big project to rip them, and I bought a couple external hard drives to back up my work.  One of those drives stopped working recently, and it’s a pain to keep master library and backups in sync, especially since I keep one drive off site.  In fact, I gave up on keeping my collection and backups in sync.  So when cloud music storage came out I thought wow, this is a great idea.

The first service I tried was Google Music since it was free.  It has an upload app that runs as a background service and I spent a couple weeks getting my collection online.  I mainly listen to music at my home office computer, my work office computer, and in the den with a HTPC hooked up to my stereo system.  I have an iPad and iPod touch, but I don’t like listening to music on those devices.   I just don’t like hearing music through earbuds.

I did test Google music out on my iPad and strangely enough the album listings look best on the iPad.  Google Music looks bad on large screen desktop monitors because I think the album thumbnail images are optimized for phones and tablets.  Their web player has basic controls for play/pause, next, previous, repeat and shuffle – nothing fancy but gets the job done.

Here is the album view.  You can blow up all images by clicking on them.

google-music

Here is what it looks like to play an album – the controls are along the bottom.

google-music-player

Then I uploaded my music to Amazon Cloud.  It also took a couple weeks, but it was a web app that kept crashing.  Also, Amazon’s upload app found all my audio books and uploaded them.  I really didn’t want it to do that, but it did.  I already had 20gb of storage at Amazon’s cloud because I had bought an album on promotion, and Amazon recently gave unlimited music upload space to anyone with 20gb of space or more.  When the renewal comes up, storing my music on Amazon Cloud will be $20 a year.  Here’s the album view for the Amazon Cloud player.

amazon.cloug

Notice the album covers are nicer looking.  Here’s what the album player looks like.  The same basic controls as Google Music.

amazon-cloud-player

iTunes Music Match works different.  It works through iTunes – which I hate.  I was hoping it would have a web client too, but it doesn’t.  So I can’t play music on my Linux machines.  Nor do I want to install iTunes on all my machines.  And for some strange reason iTunes in album view iTunes sorts by artist, so I couldn’t recreate the album images like I did with Google Music and Amazon Cloud.

itunes

Here’s the player view.

itunes-player

Because iTunes Music Match costs $25 a year, and it’s from Apple, which has a reputation for style and slickness, I thought I would like it best.  I didn’t.  I like it least because it’s tied to iTunes.  The music match feature worked beautifully, and within minutes 15,000 of my albums were online.  It took two days to upload 3,350 unmatched albums.  This is a more sophisticated way to get albums into the cloud, but playing them is limited to machines with iTunes.

Another strange thing about iTunes is it did the poorest job of finding album covers.  Apple is so visual that I found this disappointing.  I have spent a lot of extra time trying to find the covers and put them into iTunes so I can enjoy album flow viewing, but I gave up somewhere in the D’s.  Now there’s a company that fixes this problem with a program called Tune-Up.  However, it’s expensive.  $39.95 per year, or $49.95 for a lifetime license.  It annoys me so much not having the artwork that I am tempted to spend the money, but I’ve decided that I just don’t like iTunes Music Match if I have to use iTunes.

Finally, iTunes plays music differently.  Google and Amazon streams from the cloud.  No internet, no music.  iTunes lets you download songs from the cloud.  The others do too, but iTunes seems to emphasize download.  You can have up to 10 devices sharing your Music Match cloud library, but what appears to happen is the music gets downloaded to each new device.  You can tell your satellite devices to intentionally download the music so you can play it offline, and this will be a great feature for most people who use iPhones and iPads.  However, it will fill up your device with music.  I prefer streaming.

As far as I was concerned iTunes Music Match was $25 down the drain.  However, Mac users who own Mac, iPhone and iPad will always have iTunes and so Music Match will be worth it to them.  iTunes Music Match seems geared to iPhone, iPod touch and iPad users, to help on-the-go users get music down from the cloud.

Now I have to decide between Google and Amazon.  Because I’m a dedicated Chrome user I’m partial to Google.  Because I’m a dedicated Amazon customer, I’m equally partial to Amazon.  I’m leaning towards the Amazon cloud because the player looks better.  However, it will cost me $20 a year.  I’m going to maintain both for now, or until I see what Google charges.  I’m an Amazon Prime user, so I wish they’d made unlimited music storage free for Prime members.

My next project is to thin out my collection.  I’m not sure how well Google and Amazon update their clouds.  I want to make one perfect copy of my library in Windows Media Player and hopefully Amazon and Google will keep this master library in sync.  Another test will be to download my collection to my work machine to see how well these clouds can be used as backup to restore my collection.  But these are for future reports because it will take months to do all this.

JWH – 2/12/12

Google Music Beta v. Amazon Cloud Drive

Problem #1 – Should I Spend $659 for a Proper Storage Rack for My CDs

Currently, my wife Susan and I have 1,500 music CDs we store on a built-in shelf behind the door of our spare room.  This isn’t a good place for them because it’s not easy to get to, and it only has 9 shelves, and I need 15, so we have to go double high on some shelves, and even double deep on others, so finding and shelving a CD is very annoying.  This whole system is so annoying that I don’t like playing my CDs.  The solution would be to buy a nice CD rack from Boltz.com and put the CDs near where we play them.

CDs-behind-door

Convert that to this

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Problem #2 – We Hardly Ever Play CDs Anymore

Susan plays her music on her iPhone, and I play my music through my work computer, my home computer and my HTPC in the den that’s connected to the big stereo system.  The only time I like playing the CDs is when I want to sit in the den and play them loud so I can enjoy the music’s full fidelity.  That’s happening less and less often.  And for 97% of the time I play music from my Rhapsody subscription.  So why spend hundreds of dollars and hours of efforts to organize my CDs?  Could we get rid of the CDs altogether?  They are our proof that our digital copies are legal, so I suppose we could box them up and put them in the attic.  But when I retire I’d like to move around and dragging 20 storage boxes of CDs will be like carrying a boat anchor everywhere I go.

Problem #3 – Making and Maintaining a Perfect Digital Copy of Our CD Collection

A couple years ago I spent weeks ripping our collection, but since then we’ve discovered the results had been imperfect.  Here and there a cut will be missing, and on rare occasions a cut will be bad.  And since then we’ve bought many CDs that we haven’t ripped, but we’re not sure which ones.  And we have the worry of maintaining a backup.  I have the whole library copied on external drives, some of which we keep off-site, but each copy has gotten out of sync and we’re not sure which one is the master anymore, and all of them are now incomplete.  What a pain.  I love Rhapsody, but I’m being forced to maintain my own digital collection of music because Rhapsody doesn’t have everything.  For example, no Beatles.  Or if the CD goes out of print, it’s removed from their collection.  Basically Rhapsody provides most of what music is being sold at any given moment, with the exception of a few butthead bands that won’t sign with them.

Problem #4 – I Don’t Like Most of the Music in My Collection

Of our 1,500 CDs, or 18,000+ songs, I’d guess I really only like less than 6,000 songs.  And that’s only a guess, it might be much less.  Most albums have only 1-2 songs I really like, some CDs I never liked any of the songs, or have since turned against them.  And Susan and I like different songs.  What we’d really love is two digital collections:  His and Hers.  And we want each collection slimmed down to just the songs we love.  But going through 18,000+ songs to find those gems would be months, if not years of work.

Solution #1 – Forget CDs Completely

I could probably live without my CDs because I have Rhapsody.  Susan has most of everything she already wants in her iTunes library, and whenever she wants something new she buys a CD and rips it to iTunes.  If we weren’t worried about proving our digital songs were legal, we could just get rid of the CDs completely.  We could start buying MP3 songs instead of CDs.  This is a very appealing solution because it would be the most hassle free.  The downside is we’ve paid a lot of money for our CDs, and I don’t want to buy those songs again.  Many of those albums we bought as LPs, and then bought again as CDs, and some of them I bought a third time as SACDs, and many CDs we bought a second time as a CD when the remastered version came out.  I hate the idea of buying MP3 songs that we’ve already bought one more more times, and then getting a lower fidelity copy.  Will MP3 be the last format?  Is this the last time we have to buy our favorite songs?

Solution #2 – Move Our Collections to the Cloud

Google Music Beta is promising some lucky people storage for up to 20,000 songs for free.  Right now if we moved our collection to Amazon Cloud Drive it would cost us $125 a year to maintain.  And since Susan and I would like to have our own separate collections, if we both uploaded our collection to our Amazon accounts, it would be $250 a year.  Of course, we’d both like to thin out our collections, so eventually that cost would be smaller, but it would take us months to get to that ideal music library.  Google is promising free for awhile, and that might be enough time to reduce our collection to just the songs we love, but we don’t know what Google’s final cost will be.  More than likely, we’d want our collections in both clouds as backups, or case one service is down, or one goes out of business.  Is it possible that Google Music or Amazon Cloud Drive will survive for the rest of our lives?

The down side of this is I’d still be managing four collections:  CDs, Rhapsody, Amazon and Google.

Solution #3 – Give Up Music Ownership

I could go with Rhapsody, Pandora and other streaming music sites and just forget about owning songs at all.  This has a tremendous appeal to me, but it also has a scary downside.  If I get in the mood to hear a certain song and it’s not on Rhapsody I’m shit out of luck.  For $120 a year I get access to 11,000,000+ songs through Rhapsody.  That’s almost perfect, except that once in awhile I want to hear a song that Rhapsody doesn’t have.  Can I live with that?  It’s not like I don’t have more music than would ever have time to hear.

Solution #4 – The Compromise Solution

The compromise solution for now is to put our all-time favorite music into our personal cloud storage sites, save out my all-time favorite CDs to play loud, continue to listen to Rhapsody, and put the rest of the CDs in the attic.  This is still a big mess though.

Hope for the Future

If Rhapsody and other streaming music services could serve every song ever recorded then I’d give away my CDs and forget about owning music forever.  I wouldn’t even mess with cloud drives.

Amazon Cloud Drive is very appealing because I can buy music from Amazon which they promise to store for free and hopefully they could manage my music collection for the rest of my life.  If my music collection could be slimmed down, and their prices came down some, Amazon Cloud Drive might be a great long term solution for owning music.  I buy all my books, CDs, and DVDs from them now anyway.  The downside for Amazon is their lack of an app for iOS for Susan to use, and their player is rather primitive, but I’m sure that will improve.  They should offer some kind of incentive like for every $10 spent on music they will add 1gb of lifetime storage to your cloud drive.

Google Music Beta is even more appealing because it’s free right now.  I could put my whole collection online at no cost.  Another big plus that Google Music has over Amazon Cloud Drive is its player, which I’ve only seen in demo videos.  It looks far more sophisticated than Amazon’s player.  The downside is Google doesn’t sell music.  It would be weird to have to buy songs from Amazon and then copy them to Google.

Apple still hasn’t come out with their cloud drive yet.  Susan is very tied to iTunes because of her iPhone, and depending on what Apple charges, it could be a great solution for her.  I have an iPod touch, but portable music isn’t that important to me.  I’ll probably get an Android pay-as-you-go phone, so it will work with Amazon or Google.  If Apple came out with free unlimited for life music storage and offered a streaming service, I might be tempted to go with them, and then start buying my songs from iTunes.  Their downside is iTunes isn’t very good for managing large music collections, but that could be improved too.

I have yet to see any rumors that Rhapsody will offer a cloud music drive for its users, but it could be the best of both worlds.  Especially if Rhapsody could develop an app that looked at my collection and then upload only the albums they didn’t provide that were out of print.  And they could warn users when an album was going out of print and offer their users a chance to buy songs before they disappeared from the streaming collection.  In other words, Rhapsody could manage both of my collections.

Who knows what will happen, but these new cloud music services could be solutions to some of my problems.

And I can imagine another solution.  Why have millions of copies of “Hey Jude” stored on drives all over the world?  Why not have an international music registry, and when people buy a song they get a license to play it for life, and then music services would only have to cache one copy of a song wherever they stream music.  There would be no need to have massive server farms storing everyone’s songs.  That would save a lot of energy.  You could buy and play songs from any service you like and they would register the license for you.  All music services would be given rights to check the license registry.

Why make Amazon keep a million copies of “Hey Jude” on their servers for a million users when they could link to just one copy?

JWH – 5/15/11