Rhapsody 2.0 App for iPhone/iPad/touch

This video really says it all.

Now, the implications are something else.  9,000,000 songs on my iPod touch for $9.99 a month sort of competes with what Apple is selling at their iTunes Store.  However, Rhapsody isn’t trying to sell songs to iPhone/iPod/touch users – in fact, if you click the buy button inside the Rhapsody 2.0 App, Rhapsody directs your request to iTunes.  That’s very gracious of Rhapsody.  Or was that the price for Rhapsody to get into Apple’s App Store?  I don’t know, but it works for me.  Why buy songs when you can rent them so cheaply?

I loaded the Rhapsody 2.0 App on my touch, logged in, picked my current favorite playlist, and started playing music.  A breeze.  All the existing playlists I’ve built on my regular Rhapsody account showed up.  Right now you can search on albums and songs within the app, and add them to a playlist for playing, but as this video promises, soon we’ll be able to play songs and albums directly, without adding them to a list.  Although, I’m thinking it might be easier to always use the playlist, but make one called “New Albums To Try” and then when Tuesday rolls around, put anything I want to listen to on it, and clean it out before next Tuesday.

And I tried the trick in the video of downloading my the songs in the playlist and then shutting off the Wi-Fi.  The 55 songs on my Songs Rated 10 played instantly.  Very cool.  I have a first generation iPod touch and it drains the battery very fast when Wi-Fi is on, so this is a great feature for me.

It took me a bit of poking to find the random play and repeat play buttons – they are hidden away on the song time scale that only shows up if you touch the screen near the top of the album cover.  When a song plays you get cover photo to look at, and behind it if you hit the info i button, you’ll get a short essay about the artist.  Overall, the app does everything I want but I’m expecting some nice surprises in future versions.

Rhapsody is a subscription music service and most music fans don’t cotton to that marketing model.  Those that do love it.  It’s another reason why Apple allowed Rhapsody in their app store, because renting music is so unappealing to the masses.  This latest version of Rhapsody (the service, not the app) is cheaper and has more features. 

And it makes a lot of sense to stream music to a phone where people have limited storage space.  I’d need a 128GB iPhone to store the songs I own.  Streaming 9 million songs works just as easily with an 8gb phone as a 16gb or 32gb model.  Because the Rhapsody 2.0 app lets you pick out albums using your mobile device, you don’t even have to mess with a desktop other than to sign up the first time.

Rhapsody is great for people who like to try a lot of new music.  It doesn’t take much effort to try out 20-30 new albums a month, and of those, I might add 10 songs to a playlist.  I won’t own those 10 songs, but I will have tried a lot of new albums.  It’s pretty cool to read your favorite music review magazine and just play the album while you’re reading the review.

It’s also convenient to have all your favorite songs and albums tagged into playlists for quick and easy access.  Think of an artist, group, album or song and type it in the search box.  If Rhapsody has it you can play it.  I’d say 90-95% of what you can think of is available.  There are a few famous holdouts, like The Beatles and Led Zeppelin.  If I could convince Rhapsody to change anything, I’d ask them not to sell songs and albums from artists that don’t stream.  I don’t like paying to promote their work.

Generally where Rhapsody and other subscription services are weak is for finding out of print albums.  Of course, no one else is selling them either.  This is why people should still buy CDs.  Any time you find an album you really love, buy it on CD to save forever, because even in the digital world where keeping things in print would be a snap, albums disappear into obscurity.

JWH – 5/2/10

Why is Apple Killing Lala?

I love Lala, the online music service, and it grieves me that Apple is shutting it down.  I’m not sure how many people love Lala too, but there were three of us in my office.  I get up every morning and put on Lala, and I go to work and put on Lala, and when I come home I put on Lala.  I’m playing Lala as I write this essay.  I’ve been listening to music since the 1950s when my first source of songs was my Dad’s 55 Pontiac’s push button radio, and Lala has been the best system I’ve ever found for playing music.  I’ve been seeking song finding Nirvana for over fifty years.

If you haven’t lived with Lala you won’t know what you’re missing.  Apple is renowned for innovative technology, and when I first heard it bought Lala, I figured it knew a good thing when it saw it, and maybe Apple just wanted to make iTunes the perfect killer app.  But it looks now like iTunes is a different kind of killer app.  The best gossip I can find suggests Apple merely bought Lala for quick access to its cloud music technology.  That’s like killing a person for their kidneys.  Or was Lala music sales model really a threat to iTunes?

Most of the news stories about Apple shutting down Lala didn’t spend any time mourning Lala.  Anything Apple does is big news, but that’s all.  I just don’t think people know how cool Lala really is, and I want praise Lala before its forgotten, and maybe explain why Apple is killing it off.

It’s all about ease of use.  Lala is far easier to use than iTunes, far cheaper, and even more important, it’s far more exciting for finding new music and sharing that excitement with other music lovers.  All is this is much easier on Lala, I kid you not.  On Lala you can play any song or album for free once.  When the new albums come out on Tuesday you can play them all on Lala for free.  (Or could.)  How fantastic is that?  See an album with a neat cover, well give it a try.  See an album with a funny name, give it a play.  Remember flipping through bins of albums wondering what the music was like from looking at the album covers.  Well, with Lala, it was only a matter of taking the time to try them.

But even more important than that, was how cheap it is to buy web songs on Lala.  A dime a song and you can play it forever, or until a giant corporation comes along and stomps Lala.  I’d load up my Lala wallet with $20 and whenever I heard a song I like I hit the Add Song button, and ten cents would disappear from my wallet.  If I really loved the song I’d click another button and add it to a play list.  The year I’ve been a member of Lala meant collecting just the songs I loved and making playlists.  I could play my friends playlists and not spend a cent.  I could play stranger’s playlists for the same great price.  But if I found a song I loved, it was one click, one dime, and it was mine to keep playing.  And I never had to worry about backing my songs up, or finding the song in iTunes, or in Windows Media, or on which computer, or on a shelf, or where I left that CD.  Lala was perfect for keeping my songs organized. 

Like I said, ease of use is the key factor here.  I own about 1,500 CDs, and I have them ripped to 18,000+ songs in my Windows Media library, but it’s far easier to use Lala.  I also subscribe to Rhapsody and have access to millions of songs.  But I’d rather use Lala.  In fact, it was easier to pay Lala ten cents for songs I already owned than play them somewhere else.  Hell, Lala was even willing to give me credit and link my 18,000 songs to my Lala library, but I didn’t want to do that because I loved Lala and I wanted to give it money and I didn’t want my Lala library cluttered up with thousands of songs I didn’t want to play.

Damn you Apple!!!  I’m playing Lala right now and Laura Bell Bundy started singing “Please” and I went to add it to my collection, but the Add Song button is gone.  Luckily I didn’t ditch Rhapsody when it came up for yearly renewal this month.  Now I’ve got to figure out how to configure it to be easier to use.  Having unlimited access to millions of songs sounds great, but it takes work to manage them.  Lala is great at managing my library.  I had already paid Rhapsody and could play the same songs there as I was paying again on Lala for ten cents a song, and I was more than willing to spend my money again on Lala because it was so easy to use, and because Lala is so great at sharing.

Whenever I discover a song I love all I had to do was hit the Share button and send it to my friends.  And they could play it once for free, or add it to their collection for a measly dime.  And that’s a great bonding experience.  By the way, thanks Apple, you are at least letting me replay songs in my month of mourning without taking my dime.  I would add “Please” to my Songs Rated 10 playlist, but that button is gone too.  I’m playing it for the third time in a row.  Steve Jobs, why are you taking this all away from me?  Is it greed?  Must you destroy anything that is better than something you invented?  Do you merely want to crush the competition?  Do you even know the beauty you destroy?

The rumor mill says Apple is killing Lala for its cloud technology that allows users to add their songs to their online library.  This will be great for iTunes users.  One of the HUGE negatives of iTunes is if you lose computer you lose your music.  Web streaming is so freeing because you don’t have to worry about maintaining your music files.  I’m guessing Apple won’t offer web streaming, but they will sell you a song, and they will validate any songs you own, and then let you play those songs from the cloud.  I bet Apple plans to combine the purchase model with the streaming model, so you won’t be renting music, but you’ll get the advantage of streaming once you paid for the song.

The trickier part is whether or not they can load the song onto your iPod.  That ain’t streaming.  But iPhones, iPads and the iPod touch have WiFi and broadband and they could stream music.  One of the greats features of Audible.com is they remember everything you ever buy, and even if they lose the right to keep selling a digital audio book you still have the right to download it again if something happens to your computer.  iTunes never offered such a wonderful backup feature, but Lala type streaming comes close to that.

If Apple kills Lala and then puts all its features into iTunes 10 then I won’t hate Steve Jobs so bad.  I doubt this will happen.  There is no reason why iTunes couldn’t let users play songs and albums once for free like Lala.  There is no reason why iTunes couldn’t sell web streaming songs for ten cents apiece.  Zune offers streaming on a portable device.  You pay $15 a month and can wireless stream any album to your player.  I have a Zune, but I don’t like playing music through ear buds.  I like hearing music through big speakers.  And I dropped my Zune subscription because their desktop software wasn’t as good as Lala or Rhapsody.

Apple could recreate all the features of the Zune Marketplace with its Lala technology and offer streaming to portable players, but that would be the end of selling songs for $1.29.  I’ve written many blog posts begging my readers to try streaming music and got damn few takers.  People are all hung up on owning songs.  Paying Rhapsody $10 a month is even a bargain compared to stealing music, but people can’t even comprehend it.  The work of stealing and maintaining the songs is so time consuming that only someone with no money would consider a stolen song a bargain.

Does Steve Jobs want to stomp out rental music?  If the music companies were against it, why do they let so many services offer it?  Lala was much cheaper than Rhapsody.  I spent $40 during my year on Lala, and $120 at Rhapsody.  At Rhapsody I could listen to the millions of songs as often as I wanted.  At Lala, I had to pick which songs I wanted to hear again and pay ten cents for unlimited listening to each.  I played more new albums at Lala because it was easier, and I only bought a few hundred songs because that’s all I discovered I really liked enough to want to keep playing.

We’re getting closer to a new paradigm for owning music.  Unless you’re a music nut you might not understand these distinctions, but here’s the evolution of music ownership.

  1. You bought and owned the physical 78, 45, LP, CD, cassette, 8-track
  2. You bought the physical CD, but could rip it to MP3
  3. You could steal MP3s, illegally possessing the file
  4. You could buy MP3s without getting the physical album, legally owning the file
  5. You could rent unlimited access to all music but you didn’t own anything
  6. You could buy the streaming rights to a song, but keep it in the cloud, so you own the right to hear the song as often as you want, and you don’t have to worry about maintaining it
  7. And it looks like you will be able to buy the song for download, but also have unlimited streaming rights.

I thought step #5 was the ultimate, but ended up loving step #6, which is the sales model that Lala used.  I’m guessing Apple will modify #6 and make it #7.   But instead of buying the streaming song for ten cents, you’ll buy the song for $1.29, and I guess either keep it in the cloud or download a copy for your iPod.  I wonder if Apple will make a deal with the music companies to get you the legal rights to be able to download that song as many times as you like.

Model #5 came in a number of flavors.  Rhapsody and Napster started off charging one fee for web streaming and a larger fee for the rights to put rental music on a portable player.  Lala didn’t rent music, but sold it in a two-tier pricing.  Ten cents for unlimited streaming (#6), and 79 cents for a download (#4).  I’m guessing the Apple and the music industry will consider ten cents too cheap for the rights to listen to a song for the rest of your life.

I have to wonder if you subtract all the manufacturing costs of CDs, the shipping costs, the warehouse costs, the distributor’s costs, the retailers costs, how much does a song really cost, that is if you remove all the cost factors that don’t go into a digital download.  I’m guessing a physical song was probably 20-40 cents of your $12-15 you spent for a CD.  People used to complain bitterly over the prices of CDs, so a $1.29 for a song is actually more expensive if you factor in actual costs. 

Rental pricing is different.  If I played a 1,000 songs for my Rhapsody rental of $10, that’s only a penny a song.  But if I only play 100 songs, those songs cost me ten cents each.  But if I play the same 100 songs next month, it’s another ten cents each.  The beauty of Lala was its pricing of ten cents per song for unlimited streaming.  Plus it had the inherent side affect of tracking the songs you love, and this beats two problems of rental.  You only pay for the song once, and Lala’s tracking of ownership also was a kind of tracking.  I can listen to 6 million songs on Rhapsody but I have a hard time keeping up with just the ones I love.

Steve Jobs is no dummy.  He knows the future of computing is the cloud.  He knows people will get tired of “buying” the same songs over and over again.  I have some songs I’ve bought on vinyl twice (they wore out, or I lost them), CDs twice (first release, then remastered release), once on SASD, then again on MP3, and by more than one rental service.  Ownership doesn’t appear to be forever when it comes to music.  That’s why I like the idea of rental music, why pretend otherwise?

This rant about Apple destroying Lala is getting too long.  But I hope you get my drift.  Lala was a great model for finding, playing and sharing music, better I think than any other sales model I’ve discovered.  I can’t but believe Steve Jobs will take a step backwards from this model, but I’m sure he sees a music sales model that will dominate in the future, something beyond what iTunes uses now, and maybe one that might last awhile.

JWH – 4/30/10

Rhapsody v. Zune v. Lala

I recently discovered Lala from reading Ed Bott’s “6 Music Services Compared:  Who Can Beat the iTunes Monopoly?”  Lala is the slickest way to listen to music on the web yet.  And since it’s free, anyone who loves music would be crazy not to try it out.  Joining Lala gets you 50 free web songs.  Lala offer four ways to listen to music.   First, the free one time only listen.  Second, the ten cents per song to listen via the web for as many plays as you want.   Third, Lala lets you buy a MP3 version of the song, at prices a bit cheaper than other sites, and finally, they help you play songs you already own through the web.

I’m already a subscriber to Rhapsody and Zune and I’ve bought music from iTunes and Amazon.  Digital music continues to blossom while traditional music sales continue to tank.  I never liked buying music from iTunes because I was locked in to its DRM.  In fact I’ve bought so few albums from iTunes that when it came time to upgrade my computer I didn’t bother moving them, it was just more trouble than I wanted to mess with, but I have access to those albums on Rhapsody and Zune.  And although I like Amazon and its unlocked songs, buying songs one at a time and trying to keep up with them is a pain.  I much rather have an unlimited subscription music.

Subscription music is the least amount of hassle.  From thinking of a song to playing it, takes the least amount of time.

I do have 18,000 ripped songs from my CD collection, but even it’s a pain to deal with.  For instance I’m thinking about putting Linux on my second machine but that’s where I keep my music library backup.  Worrying about a 192gb music collection is a real ball and chain.  Also, 18,000 songs is just too limited.  This past couple weeks I’ve been playing all the versions of “All Along the Watchtower” that I can find.  My collection has 5 versions.  Rhapsody has 153 versions, and Lala claims to have over 300, although both Lala and Rhapsody list a lot of repeats.  But I have heard maybe 60+ distinct versions so far.  Damn, I love that song.

Playing musical games like this just isn’t practical with iTunes or Amazon, unless I wanted to buy the songs, say $60.  Lala is free to listen to any song for free once, or 10 cents for unlimited web streaming, and Rhapsody provides all I can listen for $10 a month (I pay by the year, it’s $13 a month if you pay by the month).  Zune is $15 a month.  Spending $28 a month for two subscription services is wasteful because of the overlap, but I used to spend at least that much a week before digital music.

Lala is great to share with friends.  It’s easy to sign up and use, and it’s free to use for playing any song or album once.  I’ve never gotten my friends to join Rhapsody so we can share playlists, and I don’t know any Zune users either.  So Lala is great for sharing.  Lala might even be good for all my listening.  $10 a month means 100 web songs.  On Rhapsody and Zune I never find 100 songs a month I want to replay, so if I wanted to live on $10 a month or less for my music budget, Lala would be the way to go.

Zune is great for throwing albums onto the player and carrying them around.  The trouble is I don’t like playing music on the go, so I will probably cancel my Zune membership in the future.  If you do love playing music on a digital player, Zune is the easiest and cheapest way to go.  Dragging and dropping albums onto the player can’t be simpler.

I’m going to play with Zune for awhile longer.  Like Lala and Rhapsody, it allows me to play music anywhere I have a computer and network access, but so far it’s web interface is my least favorite for playing music online.  Rhapsody and Lala are much faster at queuing up a list of songs to play.  And Rhapsody beats Lala in that I can queue up songs to play on my big stereo through my SoundBridge, although I play 95% of my music while working at the computer at home and work.  But if I do sit down and listen to music on the big stereo, Rhapsody wins against the others, but not against CDs.

I don’t buy many CDs, only ones where I think I want to own them for life and love playing them on the big stereo.  And now that I’ve discovered that Tower.com is a dirt cheap way to get CDs, I’m buying CDs again.  $6.99 and $7.99 CDs are not uncommon, and at those prices I’m much rather buy the physical CD than the download.

If CD prices are low enough to beat the prices of digital music, digital subscription music then becomes the way to discover great music, and you buy the best of the best on CD to keep.  I’m partial to Rhapsody, but if I was uncommitted, I’d go with Lala for discovering music and web playing.  If you have a SoundBridge or Sonos system, or one of the other digital media hubs, you’ll probably want Rhapsody, but that might change.  I bet Lala comes to Sonos soon.

Like I said, you’d be foolish to ignore Lala if you love music.  And if you like to share songs with friends, Lala is great.  I hope Lala succeeds.  It has fantastic potential as a social network.  Lala doesn’t have as many songs as Rhapsody but it’s growing.  If there was a Lala iPhone/touch app, it would be killer.

Give Lala a try, go listen to a dozen versions of “All Along the Watchtower.”

Here is a test to see if I can share Lala.com songs via WordPress. Let me know if you could play the song okay. Lala actually provides Flash code to embed a cute little player, but WordPress strips out that code.

Jefferson Goncalves plays solo harmonica in this version of “All Along The Watchtower.”

JWH – 5/2/9

17,081 Songs

I finally finished ripping my CD collection, a task I’ve been meaning to do for years.  I put it off, time and again, but I finally made up my mind that it had to be done, and when I did, it only took a few weeks.  What I did was set up two old computers to be a ripping factory.  The results were 17,081 songs contained in 125 gigabytes.  I immediately copied them to a USB hard drive and took it to work and backed up the library to my office computer.  I figured after that effort I didn’t want to loose my new digital music library to a crashed or stolen computer.  The question now:  How do I maximize the use of my song collection.

As I write this I keep an iTunes window open with a single long listing of my songs sorted by artist.  My collection represents decades of collecting covering centuries of music history.  One lesson from holding every CD I’ve bought while putting them into the burner is learning how many I’ve forgotten I owned.  On CBS Sunday Morning today they profiled Shelby Lynne, and I checked and found I had six of her CDs, but not the one they talked about that I wanted to hear the most – damn!  Just now I noticed I have four CDs of John Lee Hooker and clicked on Chill Out to play as I type.

Other than just random gazing at my list I have no real idea of what’s in my collection.  I can remember my favorites to a degree, but I’ve discovered its easy to find forgotten favorites, albums I played regularly years ago that I’ve since forgotten I even loved, much less owned.  Can you name all the movies you got excited about during the 1980s?  Susan, my wife, told me to go through all 17,081 and rate them.  Sure thing, Susie.  iTunes tells me I have 48.3 days of 24×7 listening.  I wished iTunes, Windows Media Player, or Firefly Media Server would tell me how many albums I owned.

Since I started this project I’ve been playing music a lot more and loving the rediscovery of old friends, but I’ve also been bummed by how many songs I own that I just don’t dig – not in the least.  Some songs were filler to begin with, but in other cases I guess I’ve just changed.

How To Be My Own Disc Jockey

What I need to do is organize the playing of the best songs and musical genres in a way that educates me about my own collection.  The traditional way to organize playing digital music is playlists, but that assumes you know what you want on your list before you build them.

Another option is shuffle play.  The random jumping between 17,081 songs can lead to some weird song combinations, but it does get me to hear songs I would never try from just memory.  And it can be surprisingly surprising.  “Sleeping in the Devil’s Bed” by Daniel Lanois just started playing.  Hell, I didn’t even know I had a Daniel Lanois CD, but it’s from a soundtrack to movie called Until the End of the World, a film I only vaguely remember.  The next song is “Sunflakes Fall, Snowrays Call” by Janis Ian, which is just as good.  I knew I had several Janis Ian CDs, but never remember even hearing this song, but I’ve played the album several times I know.  The next song is “No Surrender” by Bruce Springsteen, from the Live 1975-85 album.  Again, another song I like but didn’t remember.  Either I have a terrible memory or most music is not very memorable.

So far, I can say that random play succeeds the best to teach me about my own record collection.  However, I just discovered I can’t rate the songs as I hear them because I’m using the Firefly Media Server on a separate computer server to feed them through iTunes, and to rate the songs would require my library being in iTunes on my Vista machine.  This brings up another huge problem for having a digital music library.

Where Do I Keep the Master Library?

Right now my collection is on an old Dell server, ripped and stored under Windows Media Player, but distributed throughout the house by the Firefly Media Server.  I can play songs through iTunes on any machine, or I can play songs through my stereo using a Roku SoundBridge M1001.  I can remotely manage the SoundBridge with VisualMR, so I can use my laptop to select which songs to play on my stereo.  Supposedly, I can use Windows Media Connect to share songs between any Windows Media Player on any of my machines, or use Windows Media Center to distribute songs throughout my house with Windows Media extender devices like the Xbox, but I haven’t figured out how to use them yet, and I don’t own an Xbox.  The Roku maybe an extender, but I haven’t explored that angle either.

I could put a copy of the library on each computer I own, and on my iPods, but what if I decide to delete a song, I’d have to go to each machine and delete the file to keep all the libraries in sync.  That would be messy.  Ditto for adding new songs.  I could buy a 160gb iPod and make it my master library, but that means being tied to iTunes.

I’m thinking about buying a larger hard drive for my main Vista machine and putting the library there and installing Firefly Music Server on the same machine and taking down my extra machine.  Why burn watts on two machines with work that could be done by one?  This would also allow me to backup my library with Mozy.com, which I can restore to my work machine occasionally – so work and home will stay in sync.

Now that I have a master library, I want to clean it up and delete all the songs and albums I don’t like.  And with the master library on one machine I can catalog it in both Windows Media Player and iTunes because I have yet to decide which I like best for browsing songs and making playlists.  And if I ever get a Windows Media Center extender I could browse album covers from my HDTV and play songs on my living room stereo.  Both Windows Media Center and iTunes have the nice cover flow browsing feature.  Let’s hope in the future that cover flow can be expanded to include all the CD jacket data and editorial content.

Another advantage of having a single master library is collecting ratings.  If the files are on the same machine I can rate songs in both iTunes and Windows Media Player.  I have no idea how this information is stored, or whether it migrates well to new computers and new operating system upgrades.

Yet, another advantage to saving my music library on my main home computer is when I buy new songs.  They will be added immediately to the master library.

Where To Play Music?

Most people think the iPod is the sole venue for playing digital music but I don’t.  I maybe an old fuddy-duddy because I don’t like separating myself from the world by plugging the white buds into my ears.  I have nice speakers on my computers at work and home, and I also have a nice stereo system in the den with comfy La-Z-Boys for truly devoted music meditation.  Sure I have iPods to carry around, but strangely, I prefer to listen to audio books on the go.  My wife does like playing music in the car on her commutes, but it’s easy to sync songs to her iPod and play them through the car’s stereo.

I share my music collection with my wife.  We can play music in the den that’s heard well in the kitchen and breakfast room, meaning we can do dishes and groove at the same time.  Eventually I think I might like to pipe my music library into my bedroom too.

Ripping music to MP3 has made it easy to play songs anywhere without the hassle of finding CDs and filing them back afterwards.  The key will be maintaining the master library.  It will be annoying if I delete a hated song one day and then be listening to music the next and that deleted song pop up again somewhere else.  Or conversely, if I buy a song at home but can’t find it on my work computer later.

Buying New Music

Now that I have my nice digital music library and my CDs are all filed alphabetically away, how do I add new music?  Over the past few years I have occasionally bought digital songs that are now trapped in ancient DRMs and stuck on the computers on which they were purchased, and in some cases lost on dead computers.  So no more buying DRM shackled music.

If CDs are about the same price as digital downloads, should I get CDs or files?  I’m tempted to get CDs, but digital downloads are a better deal for the environment.  As long as I keep my master library backed up and migrate it from new computer to new computer digital files should be safe.  If my house burns down I have my backup on Mozy and my work computer.

Yet, it depresses me to think that I’m limited to the sonic quality of 256kbps rips.  With CDs I could re-rip my collection to a new standard in the future, or even rip them to a loss-less format when I have enough main storage.  The Shelby Lynne CD I referred to above is $9.49 as a download and $9.97 as a CD at Amazon.  Which would you buy?  Of course I can listen to it for free on Rhapsody.

I am a subscriber to Rhapsody Subscription Music and I don’t have to buy new music for the most part since I rent.  However, if a CD goes out of print it disappears from Rhapsody.  I have Shelby Lynne CDs that Rhapsody doesn’t offer.  Strangely it seems for a service that offers unlimited plays from an almost unlimited library that you’d think once they offer a song it would never be deleted.  But it appears if it isn’t for sale somewhere it gets dropped by Rhapsody.  That’s why I ripped my large CD collection.  I have many out-of-print CDs that aren’t always on Rhapsody.

If Rhapsody offered everything, and promised to be a business that would last forever, I would have just packed away my CDs without ripping them and lived by Rhapsody alone.  It’s easy to play Rhapsody music from any machine attached to the Internet, and I can send Rhapsody music to my stereo via the SoundBridge, and if I owned a certified player, I could carry it around too.  But right now, Rhapsody is only good for new music – the kind you can buy from Amazon.

I’ve been playing 17,081 songs on shuffle play all afternoon and through the evening and I’m delighted by what it brings me.  Taking the time to rip my music is paying off fast, I should have done it long ago.  It’s like having the most eclectic radio station ever.

Jim

Living with Music Technology

The options of how you played music used to be rather simple.  You bought a record, put it on the turntable and played the songs you wanted.  Sure, you had to manually pick up the stylus arm and move it carefully to the exact track you wanted, and if you loved a particular song you had to jump out of your chair over and over again to keep that cut playing, but that technology required little thinking because there was little choice.  Of course if you were an eight-track or cassette user, the whole job was even more complicated and time consuming, but the tech skills were still pretty low.  In the twenty-first century you need to be a skilled computer operator to listen to your favorite tunes.

I am a fan of the Rhapsody Music service where I have no stylus arm to maneuver or cassette tape to position, and I no longer have to worry about scratching records or dealing with skips and pops, but it’s not all snap of my fingers easy.  I got so mad at Rhapsody that I almost canceled my subscription last week.  My browser kept disconnecting from the service, interrupting the songs I was playing, which was very annoying.  And I’ve yet to get the Rhapsody client software to play nice with Vista, even after being patient and giving Rhapsody a year to work out the kinks.

Luckily, the browser client has gotten better and better reducing the effort to listen to music down to being able to remember the name of the artist and track I want – not quite that easy as I get older – typing said information in the input box – again, not perfectly easy because I have to be able to spell those bits of data perfectly – but after that the only required effort to play a song is the physical exertion of a mouse click.  Just now I was in the mood to hear live versions of “Eight Miles High” by the Byrds.  Within seconds of thinking of this whim I discovered a newly released live CD on Rhapsody and was playing the song.  After that I remembered the live cut on the (Untitled)/(Unissued) CD, just a couple mouse clicks a way.  This is a breeze compared to the good old days.

This is not to say everything is perfect in tune heaven.  Ease of use depends on how closely tied I am to my computer.  If I’m writing like I am now, the work required is very minimal.  I have to keep a browser window open and pick out songs I want by typing their names and clicking on the play button.  If I want to play music away from the computer it gets more complicated, a lot more complicated.  My life would be easier if I just accepted I had to buy a compatible MP3 player to match Rhapsody’s requirements and pay the extra $5 a month, but I don’t like listening to music through earbud headphones.  What I’d like to do is go out to the living room, sit in my La-Z-Boy and play songs on my big stereo without having to get my lazy butt up whenever I think of a new song to hear.

Before I switched to Vista I had a nice setup with Windows XP, Linksys WiFi, Rhapsody, a Roku SoundBridge M1001 and Firefly Media Server.  I collected my favorite music by downloading files from Rhapsody, ran a system service called Firefly that talked to all my music libraries on my computer.  The M1001 was installed in the living and attached to my receiver via an optical cable and talked to my computer via WiFi.  I was in music nirvana except for all the clicking I had to do on my Roku remote to find songs I wanted to play.  And it was annoying I couldn’t stay in my La-Z-Boy to pick out the music either because the LCD readout on the Roku was too small to see across the room.

For months I dreamed of finding a small device that would allow me to control everything from my chair, with the ease of selecting music just like I was at my computer.  I thought of laptops, PDAs, and the emerging tech like the Nokia N800 Linux handhelds.  Before I could make a decision I upgraded to Vista and my lovely setup stopped working.

I wanted to give Rhapsody the benefit of the doubt and allow them time to catch up with Microsoft, however they never did.  I don’t know if it’s my HP computer, Vista or the Rhapsody software client, but they have never worked together.  Without the Rhapsody software, its DRM would stop Firefly from sending songs to the M1001.  Now I could have easily solved this problem if I was willing to spend a $1000 and buy a Sonos system.

Sonos talks to Rhapsody directly over the Internet, bypassing the computer, and even offers a handheld song selector device that would allow me to keep my fat ass in my chair and play music through my big stereo, or any stereo in my house if I that I was willing to purchase another Sonos connector.  Very cool tech but the price is too hot for me right now.  I keep hoping Sonos and Rhapsody will become a huge iPod level success and come down in price, plus give me some assurance that they have a long future before I invest even more money in my music system.

My wife recently got a new laptop and gave me back my laptop she had appropriated, so I decided to set it up as a Rhapsody music play station.  I reformatted the drive and put a fresh copy of XP on it, and then loaded the Rhapsody client.  I then took a patch cord and plugged the mini-headphone jack into the laptop’s headphone jack and the the split left and right channel RCA connects on the other end into my stereo’s CD input jacks.  I do believe the optical connector from the M1001 to the optical input on the receiver provided better sound, but I decided to leave the M1001 out of the mix right now.  My plan is to use a very long stereo cable so I can sit in my La-Z-Boy and put my laptop in my lap and use it as a music selector.

This isn’t a perfect setup.  The laptop is much bigger than a Sonos remote, and it gets hot on my thighs, but it does the job.  However, I can imagine a fair number of improvements.  Rhapsody provides an extremely large library for $120 a year, but it’s not complete.  It appears to offer almost everything in print – there are a few holdouts like The Beatles and Led Zepplin, but that’s not the big problem.  I have hundreds of CDs in my library that are out of print and no longer offered by Rhapsody.

Now I could consider Rhapsody’s millions of songs all I need and ignore my older CDs, or I’ll have to develop a dual music library system.  I’d have to rip all my old albums to supplement Rhapsody.  That would be a huge job that I’ve avoided until now.  I’d need a newer laptop with a larger hard drive, and I’d have to make backups and keep them off site, and all of that becomes a long job list that bums out thoughts of my future free weekends.  It makes me wonder if the old days were better, even if I could only play one LP in a sitting, and had to leap over to the stereo every time I wanted to skip a song.

I can understand why young people love the portable players like the iPod.  If only Steve Jobs would bless the concept of subscription music.  I could buy an iPod Touch and call it quits.  This past year I finally got rid of all my LPs I had been dragging around the country for forty years.  What a relief that was.  My wife and I still struggle with storing and shelving all our CDs.  Susan hasn’t embraced subscription music because she believes music should only be played in the car where God and 1950s America intended.  Susan recently discovered the powers of the iPod for music, a device she previously only used for audio books, and has began ripping her favorite CDs and taking her iPod for rides and leaving the CDs at home.  Sadly for me, she’s refused the job of becoming our MP3 librarian though.

Even if we did rip 2000 CDs, I can’t imagine using iTunes with so many songs.  Nor can I imagine protecting all those hundreds of gigabytes from now until eternity.  In my quest for finding simplicity in my old age I’ve considered following two musical paths.  One would be to give up digital music and go back to CDs.  The second would be to give up all physical music and live completely with subscription music.  There are even portable players out there that will talk directly to Rhapsody over WiFi, but can you imagine what the world will be like when iPhone 3.0 has subscription music?   Can you see the future where you have a device that goes anywhere and allows you to just name a song and it plays.  That’s pretty damn Sci-Fi to daydream about.

Why choose CD only?  Well, they’re paid for, and if I retire to some nice little town and never relocate again until it’s time to move into my coffin, taking care of all those CDs wouldn’t be too bad.  However, if I make several more moves before I retire, it will be a blessing to go all digital because my old back doesn’t like humping all those boxes of CDs.  To be honest, it’s no choice.  Since I’ve been a Rhapsody subscriber I’ve seldom even touched my CD collection.  I would make the decision right now if I knew subscription music had a solid future.  But except for one blogging friend, I don’t know anyone that enjoys subscription music.  All my music fan buddies prefers to buy digital songs or CDs.

No one seems to understand the Valhalla of digital subscription music, so I have to wait to make my decision.  If the concept of subscription music goes the way of the 78, LP and SACD, I’ll have to rip my CDs and start buying tunes from Amazon one at a time and figure out how to schlep those gigabytes around for the next thirty years.  If only Steve Jobs would give his kiss of approval, owning music would be over.  Why has he embraced subscription movies but not music?

I’m in a holding pattern with music technology.  I’ve heard that Rhapsody and other subscription music services can be had through Tivos and cable TV boxes, but I haven’t played with such devices.  What would be better than Sonos is selecting tracks to play through my HDTV that’s connected to my receiver in the living room with the same remote I use for selecting video to watch.  Now that would be converging technology!

When I’m working at my computer I could play Rhapsody.  If I was in my living room I could play Rhapsody though my TV.  For those people with portable players they can get music over cell phone technology.  And when the Internet comes to the car, music subscription could follow me there.  What more could I ask for from technology?  A chip in my head that when I think of a song it plays in my brain and I hear music like I had a $100,000 stereo system in my head?  Would people call us songheads, and look down on us like we’re dopeheads?

Jim