Spotify vs. Amazon Music

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.

Once in a very blue moon - Nanci GriffithThis 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:

GypsyThere 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.]

JWH

TOP 100 Songs—A Spotify Experiment in Personality

By James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, May 3, 2016

If you selected your Top 100 all-time favorite songs, the ones that define your soul, how many of those songs would you think you shared with your friends? I’ve always loved seeing what albums my friends owned, and if they’d let me, what songs are on their playlists. People are surprisingly unique. I’ve yet to find anyone that shares even five favorite songs with me. Don’t get me wrong, me and my friends often enjoy the same kinds of music, but when it comes to absolute favorites, the songs we choose to form a life-long love affair, those tunes are quite distinctive. Maybe as identifying as fingerprints.

fingerprintmusic

This is where Spotify comes in. It would be fantastic if Spotify created a permanent playlist in everyone’s account called TOP 100, and encouraged their subscribers to fill it in with the songs that define the music they loved best in their lifetime. Then after a time, start showing us big data statistics. What is the percentage of overlap based on various demographic standards. Am I more likely to overlap with other people born in 1951? Does gender matter? Could Spotify predict where I grew up or my ethnic background? Would it be possible for Spotify to discern my Myers-Briggs type? And if there are incidences of high overlap, would listening to the playlists of those subscribers help me find songs I would love that I’ve never heard?

Conversely, could Spotify fill in our TOP 100 lists automatically from studying our current patterns of play? Or predict our second 100 favorite songs?

Even with millions of users, would they ever find two people with the same songs in their TOP 100 playlist? What would be the statistical odds? (I don’t know, I can’t do that kind of math.) How often would 50% agreement show up? What if the list was based on order? If they applied statistical analysis to the data, would it reveal anything about personality? Would it tell us anything about generational shifts? Are people predictable by their tastes? If they could connect to other databases, would our musical tastes also reveal what we love in books, movies, television shows and other art forms?

My bet, which is only a hunch, would be for age cohorts, the average overlap would be less than 5%.

JWH

The Beatles and Other Forgotten Bands

By James Wallace Harris, June 30, 2015

Now that Apple has entered the streaming music business it’s obvious that streaming is the future. After more than a century of wax cylinders, 78s, LPs, 45s, 8-tracks, cassettes, CDs, DATs, SACDs, MP3s, music will arrive by subscribing to bits and bytes. We’re now in a transition phase. Some people will listen to music they own, and others will listen to music they rent. As the advantages of subscription music become apparent to all, most listeners will forget about owning. If songs aren’t instantly available on their smartphones, they will be forgotten.

The_Beatles_-_Rubber_Soul

Because I listen to ninety-nine percent of my music through Spotify, The Beatles are becoming a forgotten band. I’m sure Apple hopes to make an exclusive deal to stream The Beatles like they did for selling their songs and albums by digital downloads. If The Beatles make such an agreement, I might forget them completely. I bought twelve of their thirteen re-mastered CDs when they came out a couple years ago, but I don’t play them. Some are still in the shrink wrap. Listening to music on Spotify is just too damn convenient.

Gypsy

Most of the famous bands that held out against the subscription music tide have given in – AC/DC is the latest example. I have to admire that group for not making an exclusive deal. During the transition phase to a complete subscription music age, we will have to find ways to deal with forgotten bands. There are several reasons why music from the past isn’t offered today.

Once In a Very Blue Moon - Nanci Griffith

First, a band will refuse to allow their music to be streamed. That’s becoming less likely as people quit buying music. Second, music is often tied up in legal battles. Again, that will be resolved. There is a lot of music from the past that is forgotten because there’s no demand or its creators aren’t around to promote it. I assume this will change over time as those who still remember will complain. Finally, what we can hear will be limited by exclusive deals. There’s over a dozen subscription music services out there now with more coming on line all the time. The best way to capture subscribers is to promise the biggest catalog, especially catalogs with artists and albums that other services don’t contain. I find this mercenary practice a heinous aspect of the music business.

Willis Alan Ramsey

Right now the standard price for subscribing to a music library is $10 a month. If some services seek to dominate with exclusive deals, there will be a tendency towards monopolies and squeezing out the smaller services, or for people to subscribe to more than one music site. One solution to make subscribing to multiple libraries possible is to change the fee structure. For example, if Spotify and Apple charged $2.99 to be a subscriber, and then one penny a play, then fans could easily enjoy two sites and pay artists fairly.

quicksilver_what_about_me_lg

One reason why artists have avoided subscription services is the low royalty payments. Between the music publishers and subscription services, they seem to make the best deals for themselves. Apple almost got away with giving people three months of music to new subscribers without paying the artists. I think the artists would get a better deal if their payments were separated from subscription fees.

Rainbow Down the Road by B. W. Stevenson

One cent a play is the perfect payment. That cent should be divvied fairly between the composers, performers and record companies. The one cent fee should only be for specific playing of songs. For random background listening, artists should get a lesser fee paid out of the subscription service fee. That way, unless a fan plays specific songs all day long, most listeners will still stay close to the $10 a month bill.

Never Goin Back to Georgia by Blue Magoos

With better royalties I believe most music from the past will be unearthed and put online. Forgotten bands and their albums will show up in libraries, making subscription music nearly perfect. Right now there are many favorite songs from the past that I can’t add to my playlists. In the future, when everything I want to hear is in my subscription, I can’t imagine another system of music delivery ever replacing it.

Sailer by The Steve Miller Band

Pictured are just some of the albums I can’t play on Spotify today. I hope they will all be available within a year.

JWH

Do You Feel Guilty That Spotify Pays Artists So Little?

By James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Since a generation of young people had no ethical qualms over stealing music, asking if artists are paid too little under the new streaming model might be a moot point. We live in a society where we want everything free or very cheap, but we’ll also pay $7 for a cup a coffee, or $200 to see a Broadway roadshow. For many people, music is a peak experience, more important than coffee or plays, often providing the emotional soundtrack to their memories. Shouldn’t we worry that people who create the songs we love get paid properly?

spotify

What we’re seeing here in America is a economic paradigm shift that’s effecting all aspects of society. The middle class is being deflated while its wealth is being shifted to the ultra rich. More and more people work for minimum wage. Even once well-to-do professions are under attack. And people who were once rich rock stars are now making far less. The super-stars are always well-rewarded, but making it big isn’t as easy as it used to be. Streaming music is great for tens of thousands of would-be stars to get a start, but it’s now much harder to make a living from even a moderately successful album. The middle-class artist is disappearing too.

So, I’m asking, are you fine with that or not? I love Spotify, but it bothers me that artists who once made much more money from the CD sales model are now making much less renting their music. Listening to music over the internet is far more convenient than playing CDs or LPs. Having access to nearly all music with the tap of a few keys is fantastic. Paying $10 a month is an incredible bargain. And knowing it’s legal is righteous. But, is it fair compensation for the artists?

PBS News Hour has been running a series on this issue. Their coverage is probably all you need, but this discussion is all over the web, especially since Taylor Swift pulled her catalog from Spotify. Here are some recent articles:

If you read enough of these articles you’ll realize this is a vastly complicated issue. Part of the problem is most of the streaming royalties goes to the record companies, and song writers, singers, and musicians get the tail end of the payment stream. But that was also true back in the LP/CD days. How the record companies divvies up its money with its artists is between those parties, but as fans we pay for the music, and set a standard. At least streaming is a major step up from stealing. Personally, I’d like to see more profits go to the artists themselves, and I’d like to see royalties paid to musicians. I think it stinks that all classic songs I love, the musicians were only paid a one-time fee.

The solution I would suggest is streaming services should charge a subscription fee for their service only, and then we pay 1 cent per stream to be divvied up by the record company, composer, singers and musicians. So Spotify might charge $2.99 a month for me to use their service, and that would go to them. And I would be billed 1 cent per stream, so my monthly bill would vary. If I listened to no music that month, it would be $2.99. If I listened to a 1,000 streams, it would be $12.99. Most people pay $9.99 now, so that would be equal to 700 streams.  That’s about 25 streams a day, or about 1.5-2.0 hours of music a day. Which is probably more than what most people listen to. If you want constant background music you should use radio or Pandora type services.

Such a payment system would also allow me to subscribe to more than one music service, because they do offer different content and different features.

CD and digital song purchase sales are down. At one cent a stream, it would take 129 listens by a fan to equal the purchase of a song. I think this is a decent equivalent. But if you watch the PBS Newshour shows you’ll see how artists lament the passing of albums. Fans really prefer hits. Spotify could encourage albums listens by charging 5 cents to stream an entire album.

Streams should not count unless we listen to more than sixty seconds of a song. Any song we give the hook in less than a minute should be considered a free trial.

If artists wanted to sooth listeners who hate the thought of constantly renting, they could let streaming services count the plays and after 129 mark the song as owned, and free from then on out. This would also encourage subscribers to stick with the service.

I bought thousands of albums in the last fifty years, and many of them were duds. I’d only listen to them once or twice. Most often I’d buy an album and listen to one or two songs many times. Album sales were not always fair to listeners, even though artists made the most money from them. The streaming model of pay per play is actually more fair to listeners and artists. It’s fair to artists because they’re paid each time a fan plays a song. It was always depressing to spend $15 for an album that turned out to be a turkey.

I hear the complaints by my favorite songwriters that Spotify cheats them. I feel bad. But I also think one cent a stream is a fair price. It’s more than what they get now, and if their songs are actually popular, they’d earn about the same, or even more in the long run over CD or digital sales. Songs that people really love will get played 129 times, and if an album has enough good songs, it will eventually earn about the same amount of money.

I’ve bought many albums by Bob Dylan three times, first as LP, then CD, then as SACD. I still play his songs so much, I’m sure at one cent a play, I will eventually pay more than what I did buying those albums three times.

JWH

Why We Can’t Trust Subscription Music Services Like Rdio, Rhapsody, Spotify, MOG, etc.

In the post-CD world of music, the challenge is to keep our favorite songs forever even though we have nothing physical to hold and protect.  If your computer crashes or you lose your smart phone, can you recover all your favorite songs you’ve bought over the years?  (Or stolen.)

Digital music is in a total state of chaos.  I have songs in Windows Media Play, iTunes, Google Music, Amazon Cloud Player, iTunes Music Match and I have rights to listen to albums in Rdio, Rhapsody and Spotify, plus I own about 1500+ CDs.  No one site can play all the songs.

My favorite way to listen to music is via Rdio.  Rdio plays on all my computers at home and work.  It plays on my iPod touch, iPad 2, and it plays on my TV/stereo through a Roku box.  However, it doesn’t play all the albums I own, nor out-of-print albums, but it does play millions and millions of songs, so for 90% of what I want it’s excellent.  However, for those favorite songs it doesn’t have, it ruins the whole concept of subscription music.

For example, one of my favorite albums is No Guru No Method No Teacher by Van Morrison.  It’s now out-of-print, and I recently discovered that  when the song “Thanks for the Information” disappeared from my Songs Rated 10 playlist.  I thought I had it on CD, but evidently not.  I did have it on LP, but I got rid of my LPs years ago.

I probably didn’t get it on CD because it was on Rhapsody and Rdio and I got used to it being there, and thought it would always be there.  I was wrong, it’s been pulled.  I just ordered a used copy on Amazon for $10.25 + $2.98 shipping.  I’m sure I could have gone and found a stolen copy, but I’m not into that.  Once I get it I can rip it and put the songs on Amazon and Google.  I’m not renewing iTunes Music Match.

The problem is my favorite way to play my favorite songs is via playlists on Rdio.  Over time some songs disappear from subscription music services because the album goes out-of-print.  I HATE THAT!  I’ve been trusting subscription music services for years, and slowly it’s becoming obvious that if you really love a song and want to play it for the rest of your life you have to buy it.

But buying digital songs is iffy.  I’m trusting Amazon to always preserve the songs I buy from them – but what if Amazon goes out of business or gives up on Amazon Cloud Player?  How long will Amazon, iTunes and Google back up music if you buy it from them?  And what if they don’t sell the songs you want?

I should consider the CD as my master copy for life, but the CD format might not last that much longer.  Is the MP3 any kind of real archival medium?

Because music goes out-of-print and gets removed from Rdio and Rhapsody I’m going to have to change the way I listen to music.   I might need to move my playlists to Amazon Cloud Player (and maybe Google Music) and then use Rdio and Rhapsody as tools to discover music.  When I find a great song I want to listen to the rest of my life, I’m going to have to buy it and put it on Amazon Cloud Player.  I’m paying Amazon $20 a year to store the 20,000 songs I own so I can play them from all my computers and mobile devices.

Or I could stick with Rdio and just let out-of-print songs become forgotten songs.  I wish there was a way to upload out-of-print songs I own to Rdio so I could keep all my songs in one library.  Rdio is far superior to Amazon Cloud Player for managing playlists.  I can’t even find a way to delete a playlist on Amazon Cloud Player.

Why can’t I have all my music in one place where I can play it from all my devices?  Life was so much simpler when I had LPs and all the music I owned was on one bookshelf.  But back in those nostalgic times, I could only play that music in one place.  Now I can play my music anywhere, if I can keep up with all my song files.

JWH – 10/28/12

How To Pay for Music?

David Lowery, of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker wrote “Letter to Emily White at NPR All Thing Songs Consider” last week that got a lot of attention on the net.  The post currently has 533 comments, many of which try to justify stealing music with various self-serving excuses, even after Lowry carefully explained why stealing music is hurting musicians.  Emily White had written “I Never Owned Any Music To Begin With” at NPR Music, confessing how she has 11,000 songs on her iPod but never bought more than 15 CDs in her life.  Emily loves music and wants to work in the music business, but confesses she doesn’t pay for music.  There are some fascinating comments for this blog post that’s well worth reading, but basically it comes down to telling hundreds of stories about why people don’t pay for music.

If all these people had their weekly paychecks stolen I wonder if they’d be so willing to admit to stealing other people’s pay?

Is there a solution to this problem?

In another post Lowery shows how it’s quicker to find music at iTunes and Amazon than to find copies to steal, disproving that people steal because it’s convenient.  People steal music because they don’t want to pay.  Lowery also showed that more music is available for sale than to steal, but that doesn’t seem to sway people either.  Most folks just flat out just don’t want to buy music anymore.

Is there anything the record companies can do?  Is there such a thing as music that can’t be stolen?  Before the Internet LPs and cassettes could be copied, but not easily.  The net lets people distribute stolen music easily.  Unless we do away with the Internet it’s doubtful the music industry can stop piracy, even with DRM.  So is this the end of the music industry?

I’ve bought 4 CDs this past month, but that’s a fluke, and one CD, Our Version of Events by Emeli Sandé, I bought two copies, one to give as a gift.  But I primarily listen to Emeli via Rdio ($9.99/month).  I could also listen to her by Rhapsody ($9.99/month) which is my backup streaming music service.  So I’ve paid 4 times for the rights to listen to this one album.  I could also listen to Spotify on my free account.  And if I wanted to take the trouble, I’m sure I could track down a stolen copy.  My point is Rdio is the absolute easiest way to listen to music.  The only reason I bought the CD is because sometimes I want to hear the music played very loud on my big stereo at it’s best sonic version.  But it’s a pain to keep up with CD and to play it.  So I just use Rdio 99% of the time.

emili-sandi

People can pay as little as $4.99 a month to legally listen to most music via Rdio, Rhapsody, Spotify, MOG and other streaming music services on a computer.  So why do people choose to be thieves instead?  I don’t know.  Like Lowery points out, paid for music is far more convenient to use.  They aren’t too cheap to pay $80 a month for a smartphone, but they won’t pay $10 a month to play the music they love on it.

I own two copies of all the Beatles CDs, the old ones and the new re-mastered ones, but I don’t play them because they aren’t on Rdio, and Rdio is too convenient.  People who work so hard to steal music have no idea how easy it is to use legal music.

But there’s a problem with streaming subscription music – some artists don’t feel they pay enough.  And that might be true.  In the comments to Lowery’s post, one person wrote in they were paid $.0091 per stream from Rhapsody and $.0008 from Spotify.  In other words, Rhapsody pays just under a cent per play and Spotify under one tenth of a cent per play.

For Our Version of Events I paid $8.99 for the CD.  That’s just 64.21 cents for my favorite song, “River.”  But that’s the whole cost which includes Amazon’s cut, the record company’s take and Emeli’s royalty.  I don’t know how accurate these streaming play figures are, but it’s enough to give us an idea.

“River” by Emeli Sandé Cost to Buy/Play
Amazon CD 65 cents (whole cost)
Amazon MP3 99 cents (whole cost)
iTunes 129 cents (whole cost)
Rhapsody .91 cents (royalty)
Spotify .08 cents (royalty)

For Emeli to make as much money as whole cost of the CD song, I’d have to play the “River” 71.43 times on Rhapsody or   812.5 times on Spotify.  No wonder artists think Spotify is a rip-off.  If anyone can document the actual payment schemes please post a reply.

I have no idea what Rdio pays per stream, but I’ve been playing the hell out of this song.  I’m sure I’m coming close to the 71.43 figure, meaning for people who love a song it can pay as much or more than buying a CD.

The problem with pay per stream method is songs that don’t get played don’t earn money, whereas CDs buyers do pay for them, even if they don’t listen to them.  Pay per stream is actually more fair, but it’s a big cut in pay to artists used to the CD sales method.  I’ve bought hundreds of CDs I’ve only played once or twice.

I wish all the streaming services would post their stream rates so us music fans could use that knowledge in deciding on which streaming service to use.  I’m about to settle on Rdio and abandon Rhapsody, but if I learned Rdio paid so little as Spotify I’d change my mind.

I don’t know how to make everyone pay for music, but I’m more than willing to pay for subscription streaming music.  $9.99 a month is little enough to be an honest music fan.  I’d be willing to pay more if I knew the artists were getting a better deal.  Even though I still buy CDs, they are very inconvenient to use and I prefer the emerging subscription streaming services.

Other sources about earnings:

JWH – 6/24/12

Sharing Music

Yesterday WordPress informed their bloggers we could add links to Spotify and Rdio to our blog posts and they would be converted into music players.  Great!  I’ve always wanted to review music and let people play it while they read the review.  It’s very hard to describe music in words.  Last night I posted a couple test posts and discovered there’s some real limitations to the endeavor.

I’ve also started a new blog site, Streaming Music, where I will branch off my writing about music. To give you some idea what I can do there I’ve created some tests of embedded music players.

Rdio only played 30 second clips to the people I got to try it, none of which were subscribers to Rdio.  I’m going to try again here and see if I can find some subscribers and see if they hear more than 30 second clips.

You can join Rdio for free and get limited access to their music. You can also join Spotify for free and get quite a bit of free music, but you’ll need to install their software client. Rdio works with a web client.

Spotify won’t play at all unless you have the Spotify client installed.  This is free, but requires people to go off and install the client.  However, Spotify has millions of subscribers, and millions more free users.  And they have users in Europe.

The next downside to the project is people outside of U.S. and Europe can’t use either service.  All the legalities of online borders is a pain to deal with on the Internet where we’re really just one big world.

People have been sharing music on the Internet right from the beginning, but illegally.  For $5 a month you can have legal access to gigantic libraries of music, so subscription music is a new kind of sharing that’s spreading fast.  By WordPress offering linked music players should push this movement further, and hopefully one day I can put a song up to play on my blog and anyone in the world can hear it while they read my post.

If you don’t mind, leave a message and tell me if you can play music from Rdio or Spotify.  Tell me if you only hear 30 second clips or the whole songs.  Tell me if you are a subscriber of either service.  And let me know what country are browsing from.

Spotify

Rdio

http://rd.io/x/QJhDPldi7w