Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Rant On Music Listening: Library Bifurcation, Offline Listening, and Bitrates

Listening to music is hard again.

Library Bifurcation

To listen to all the songs I like, I have to have some of my music in iTunes, and some of it in Rdio (I pay the $15/mo and always have). Once I decide which music I want to listen to, I fire up the App that gives me access to that music. What a mess! If I have a playlist in my mind that wants to have music from both services, I'm out of luck.

The vast majority of what I listen to is on Rdio, yet as artists get more and more frustrated with streaming revenues (effectively non-existent for the artist AFAICT), they're pulling more and more of their music off the streaming services (e.g. Rdio & Spotify). Whenever they do this, I either stop listening the music, or I get it on iTunes (99 times out of 100 iTunes tends to have the music I want, it's just that the App sucks so I try to stay out of it). Lame!

Offline Listening

Streaming sucks. Let's face it, it only exists because Rdio and Spotify (and other early streaming services) were trying to get around licensing regulations/rules/laws. It's a brutally horrible user experience. Using the network to stream music is wrought with technical issues that get in the way of a good listening experience. Chief among those issues is offline access to music. While Rdio recently revamped it's "Downloads"/offline experience (which is much better now), it's still a PITA to re-download gigabytes of music each time I re-install the player (change phones for example).

Apple completely screwed this up with their Cloud music offering (whatever it's called) stuff. Their transition to cloud-hosted-everything essentially is what caused me to drop iTunes, nearly altogether, as a listening platform. They moved my entire library into the cloud and gave me poor tools to work with it from there.

If you listen to music on the move (planes, trains, automobiles, bikes, running, skiing, international travel, etc), "streaming" is just a failure.

Bitrates

All the recent chatter about enhanced music listening services is ultimately good for the consumer, but the only service I've seen handle this appropriately is Rdio. If users want high bitrates, they can easily pay for them with Rdio, and dial the bitrate they ultimately want. I'm stoked that the industry is finally paying attention to bitrates. Apple screwed us all when iTunes was initially introduced with it's awful quality. We're playing catch up; finally.

Solution?

I want a platform agnostic DRM solution, so I can purchase, or access for free if the rights holder wants to offer it as such, high bitrate CDs or digital downloads of an album or track, and to have all the players support said DRM, so I can use the player of my choice. Streaming services can be cheap/free sampling products (like they kind of were originally), that upsell me into the platform agnostic DRM. After typing that, I feel like we've already tried this. What happened?!?!

If you want to steal the music, you can be an asshole and strip the DRM so the artist doesn't get paid.

Like I said, what a mess. The listening experience is suffering like it never has before.