Thoughts on Streaming Music Services

I’m starting to understand why Steve Jobs was so disapproving of streaming music services way back in 2003.

A few months ago, I wrote about my experience with Rdio, a streaming music service. As a self-professed audiophile, I scoffed at the notion of sub-standard bit rates.

Fast forward to today, and I’m starting to change my mind about the notion of renting music. Let’s say for some reason you’ve never purchased a CD in your life, thus you have an empty iTunes music library. If you start using Rdio, it’s an enticing offer if you’re a lover of music and like to listen to a lot of it on a daily basis. You have access to what seems like a bottomless pit of artists, not to mention new releases that end up available the day they’re available in stores (for the most part).

Even though my own personal CD collection is somewhere in the 300 disc range, I admit there isn’t a huge variety of artists in it. A large chunk of my collection consists of many albums from the same artist. Of course I do love discovering new bands all the time, yet I probably don’t spend more than $100 per year on new albums.

Just running the numbers alone, Rdio is a bit of an expensive option at $9.99 per month (the $5.99 per month deal is worthless without mobile/desktop syncing). If you look at the bigger picture though, it’s a great deal when you end up actually listening to a lot more new music. In fact, when I had been testing the service, I did find myself seeking out a variety of new artists that I didn’t get around to buying their albums.

The pitfalls of Rdio, Spotify et al, come at the cost of sound quality (noticeable on $800 studio monitors), as well as something even worse: if you for some reason have to cancel your subscription, you have nothing to show for it.

For someone like me, if I was in that kind of situation, I would be really upset. At least by owning what you buy, you can listen to your existing music library–no matter how small–as many times as you like. Buying music through iTunes, or even CDs may not be the most cost effective or efficient way of discovering new music, but I’d rather listen to my existing albums a million times rather than end up with zero at the end of the day.

Before you email me, I’m not opposed to streaming services in general. I love and use Netflix all the time, but it’s different in that I rarely re-watch movies more than once. If I was making a habit of re-watching every movie I owned on a weekly basis, I’d consider buying DVDs or Blueray for the foreseeable future. Music for me is much less disposable than the average movie.