by Eliot Van Buskirk
A fascinating experiment began this month on NPRâ€™s All Songs Considered blog. Bob Boilen, creator and host of the influential radio show by the same name, deleted all 25,000-or-so songs on his hard drive and shifted them into Apple iCloud using iTunes Match. So far, his experiment seems to be going well, although we donâ€™t yet know how it will turn out.
Weâ€™re intrigued, because as much as many of us embrace streaming music and the cloud, Boilen put his music where his mouth is. This is a person who enjoys music enough to make it the focus of his life. What if the experiment goes awry? One cringes at the thought of Boilenâ€™s cherished tunes vanishing into the ether.
Either way, it started us thinking: Rather than mirroring a collection up to Apple iCloud using iTunes Match, which costs $25/year to listen to music you collected, would it be possible to zap oneâ€™s collection into a music subscription service? Those cost a bit more â€” $60 or $120 per year depending on whether you need mobile access â€” but they also let you listen to millions upon millions of songs, rather than just whatever you bought from iTunes, ripped from CD, or downloaded from blogs or wherever else, so you can continue to add to your collection that way, and have it all in the same place.
Remember when everybody was ripping their CDs and selling the hard copies? This is like that taken to the next level.
So we decided to explore a bit â€” which of these subscription services allow you to mirror your own collection into a subscription service, creating a little subset of those 16 million-plus songs that reflects the stuff you collected, to augment the stuff you will later collect as part of your subscription?
First a dose of reality: For many hardcore music fans, this is still a largely theoretical argument. For starters, most of us have live versions, music from our friendsâ€™ bands, remixes, music from our own bands, and other recordings that arenâ€™t available on Spotify or any other streaming service. For those, youâ€™d have to go with Apple iCloud or Samsung/mSpot, which can upload them â€” or just put them in a folder called â€˜Raritiesâ€™ and move ahead with the subscription-mirroring plan. In that case, it could make sense for even hardcore music fans with weird stuff in their collections to delete the rest and move, mostly, to the cloud.
Hereâ€™s how the big four music subscription services stack up in that capacity (if they have the right to play you any song on-demand, that includes copies of the music in your collection for which they have a license):
MOG: Spokeswoman Marni Greenburg confirmed that MOG does not mirror music collections, although it does have a neat tool for turning CDs into MOG playlists. MOG vice president of product development and engineering T. Jay Fowler explained why: â€At MOG we believe that a users collection is 15 million tracks. We know from research that users listen to a limited portion of their local collection. Add to the fact that: Browsing large data sets of local collection data in a web-based UI is not a ton of fun; usersâ€™ musical tastes change week to week; [and] catalog matching is, at best, 60-75 percent accurate, and add to the fact that there are lots of albums and artists restricted for digital streaming, which adds to a poor experience.â€
Rdio: Spokesman Jeff Koo pointed out that Rdio does collection matching via iTunes or Window Media Player, and adds all of that music to your personal Rdio collection via metadata matching. So it would be capable of doing this trick, if youâ€™re interested in freeing up some disk space.
Rhapsody: â€We do not currently offer this, but are in active development of the feature,â€ said spokeswoman Jaimee Minney. â€You are correct that there are no licensing constraints â€” for us, its been an issue of how we prioritize features. Subscription-music users already have â€˜theirâ€™ music library in the cloud. We see it more as a way to make it easier for new subscribers to start the Rhapsody experience with bookmarks to the music they love within our 16-million-song library, which can be intimidating at first.â€
Spotify: Although you can import your music collection into Spotify and even transfer it to devices â€” even an old-school iPod or an Android, according to spokeswoman Deanna Davis â€” you canâ€™t delete that music if you want it to keep playing. So Spotify is out, for those who are looking to free up disk space by moving their music to the cloud.
For now, the idea of zapping oneâ€™s collection to a subscription service remains out of reach, for the most part, although if you want to try it, Rdio is the way to go.
If this is ever going to work perfectly, it could require Apple adding a subscription option, or a multi-pronged service like Samsung Music Hub, which has both a music locker and an unlimited subscription service, becoming popular enough to convince people that itâ€™s not going to vanish as soon as they entrust it with their music collections.
That brings us to a bigger problem with this concept: Music desperately needs â€œone big databaseâ€ so that if you zap your collection to one service, you can move it to another with ease. Otherwise, we canâ€™t truly have confidence in moving to the cloud. More on that here: