Islands in the Streaming

When I started my job in the spring I began using streaming music services much more frequently. I used Songza for free until it was bought by Google. After that I started a Beats Music subscription, which I've been really pleased with apart from some gaps in the library (The Beatles being the most glaring, hopefully something that changes since parent company Apple has Beatles rights). I've found myself more engaged with the music I'm listening to over the last several months than I had been in a long time. My much-deeper appreciation of Neil Young and John Fahey is probably the most significant result, but I've also discovered some new albums to love: Randy Weston's Tanjah and Gene Clark's White Light, especially.

I've started making my own playlists on Beats, something I never did with Songza because, really, I never needed to - the options were that extensive - and because users couldn't listen to their own playlists. Most Beats playlists seem to be around an hour or album-length, which I don't plan on sticking to since there's no real format constraint. (The idea of making a "mixtape" for someone else still has its romantic appeal, though.)

At the same time, I'm aware that I don't own any of the new music I'm enjoying. This troubles me in a way that not owning the content I view on Netflix doesn't. I am happy and relieved to not have a living room overrun by a flim collection I will need to update to a new format in ten years, or duplicate onto electronic storage - even when this means that Battlestar Galactica isn't available for me to watch anymore. BSG will come back, I'm sure. And when it comes back, maybe that's a great occasion to watch it again and see how I feel about it with the passage of time.

But the fact that I don't own Harvest or The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death or White Light on CD, or vinyl, or even digitally - yet - troubles me a bit. I think that's because my childhood was one strongly attuned to music, and because my own physical collection of music is a twenty-five year investment and tangible record of my personality and growth. Others would feel the same way about a film collection, I have no doubt, and that's a reflection of their own preferenecs and personality. Still others might not care about either. Their houses are likely less cluttered, or cluttered instead with woodworking tools, or bolts of fabric, or painting supplies, or binders of film negatives, or car parts...

What is your relationship with streaming services - musical, video, or otherwise? How do you feel about renting content instead of owning it? What other factors do you consider when evaluating streaming content or devices for streaming it?

21 thoughts on “Islands in the Streaming”

  1. How do you feel about renting content instead of owning it?

    I'm glad you raised this point. For me, I prefer situations where I am renting something as it is often cheaper and when buying digital copies, rarely am I actually buying it. You can't buy DRM, despite many companies convincing people you can.

    1. Good points, sean. It's easy to conflate "ownership" with a license when it comes to digital content.

      DRM is something that actually makes me more comfortable with streaming. I'd rather pay Netflix $9.99 every month for access to all of its content than buy a license for a specific piece of content that I may not get to keep forever or transfer to a friend or relative. When it comes to music, I'm willing to pay for my Beats subscription even if I actually purchase a physical copy of the content I'm listening to later. The subscription basically feels like a combination convenience charge (I can't bring my music library with me to work) and finder's fee (for all the new stuff I'm discovering).

    2. I've purchased Boston's Greatest Hits on vinyl, 8-track tape, cassette, CD, and Itunes. Sucker punch me again.

  2. I've thought a lot about this, too. I have Google All Access and have since it was announced. I listen to the "I'm feeling lucky" mixes quite often, so a lot of the time, I'm not even entirely sure what it is that's playing (it just plays similar genres). Every so often, I wonder if I'd be better off if I just bought an album every month or two.

  3. I don't use any streaming services outside of Google play, but even then I only use it as cloud storage for the music I've purchased. For me, a streaming service is likely to not offer the selection I'm looking for, so it seems like a waste of money.

    I hear you about the physical media thing, though. I've switched to essentially only buying digital music and I get sad that my CD collection isn't expanding at the same time.

  4. Pandora, Streamingsoundtracks, and Live365 are the only streaming sites that I use, although the later is more of a hassle than it once was. I'll also jump down the Youtube "full album" rabbit hole some days as well. I also browse the CD collection at the local libraries.

    When it comes to streaming TV, I use the sketchy site serieswatch dot lt, although only with virus protection fully paid up.

  5. Their houses are likely less cluttered, or cluttered instead with woodworking tools, or bolts of fabric, or painting supplies, or binders of film negatives,


    I just purchased a cheap-o all in one record player for my studio. I'm not an audiophile, but I started realizing that a digital download wasn't actually something I owned, and in turn wasn't necessarily benefiting the band fairly. I've since purchased three albums, Hurray for the Riff Raff's Small Town Hero and Shovels and Rope's Swimmin' Time. I highly recommend both. The plan is to have my record collection grow in support of bands I see touring.

    Renting the content of a book troubles me far more than renting the content of albums / tv shows / popular entertainment. I feel like the risk of censorship is far to great in the publishing arena to ever really engage in 'purchasing' of e-books.

    1. I share your discomfort when it comes to e-books. I think my discomfort is trifold:

      - thanks to DRM, there are only users instead of owners
      - surreptitious edits to the text can be made to ebooks
      - ebook prices are ridiculous, but no regulatory body seems to care about price fixing

      These factors don't stop me from buying ebooks - the convenience of caring an e-reader instead of multiple books when travelling is simply too appealing - but I am very careful about the type of books I buy for my Kindle. I usually will purchase a physical copy if I really enjoy the book or find it useful.

      1. Perhaps one doesn't own the electrical intellectual property, but one does own the physical storage media. You can certainly lend an album on vinyl or CD to a friend, which they can play on their own equipment. To lend DRM-locked e-book to a friend, you either have to jump through the DRM license hoops/lending infrastructure or lend your friend your own e-book reader with the file. The vinyl equivalent would be lending your friend the album and your turntable, amplifier, and speakers.

          1. Stupid voice recognition software. "Electrical" above should be "intellectual." I've corrected it.

      2. Sure I don't own the song, but I own the physical media and I can choose to distort and change the way I listen to the song. Hell, I can distroy the media if I choose to.

  6. I use Spotify, mostly to discover new music or to check out old stuff i used to listen to and have a hankering for. However, if I find myself listening to something a lot on Spotify, I typically find myself going out and purchasing it. I almost use Spotify as a filtering device: a means to determine whether I want to purchase something or not.

      1. I moved exclusively to Spotify about a year ago, mostly a financial decision.

        Love the service. I come here every Friday and have instant access to the vast majority of the music I've never heard of. It's rare that I am completely shutout.

        My concern is that with the future of streaming services somewhat uncertain, I will be a year or more behind in my music collection if/when things change. So far the major showdowns have been with bands I can live without (Coldplay, Black Keys) and I own all the Beatles I want, but the second one of the albums of my favorites isn't available I may move to full crisis mode quickly.

    1. I also use Spotify. I don't bother paying for it since I'm not in my car enough to bother downloading music to my phone, so when I'm in my car, I just listen to this thing called the radio. And you don't need to feel "guilty" or whatever about not paying for a streaming service because both Spotify and Pandora have openly said they actually make more money from advertisers than subscriptions.

      1. I think you can go a little farther and say that in the advertiser-paid model, the audience is the product.

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