Thursday, October 27, 2011

I Still Love You, iPod, but I've Met Someone, and Their Name is Spotify...


As I've written on here a few times, I was very resistant to jump with both feet into the digital music age.  I grew up collecting and listening to music on vinyl, cassettes, and CDs. When mp3s first became popular when I was in college in the mid-to-late 1990s, I was wary but eventually had some (not many, but some) saved on my computer. However, ask my wife or anyone who knew me in the 1990s and they'll confirm that I had upwards of 1200+ CDs stacked on shelves all over my dorm room and later, my wife's and my home.  To me (and to most people), that was the normal way of consuming, storing, and listening to music. I had a Discman (and before that, a Walkman), a 50-CD Changer component stereo system, and a CD-changer in my car.  However, as time went on and we began to have kids, and kids have their own stuff...well, CDs not only became inconvenient to store, but carting around dozens of discs every time I wanted to listen to something in my car became a real pain.

In 2003, I bought my first mp3 player, a 60 GB Creative Jukebox...the thing looks HUGE now, but at the time I marveled at how small it was and how it could hold so many songs.  Eventually, it began to crap out and I purchased my first iPod, an 80 GB model, in 2005. A color screen that displayed album artwork, a TON of songs, and it fit right into my pocket.  I still listened to CDs in the car, but the iPod was a lifesaver for taking tunes to work, out on runs, or on vacations.  In July 2009, I accidentally dropped the iPod in a glass of water and completely killed it (don't ask...it was a freak thing at 4am when I was getting ready for work one morning). Since I didn't have the $300 laying around to buy a new one immediately, I signed up for a free account on Last.FM (back when it was still free) and listened to all of my music online through it when I was on my computer. What I liked about it was how there was (nearly) all of the music I wanted right at my fingertips and I didn't have to store any of it.

At Christmas 2009, I got my current iPod (pictured above), a 160 GB model. I've got it loaded with EVERYTHING I own on CD (and a bunch I don't have on CD) and it's up to 110 GB right now. I love it and used to use it all the time. But then, I met Spotify...

For those not in the know, Spotify is a streaming music service that started in Europe back in 2008. Through my UK friends, I had heard its virtues constantly extolled, but I remained uninterested, especially since it wasn't available in the US. When it finally came to the USA in July 2011, a British friend of mine sent me an invite and I signed up for a free account. Apart from the incessant and annoying ads, I really loved it. It's a free program you can download on any computer, you can make as many playlists as you want, and it's got nearly everything you'd want. Apart from my bootlegs or rarities (which I wouldn't expect on there anyway), the only bands I need to listen to that aren't on there are The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and Frank Zappa. The best thing about Spotify is that you can even listen to music you DON'T own on it. Through Spotify, I've rediscovered bands I used to love when I was younger (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots), explored bands I always meant to but didn't have the cash to (Talking Heads, Foo Fighters, Death Cab or Cutie, Pavement, Screaming Trees), and, in conjunction with Shazam, discovered new music by using Shazam to identify what I was hearing on the radio and then delving deeper on Spotify (Fitz & the Tantrums, Arctic Monkeys, Portugal the Man, The Kooks, Cage the Elephant, My Morning Jacket, to name but a few). 

Eventually I plumped for Spotify Premium ($9.99/month), which eliminates the ads, makes even MORE music available to you, and unleashes the iPhone app, where you can sync playlists and cache them to your phone so you can listen to them offline, not using any WiFi or 3G data. In essence, it's like having an iPod.

The consequence of all of this is I haven't used my iPod much since I've been on Spotify.  There are a few reasons for this. First, I *ALWAYS* have my iPhone on me...it lives in my pocket, whereas my iPod needs to be brought from place to place. I know it sounds silly, but sometimes I forget the iPod and after several days of not using it, you tend to forget all about it since you're still able to listen to most of your music with your phone. Second, since Spotify doesn't work through iTunes, it's much quicker and easier to make your playlists. Don't get me wrong, I love iTunes...for managing and controlling your devices, it's a great program. But clicking and dragging in Spotify is MUCH easier and quicker.  Third, Spotify has just about everything I have on my iPod besides bootlegs (apart from The Beatles, Zeppelin, and Zappa, as I mentioned) *PLUS* stuff I don't own but want to listen to. I also get to listen to those one-hit wonder songs I dig, the songs I like that I'm too embarrassed to admit to liking, and compilation-type stuff like the Motown tracks I like, 80s music, etc. 

Now I'm obviously not going to ditch my iPod. It's a great device and still works great. It's excellent for storing EVERYTHING I own, and portable to use on car rides, plane rides, etc. And of course there are no restrictions on what I can listen to on it other than what I have put on it and taken off of it.

It has also got me thinking, though, about how I've evolved in my consumption and habits in listening to and collecting music. Gone are the days where I just *HAVE* to make a trip to my local record store every month to browse and buy new (or used) discs. Don't get me wrong, I still love my local record store (Bull Moose Records in Portsmouth...www.bullmoose.com) but CDs take up so much space and need to be stored and with 4 kids in our house, space is at a premium!

So I've adopted the following routine now:

If it's a band that is one of my all-time favorite, absolute top-tier #1 bands (Blur, Beatles, Who, Dream Theater, Rush, etc..too many to mention) then I will definitely buy the physical CD release. These bands are ones I would need to take to a desert island, and they always have excellent album art and liner notes.

But, if it's a band that isn't in that category, then I'm not going to buy more CDs.

In fact, what I'm in the process of doing now is storing everything on my hard drive and selling off or trading in (for store credit and/or cash) the non-top-tier band CDs. It'll earn me some money, save mega space in my basement, and generally declutter my life. I'll still have that music on my hard drive and iPod, though.

As for new music, unless it's a top-tier band and I have to buy the CD, I'll either buy new releases on iTunes or stream them on Spotify.

And with iTunes Match being launched soon, it may get even cleaner and easier. This service will match whatever on your iTunes library (on your home computer) is available on the iTunes store and make it available in the cloud on all of your devices (iPod, iPad, iPhone, Mac, PC, etc) so you're entire library is just a click away in the iCloud. Amazing. Together with Spotify, that might seal the deal for me for good.

So yes, I've finally evolved from vinyl to cassette to CD to mp3 to iPod to streaming.

Who would've thought that even 5 years ago? I certainly wouldn't have!


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