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You know you're old when you start running the math on how much music costs. And not only how much it costs, but analyzing music as a household utility. That uncomfortable feeling of oldness aside, if I analyze the music situation, interesting things occur.
First, here's the data:
Current default music selection method:?
First off, allow me to opine briefly on Spotify. If you haven't used it, its a streaming music service that's sort of like Pandora, in that it has radio stations that automatically generate next songs continually. It's also sort of like iTunes, in that you can add specific songs to playlists and then play them whenever you like. This second feature only works on mobile devices if you pay $10 premium (it works on computers for free).
It is this last bit that turned me from a skeptic into an experimenter. I travel a lot. Whether its on a plane or driving across Kansas, there are large stretches of my life where the internet does not extend all the way to me. So, a streaming service that goes offline? Sign me up.
There's a lot to like about Spotify, but the number one thing I like is the musical promiscuity it encourages.
When you have to buy a song, or an album, you tend to get rather judicious. Do I really, really like this song? Will I want to listen to it over and over again? If I like the song, will I like other songs by the same artist, and therefore maybe spring for the whole album? (Bear with me, anyone under the age of 25: people my age still like to listen to entire albums. By the same artist. Weird, but true.) By definition, the process automatically curates the actual music that makes it into your iTunes library.
Spotify takes away the filter. I would never actually buy a Wiz Kalifa album, but hey, I'll add his Rolling Papers album as a playlist. Listen to it all the way through once. Pick a few songs I like. Maybe listen to them again. Would I have paid 10 bucks for it? No way.
But that same process helps me identify songs I will listen to over and over again. Somebody Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin is an infectiously awesome band, and I pretty much like all the music they make. But the name of the band alone would have kept me from grabbing the whole album and listening to it.
Even better, Spotify has allowed this musical discovery back into my life without making me abandon the library I've already built. The Spotify app has a link that leads back to my iTunes library, so I can listen to the songs there without switching between apps.
There are downsides. Much of the accessory world depends on Apple's iTunes+Music to work. But the biggest issue is that?I never own any music anymore. I just rent it. The minute I cancel my Spotify membership, all the music disappears. I am giving up ownership the same way I give up ownership of books when I read them in iBooks or Kindle.
Still, for $10 a month, I really like Spotify. I'm sold. I haven't opened iTunes in 3 months. But... well...
Spotify, like so many cool things that come from smart young people, is engineered at both the technical level and the business model level to be consumed by an individual.?My hat goes off to them for what they are doing, but people don't listen to music by themselves.
And no, I don't mean social networks here. I think the Spotify integration with Facebook is way creepy and I turned it off. I don't want FB "Friends" to see the names of songs I'm listening to. (My kids want to hear Gangnam Style. So I play it for them. It does not mean I want people to know I listened to and therefore in some perverse Facebooky sense of the word endorse Gangnam Style.)
No, I'm talking about families. All of us listen to music, and quite often we are all listening to the same music at the same time. But sometimes we listen to different music in four different places at the same time. Sometimes we share musical tastes, sometimes not so much.
But you can't share Spotify Premium. You can't use the same account and log in four times. Spotify quits working in one location the minute you start listening at a different device.
I get it, I get it. I understand why they do this. But it means the economics will drive me back to iTunes, and its really basic arithmetic: at $10/month, I'm paying $120 annually for music. On iTunes, that's roughly 100 DRM-free songs or 10-12 albums. By itself, it seems like Spotify is a pretty good deal. But if I have to pay for everyone in my family, Spotify is suddenly $40 per month, or a whopping $480 a year. Nearly $500 dollars annually for a music rental service? That's 400 songs each year that could be owned and shared among a family of four. And I don't have to keep paying to retain access to those songs.
So even if I have to pony up $1.29 for Gangnam Style, I still have $478.71 left to go get all the Taylor Swift, Flo Rida, and Maroon 5 my kids want. Then go get the Civil War, Iron and Wine, and Bronze Radio Return that the grown-ups want. And we can all listen to it whenever, wherever.
Now, its hard to tell in the modern age how much we are actually spending on music. Whether I'm buying music, a book, an app, or a movie, it all shows on the ledger as 'Apple Store.' And, if you've been to a kids birthday party or really even Christmas you know that iTunes gift cards are the de facto gift for anyone age 8-18. So, current spend on music is tough to accurately quantify.?But I'm betting that even with more promiscuity on iTunes, it still wouldn't add up to $480 a year.
So what's the solution? I'm thinking, take the free Spotify and the free Pandora. Put up with the adds for Netflix and VistaPrint. If you need your music offline, mobile, and add-free, turn those curated Spotify playlists into purchases on iTunes. It'll still be cheaper than the annual rental fee.