One Image Showing Why I'll Stick With Spotify Premium Over Apple's iTunes Radio

Working in a home office, I often like having music playing softly (or sometimes loudly!) in the background. In the interest of hearing more music than just what I have in my own collection, I've been trying various streaming services and a while back started paying the $10/month for Spotify Premium. I've been generally rather pleased and have enjoyed discovering some new artists through both what friends are listening to as well as Spotify's "Discover" tab. (And yes, I've actually purchasedsome music via iTunes as a result of hearing it on Spotify.)

With Apple promoting their new "iTunes Radio" I naturally had to try it out. I listened to a couple of the default "stations" and was pleased by what I heard.

And then this...

ITunes

My nice stream of background music was interrupted by an ad for a new album available for purchase in the iTunes Store.

It's not this particular album being advertised that annoyed me... it was that there was an advertisement. I have background music playing that is, well, music, not people speaking. Music fades into the background and I find it strangely helps me concentrate. Speaking interrupts my concentration.

Looking into iTunes Radio more I noticed that the option to go "ad-free" is there if I want to subscribe to iTunes Match. Now at $25/year this is chaeper than Spotify Premium, but requires that I give Apple access to my entire iTunes library to store it up in "iCloud".

I'm not sure I really want to do this.

The paranoid-about-privacy side of me is leery of what information I'm giving to the big corporations out there, and I'm not sure I'm ready to embrace the convenience of having "all my music with me everywhere" while sacrificing the privacy of the info about all my music.

Of course, who knows... I may have already done this some time in the past with some various iTunes terms of service that perhaps said all my data would be sent to Apple. I don't honestly know.

In some digging around online, though, it appears that even if I gave Apple access to all my music, I'd still have a less-than-stellar user experience. As Alex Heath writes over at Cult of Mac about his disappointment with the service:

Apple still told me what station I was listening to over and over. I know I’m listening to the “Pure Pop” station, Apple. You don’t need to play a 9-second clip in between songs telling me so. What purpose does that serve the listener when they already know what station they chose?

and

When Katy Perry’s new “Dark Horse” single (which isn’t that good, by the way) came on for the first time, a 3-second chime played telling me that it was an official iTunes Radio “pick.” Okay. Why not just put that information in text form next to the album artwork? Do I really need my listening experience interrupted with that audio blurb?

Alex notes:

I’ve been a Spotify Premium subscriber for over a year now, and I love it because it I hear nothing but the music I want playing.

That's it in a nutshell.

I want music... pure, uninterrupted music.

That's all.

(And obviously I'm willing to pay for it.)

So for now I'll stick with Spotify... maybe in some future release I'll give iTunes Radio another try if they ever get to more of an "all music" experience.

What has your experience been? Obviously, based on stats from Apple's recent event that said over 1 billion songs have been played on iTunes Radio, people are using the service!


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Why Apple's move to take iTunes DRM-free matters...

After tweeting this in response to the MacWorld keynote today:
twitterdanyork-itunesdrm.jpg

I had a couple of people ask me what DRM is all about and why it matters. So here's my take on why DRM for music matters to me.

"DRM" is "Digital Rights Management" and if you want the gory details Wikipedia has a lengthy article but essentially DRM is "copy protection" in either software or hardware form that restricts your access to some digital media to only "authorized" devices/programs/computers/etc.

In the context of iTunes, it is the software that restricts you to only being able to play purchased music on specific computers or devices. When you buy a song from the iTunes Music Store (that has DRM), you can play that song only on computers that are authorized through your iTunes Music Store account. If I recall correctly, you are limited to 5 computers. If I have a new laptop or iPod or whatever, I have to authorize that device before it can download and play the music.

Proponents of DRM for digital music files, primarily the music companies, promote DRM as a way to ensure that artists (and those companies) get paid. Their fear is that without DRM people will just wildly copy music all over the place and the companies and the artists won't be paid. And to a certain degree this is probably a valid fear.

The problem is that to a user DRM is often a royal pain-in-the-neck.

If I have a physical CD that I rip into online music files on my system, I can then move those files to any other server, to another disk, to another music player, to another laptop. There is no DRM and I can just move those digital files around the same way that I could a physical CD. It makes it trivial when you find that all your music is filling up one system and you want to move it to another and have music play out of that system instead of the one you are using now.

With DRM-restricted music, you can't always do this. You have to authorize the new system. When I went to sync a new iPod to one of my systems, I had issues where it couldn't download the music because it wasn't authorized, etc., etc.

It makes me not want to buy music online.

Or, at least, DRM-restricted music. After having so many headaches recently with moving some music around when I was trying to free up room on a system, I decided that for a future purchase I was going to find DRM-free versions, even if it meant going out and purchasing the physical CD and ripping the CD into MP3s. Then, of course, I discovered the Amazon MP3 Downloads. Same basic prices as iTunes (cheaper in many cases) and without any DRM.

I own the digital music files and I can do with them whatever I want to do.

I can move them around. I can put them on different music players in my house.... basically everything that I can do with a physical media like a CD (or tape or album for those who remember such things). And yes, those who are unethical can of course copy them and give them to other people. But the point is that the digital media is now mine to do with as I wish exactly like the physical media is. I am in control.

I have therefore almost no incentive to purchase from the iTunes Music Store when I can get it from Amazon (unless, of course, the music is exclusively available in iTunes).

Steve Jobs wrote about this back in February 2007 when he wrote this:

The third alternative is to abolish DRMs entirely. Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats. In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players. This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat. If the big four music companies would license Apple their music without the requirement that it be protected with a DRM, we would switch to selling only DRM-free music on our iTunes store. Every iPod ever made will play this DRM-free music.

Today, it seems, Apple has reached that state... they said that 8,000,000 songs will be available DRM-free now and all 10,000,000 songs will be available soon. You will need to pay a bit more (and that extra 30 cents probably goes to the record companies) but at least it is mine and I can play it wherever and whenever I want.

That is why I was so pleased with the Apple announcement.


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The intersection of social media, Last.fm and German rock

(Originally posted to http://dyork.livejournal.com/255035.html )

Working alone in a home office... in a world that has increasingly moved away from regular voice communication into one of email, IM, etc.... I personally enjoy having some music playing in the background (which is especially great because my IP phone that doubles as my PC speakers automatically cuts the music off when a call comes in).  I naturally have a good number of CDs, purchased music, etc., and there are great podcasts like CC's Accident Hash that do a wonderful job of providing decent background music.  But still, there are times when you just want the random selections that come from a radio-esque type of environment.  Being a German speaker and rock fan, I've often turned to radio Ohrenkneifer and that's been a great source.  But I think it was a posting of gcrumb that pointed me over to Last.fm which bills itself as "the social music revolution".  (FAQ here) Fascinating site... I haven't yet installed their specific software (so I'm not sending my listening data into the site), but I did try out some of the lists.  Naturally I found the "Germans - Deutsch" group with apparently 3,018 members and it, too, has provided some good background music.  Unlike Ohrenkneifer, it's not all in German... it's really whatever seems to be recommended by members of the group.  So it might be all auf Deutsch... or then the other day it was playing Aretha Franklin, Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins!  A bit random... but that's okay. Again, nice for a background.

My only complaint is that the flash-based player that you get if you click "Play Group Radio" only plays when that specific browser window has focus (at least in FF 2.0).  So if you flip to another window, the music stops.  Not a huge deal for me in the way I work because I have it running on one computer while I work on another... but still an issue.  I'm sure this would be solved if I downloaded the Last.fm software... but I need to explore it more before I feel comfortable with an app that is sending back my listening preferences to a central repository.  (What do you expect from a security/privacy nut?)

Interesting stuff going on out there...