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I’ve been a long-time user of streaming music services – from Pandora, to the now defunct online music locker Lala.com, and now as a monthly subscriber to Rdio.com. Since I started streaming music online to my computer and iPhone, the iTunes Music Store is a place I rarely go shopping, other than for iOS apps and a few e-books. I paid for music downloads on Emusic.com, but not anymore because it doesn’t compare to the advantages of streaming music services like Rdio.com, MOG.com, and Spotify, each of which now have free subscription options that could possibly satisfy most of your music listening needs.
If you have a computer and a good Wi-Fi connection, streaming music services are arguably a better way to listen to music than downloading MP3s. Allow me to make my case.
The biggest problem with storing digital music on your computer or external drive is the risk of the music library being corrupted, deleted, or mismanaged. While iTunes helps users manage their music library, you need to regularly back it up on CDs, DVDs, or to an external drive. Only music you buy from the iTunes Music Store gets backed up on your account where you can re-download it if need be. If you want to backup non-iTunes music files, Apple will charge you a fee for storing or accessing it on your account.
When your music library grows into the gigabytes (mine is 120gb, even though I stopped buying MP3s over a year ago) it gets harder to manage, and it takes more and more internal or external drive space.
With streaming music services, you ever growing music library is stored in the cloud, and you have no need to back it up. And though you build a collection of streaming music in your online account, the entire mammoth catalog of a music streaming service is stored and accessible to you as a subscriber.
With streaming music sites, your music is accessible to you everywhere you can get Wi-Fi access, and 3G access if you subscribe to a premium service. It’s quite easy to set up almost any computer these days to stream music to wired and Bluetooth speakers, just as you would to an analog stereo.
You can also manage your online music library pretty much the same way you can in iTunes–e.g., create playlists, sort by artist and recently played songs.
Admittedly however, playing streaming music on mobile devices or in your car is not quite as reliable as having a few hard file favorite playlists stored and playing on a mobile device.
With streaming music services, the other members you follow on the site become your bonafide DJs who introduce you to their favorite music and artists. You in turn become a DJ for other members as you play songs.
With Rdio, you can browse the music collections of your member friends, as well get constantly updating music recommendations of “Heavy Rotation” songs and albums of people in Your Network, or Everyone else in the Rdio space.
You can also discover and add new friends by seeing who else plays the artists that you like.
Now that streaming music sites like MOG, Rdio, and Spotify are offering free membership to stream a limited amount of music, it means a huge savings in purchasing song downloads.
But if you’re a heavy music listener, you will probably eventually want to get a premium-based service so you can have an unlimited access to streaming music whenever you want it. Even if you pay the lowest monthly fee of $5 per month, you will likely play ten times more tracks then you would purchasing single $9-$15 album downloads which you may only play a few times before you need to feed your appetite for new music.
A few disadvantages to streaming music include the audio quality, which of course is not as high as MP3 files, though most listeners can barely distinguish the difference. Subscribing to a streaming music services means you never own the music you pay to listen to; however, you can pay for and download selected songs and albums from music cloud sites just as you would from the iTunes Music Store. And if you’re a music fan who likes to keep up with the newest releases of your favorite artists, streaming music services may sometimes lag behind music store sites for new releases.
Despite these limitations, streaming music services seem to be expanding, and the market should continue to grow for them. Let us know what you think about cloud-based music sites. Are you a member of one? Have you reduced the amount of MP3s you download and purchase? What are the advantages and disadvantages of streaming music sites that you have experienced?