aNewDomain.net — I’ve always felt that music is essential to life. It attaches something tangible to emotion; it provides an outlet for release or escape; it helps to connect varied and unique synapses in the brain. It is a diverse and popular form of expression — and it is one of the oldest forms of expression in human existence. Pretty big deal, is what I’m trying to say.
As most people on the planet try and navigate music in their modern life, it becomes readily apparent that there is an almost-limitless host of listening possibilities. From the old school revival of vinyl to cloud-streaming your entire music collection, there are more ways to listen than ever before.
The Dream of Stream
I want to hear “Oh! Darling” by The Beatles, a personal favorite. I can get out my Abbey Road vinyl (thanks Dad), turn on the record player, turn on the sound system, navigate to the track (or listen to the whole thing through) and let ‘er rip. That method has worked since The Beatles released the song, and I find it both enjoyable and nostalgic.
However, that time-tested procedure is not portable, and it requires a number of items that many do not have. So, let’s say I have a digital iTunes collection. Great! Super-common, fairly easy to use (we can help if it doesn’t seem so easy) and modern. I likely bought the album in the past — digitally or on CD — and burned it to my computer. Now the tracks sit on my laptop, desktop or phone. I can plug in any of these objects to the aforementioned stereo, or better yet, stream them.
Now, I love wireless. I love streaming, I love invisible tendrils of audio and video flying across my house — that is the future we dreamed of, yes?
Yes. When it works. There are a million little ways this streaming genius can falter — outdated tech, poor software updates and weak Wi-Fi are just a few. Sometimes the old ways are best (think Skyfall or Ned Stark), and short of a fuse blowing you will definitely, without a call to your tech-savvy loved one, be able to listen.
With that said, everything is moving in the wireless direction. Bluetooth-enabled devices, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, Fire TV and smartphones in general — all of these systems are designed to stream audio right into your life.
And, all of these hardware units allow for a multiplicity of software applications. Some of the key players in the field of music today are: iTunes, Google Play Music, YouTube, Pandora, Last.fm, Beats Music, Pono, Spotify, Rdio, Songza, Grooveshark and Soundcloud — the list goes on and on.
These music sources each function a bit differently, and they each have a different price structure. Some compete head-to-head with each other (Spotify, iTunes, Google Play All Access, Beats Music); some are specific to social functions (Spotify, Last.fm, YouTube); some function solely as radios (Pandora, Rdio) and some help new musicians broadcast their own sound (SoundCloud).
Each and every one of these applications couples, at some point, with hardware. All of this, in the end, is geared towards listening to music. To a song. To “Oh! Darling.”
Now, I want to call attention to two of these applications. First, YouTube. According to The Guardian:
Teenagers today prefer to watch their music. According to a new survey, YouTube has surpassed radio and CDs to become the most popular way American adolescents listen to music.”
This is interesting, to say the least. Mostly because while musicians, record companies and producers upload the majority of this music, YouTube is notorious for fans and individuals uploading non-corporate versions of those same songs. You can search live videos or songs with the lyrics typed out and see a running commentary on who has anything to say about it. If YouTube (or Google, really) figures out how to push this harder, they could be the next conglomerate music supplier with subscription fees, targeted advertising and hype-building release dates.
The second music source I highlight is Pono. This is Neil Young’s $6.2 million Kickstarter superstar venture that focuses on audiophile quality, decent pay for musicians, and a supreme music-listening experience. It has released an iPod-esque playing device, a desktop application for syncing and financially-geared plans for its brand of music takeover. It is unclear how this will play out, but Young and his company feel that music quality is more important than anything else.
How Do You Choose?
It makes sense that music applications are now so diverse with technology. It is happening in every part of the media industry today. For instance, the format of movie releases was just redefined by the CEO of Dreamworks Studios.
So the real question is: How do we choose?
I listen to loads of music. And, to be honest, I don’t have a preferred platform. I use vinyl in my home, and CDs and old-school radio in my car (lack of Bluetooth or 1/8” plug). I use Chromecast to stream Pandora or my digital audio via Google Play Music, which is actually my iTunes collection, to my TV. Most of these decisions are based on cost, ease of use and the tech I already have.
We are living in a hybrid world now and music, something so simple, has become a string of complicated ecosystems and devices. Each generation has its preferred method. The methods will continue to change. There isn’t really an answer, but there are some key aspects to keep in mind.
- If you don’t actually own the music, it can be taken away from you.
- While everyone is competing fiercely for your allegiance (and dollars), how do the actual artists benefit? (This one is important, see these complaints against the likes of Spotify and Pandora).
- What is easiest for you?
Sometimes, getting out the vinyl is just the easiest. I know what I have, I know which records are scratched, and I know that “Oh! Darling” will sound just like I want it to. How do you listen to music? Let me know in the comments section below.
For aNewDomain.net, I’m Daniel Zweier.
Based in the San Francisco Bay area, Daniel Zweier is an editor and writer at aNewDomain.net. Daniel blogs about culture and travel here. He can be reached at @dbzweier, +Daniel Zweier or at email@example.com.