This is a fantastic time for music lovers. Music downloads no longer suffer from copy protection. Numerous sites and social tools have sprung up to help us discover and connect with talented artists. One of the most exciting developments has been the rise of subscription-based, on-demand music services. One low monthly or annual fee buys you access to a huge selection of music to listen to at any time. Heard a song from a new band you like and you want to hear more from them? Bam! Listen to all of their work right then and there without worrying about the recording industry suing you. There are a number of these services to choose from, and in this post I'm going to help you decide which one to use.
The safety of my collection has been one of my largest concerns as music has made the digital transition. With CDs and vinyl, you may damage or lose one or more albums and unless your entire collection is stolen, it's unlikely that you'll lose access to all of it at once. Digital music is a different matter, however. Unless you've backed up all of your songs to a secondary storage device, one bad electrical storm could separate you from your tunes forever (and remember, backing up means having two copies of each file, not just storing your music on a single portable hard drive by itself). With the push toward cloud (or distributed) computing and storage, new services are cropping up to help us not only back up our music offsite, but which allow us to take our music with us wherever we go.
One service that I've been using for years is mp3tunes.com, to which I pay a monthly subscription fee and in turn receive space online to backup all my music to and the ability to stream it to any computer. New contenders include Google Music (currently in beta testing), iCloud from Apple (coming this fall with their iOS 5 update for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch), and Amazon Cloud Drive, which is available now.
Media ownership in the 21st century is a trickier concept than ever before. In light of the growing percentage of our books, music, movies, and software that is purely digital, that is to say, downloaded directly from the Internet, how is ownership defined? When music came on CDs and other physical formats, it was pretty easy to say, “This is my CD. I bought it. I do with it as I please.” Of course, the recording industry would disagree, to the extent that while you might have purchased the medium, you only licensed the media. Now that the medium is largely ephemeral, so too is ownership. Add onto that digital rights management (DRM) that locks down and controls what you do with your “licensed” goods and ownership becomes a ghost of its former self. But do we really care?