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All in with Google Play Music

[Google Play Music]

If I stuck around just a few months more, I would have been an eMusic subscriber for a decade. Instead, I canceled my membership at the end of December 2015.

I also had a low-level Spotify subscription for about the price of a fancy drink at Starbucks every month, but I realized I only even launch the Spotify desktop application to update the Musicwhore.org Favorite Edition Playlists. So I canceled that subscription as well.

My streaming service of choice is now Google Play Music.

The music locker pretty much sewed it up for me. When Google Music launched, it offered space for 20,000 songs for free. Amazon had a similar offering with an up-sell to more space, but the size of my music library pretty much steered me in Google’s direction.

It took a number of years to fill that limit, which I did some time in 2013. By then, Google Music became Google Play Music and transformed itself into a streaming service. I signed up for a trial offer and liked the convenience of my uploaded library supplemented with the streaming offerings. I became a paying member and eventually shut out everything else.

eMusic had become an online version of Columbia House, where I had to download something every month to make the subscription worthwhile. I’ve accumulated a lot of digital flotsam and jetsam as a result. In a way, eMusic downloads became my replacement for pre-recorded cassettes, a convenient, sub-prime format to listen to an album. If I liked it enough, I’d buy a copy in a format with higher fidelity.

This idea of a “paid preview” allowed me to support artists on a graduated level — the more I liked the music, the more I would invest. When I signed up for eMusic in 2006, Spotify had only just launched in Europe, but I knew when it reached the US, my days as an eMusic member would be numbered. I’m actually surprised I hadn’t canceled years ago.

As it turned out, I hated the Spotify desktop application. Years of using Winamp and tolerating iTunes conditioned me to resist some of Spotify’s user experience choices. I can’t name them now because I was so thoroughly turned off that I went back to using eMusic and eventually adopted Google Music. But I kept the $5 subscription for fear of missing out on artist exclusives. It took some time before I realized I actually didn’t care for exclusivity in streaming services either. I’m not about to sign up for Tidal just to listen to Prince.

Google Play Music has so far ticked off all the boxes I require in an online music service. The locker stores the albums I own that the streaming service doesn’t provide, which is a lot given my tastes. The streaming service allows me to preview albums I may eventually buy, while throwing a few minuscule cents of royalties in the direction of the artist. I have the convenience of listening to NUMBER GIRL at work or at home, then switch over to a Cathy Dennis album I stream until I’ve made up my mind to buy it.

The only other comparable service would be Amazon Prime and its cloud storage, but the Music Manager desktop applications provided by Google Play Music have pretty much locked me into its platform. I do appreciate AutoRip on those rare occassions the two-day shipping isn’t fast enough.

I won’t consider Apple Music because that means I have to use iTunes. The only time I use iTunes is to manage my iPod. I hate iTunes on Windows more than I hate the Spotify desktop application.

So it’s Google Play Music for me.

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The Musicwhore.org Method to Digitizing Vinyl (It’s expensive)

[A shelf in the Musicwhore.org vinyl colleciton]

It’s been 10 years since I embarked on building a bedroom studio, and a side effect of that effort has been the acquisition of hardware and software to facilitate the digitizing of vinyl records.

Do a Google search on the topic, and you’ll see articles mentioning turntables with built-in pre-amps and USB ports. My record player dates back to 1998, and I had to buy a stereo amplifier to got with it.

So my output is a pair of plain old RCA phono jacks on the back of my amplifier labeled REC OUT. What I need, then, is some sort of analog-to-digital converter to capture that output to a file.

In 2005, that meant hooking up an RCA phono cord from my stereo to a USB audio interface, which was connected to my laptop. I fired up Sony Sound Forge, hit record, then played each side of the record. Sound Forge let me mark up the resulting capture into regions, which I could split into individual files.

In 2015, I would rather use a Y-connector to hook up my stereo to a TASCAM DR-05 digital recorder. Then I move the digitized files from the recorder to my desktop computer — via USB, of course — where I use Sony CD Architect to create a master rip. I could then burn a CD of the album, but instead, I split the master up into tracks when I convert to the lossy CODEC of my choice.

The 2015 method is so much faster.

But it ain’t cheap either.

Audacity is often cited as the software of choice for digitizing vinyl because it’s versatile and, more importantly, free. I used Audacity in the early days of my bedroom studio, but it got shut out once I invested in Sound Forge. Would I recommend Sound Forge if all you’re going to do rip vinyl for recreational playing? No.

Sound Forge does, however, come equipped with restoration tools that allow you to filter out pops and clicks and — if you’re ambitious enough — improve the sound quality of your rip. CD Architect, which also comes with Sound Forge, also provides a nice UI to throw together a CD master. The ability to save that master as a single WAV file is incredibly convenient.

A new license for Sound Forge can set you back $400. The digital recorder, by comparison, is cheaper.

[TASCAM DR-05]

My TASCAM DR-05 cost about $100. I bought it to record my rehearsals, but the ability to connect my stereo amplifier to the line in jack is an added bonus. The recorder comes with a 2GB microSD HC-I card, which is fine if you capture at a 16-bit sample rate. I, however, set mine to capture at an excessively high rate (96 kHz/24-bit), and that fills up quickly. So I upgraded my card to 32 GB.

Back when I used my USB audio interface to capture audio, I had to deal with two sets of cords — a USB cord to my computer, a phono cord to the stereo. I also had to fiddle around with levels since the input to my audio interface were unbalanced. The digital recorder does that all for me with fewer cords.

With this hands-on method, I can go from captured audio to lossy files within half an hour. A decade ago, it would have taken me twice as long.

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eMusic pivots again, says goodbye to major labels

[eMusic]

Not even a few hours after I posted an entry about why I choose to own my music do I see my point demonstrated.

eMusic announced it would return its focus on independent music, thus taking major label content out of its catalog. WEA-distributed labels have already been taken down. Universal and Sony albums are still listed on the site, but no time table has been given on when those titles will disappear.

The decision to offer major label content back in 2009 sparked a lot of controversy among eMusic users, and it even resulted in a number of labels such as Merge and Beggars Group leaving the service.

I was most interested in the WEA catalog since a lot of the artists I like are signed to WEA labels. WEA was one of the last to sign on with eMusic, and now, they’re the first to go.

I had been saving this month’s quota to use on Sept. 30, when Nonesuch is scheduled to release new albums by Steve Reich and Nico Muhly. Well, that plan is shot to hell.

I signed up with the service in 2006, when iTunes still locked its files with DRM and Amazon was months away from launching its own music download store. I used eMusic as a way to preview albums before I made any decision to buy a physical copy.

The tenor of the site changed drastically when it started offering major label artists. The accounting system changed from credits per download to dollar amounts per album. Slowly, I found myself getting less for the same price I’d been paying.

In the past, I could download 50 files per month. Now, my subscription can net me half that number.

I realized a few months ago that eMusic had become a Columbia House for digital downloads. My subscription was just enough to get me an album or two every month.

But I’m a budget-conscious listener, and eMusic had consistently undercut iTunes and the Amazon MP3 Store on catalog titles. The only thing cheaper would be to buy a used CD. In some cases, even new CDs were cheaper than eMusic. Those bargains are now on their way out.

I plan on keeping my subscription because I’m still part of eMusic’s target audience — indie music fans. But the download market is declining, and this pivot may not come in time to rescue eMusic.

UPDATE, 09/30/2014, 07:58: The New York Times reports Oct. 1 will be the last day major label titles will be available on eMusic.

 

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Why I choose to own in an era of subscriptions

[My Google Play Listen Now Library]

A few months ago, I downgraded my Spotify subscription and started one with Google Play’s Listen Now. I was never a heavy user of Spotify, and honestly I found the desktop application poorly designed.

Google Play’s 20,000-song upload library pretty much clinched it for me, since my collection contains music that would be otherwise inaccessible to the streaming services.

I use streaming services as a way to preview music before I decide whether to own it outright. That puts me in a generation where ownership is a viable option. (In other words, I’m old.) I hear tell of an entire generation of listeners for whom their music experience begins and ends with streaming services.

For as much breadth the streaming services provide, I wouldn’t put my entire trust in their reliability. I’m not talking about bandwidth — I’m talking about rights holding and licensing.

A number of artists restrict the availability of their music online. John Zorn’s Tzadik label sells only through iTunes. AC/DC isn’t available anywhere. Metallica exclusively licenses through Spotify.

And what the rights holders give, they can also take away. When eMusic started offering major label content, I downloaded the self-titled debut album by the Stone Roses. A few weeks later, the album disappeared from the site’s catalog.

And if all the digging through record bins has taught me anything, there are vaults of material that will probably never see the light of day. How will I listen to Last Exit’s Iron Path on my iPod? By recording it straight from my vinyl copy.

On many occasions, my hunt for a particular piece of music forced me to seek out a physical copy. Self-titled albums by Animal Logic and Yano Akiko can only be had through used bins.

If my listening habits hewed closer to the mainstream, streaming services would probably have me more than covered. They don’t.

Recorded music is a business, and while the overhead in stocking a digital album is low, labels aren’t going to release product that they don’t perceive will sell. I have the unlucky habit of listening to just those kinds of recordings, and I always assume the services out there will have large gaps where my interests are concerned.

So I’m going to continue to acquire music in whatever forms they come. Streaming services are one such avenue, but for me, they can’t be the exclusive ones.

 

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