I’ve been a subscription music consumer for a couple of years now, starting with the MusicMatch service, which was subsumed by yahoo music just last year. These services are great, they put a huge library of recordings at your fingertips – literally millions of songs. I’ve enjoyed revisiting countless LP’s from my past, and discovered a bunch of new artists and records. For example, Damien Rice, Gorillaz, and Amy Winehouse. I was listening to Feist before ipod advertising made her famous.
These online “streaming” libraries are not perfect. There are a couple of well known artists that do not permit digital distribution of any kind, eg. Led Zeppelin, Frank Zappa, The Beatles. And there are occasional licensing problems that leave curious gaps in the available collections. (I’m talking to you Joan Osborne.)
The subscription music must be played on your computer using the cumbersome jukebox software provided by the subscription company. This music management software wants to take over your computer and handle ALL your digital music which I find real problematic. I include the notorious iTunes in this category as well.
The services all sell individual song downloads, but I’ve not gone that route. Instead, I’ve used other software to record the streaming music from the services in real time. It doesn’t provide CD-quality recording quality, and the music sometimes needs to be manually edited and tagged, so it is a little labor intensive. But it does make the music portable and allows me to put songs on my mp3 players or burn them to CD’s.
Last month I evaluated the Rhapsody.com service in a 10 day trial and I liked it. The jukebox software seemed to run well, and the rhapsody library filled some gaps I’d come across in the other services (Suzy Boguss, Eva Cassidy). But even better, rhapsody has an upgraded service that permits drag and drop “music to go” on certain mp3 players. It involves complex and controversial DRM in the software and player, but one of my players was compatible, so I tried it out and it works like a charm. After just a couple of weeks, I am hooked! Every single one of the albums and songs available in the Rhapsody library for streaming can be simply ported to the music player and I’ve got them for listening in my car, at the gym, or even with my little speaker set in the garage. This is so cool. And I can easily load singing rehearsal recordings and podcasts in the same mp3 player. (suck on that iTunes!)
I highly recommend rhapsody – a compatible mp3 player is available for as little as $21. I’ve ordered a 6GB model from ebay, and I’m junking my ipod, AND iTunes, for good. (The ipod went through the washer and dryer anyway last week).
1/15 Update: I received the 6GB Sansa e200R player, and it allows me to load hours and hours of programmed rhapsody ‘channels’ and playlists. All channels automatically update themselves when I plug the player into my computer. Its like satellite radio with TIVO because you can pause, skip, or repeat any track in the programmed mix! Very cool.