Is the music collection headed for the dustbin of history?

When I first started making money (delivering the San Jose Mercury News), I put together a hifi system (old components, amplifier, and turntable) and started buying music.  I was addicted to the extension of my collection, which ran to hundreds of LPs, including some rarities, and bootlegs. I remember the thrill when I first got a car and was able to drive to Santa Cruz, not to visit the beach, but to visit the huge used record stores on Pacific Grove.

Then the Compact Disc revolution started (1983, I bought a very expensive for me, Technics CD player).

Fast forward 27 or so years. I no longer have the LP’s (they were sold during a move, sadly), but I still have hundreds of CD’s. Of course, I have jumped on the digital bandwagon, and have bought a few thousand tunes from the ITMS and Google Play store.  My collection runs to some 18K tracks, spanning many genres, as well as some rarities.

But that is at risk of becoming obsolete. I have found that a 150G music collection is formidable to keep sync’d across all my devices and computers. It is just too big.

Fortunately, the Google Play and iTunes Match means I can stream it to my devices as will. But even with that convenience, I find that I am using itunes or google play less and less.

This is because of my subscription to Spotify. Their streaming is so good that I don’t miss my tracks. And the selection of music is wide.  I have discovered some great bands that I would never have taken a risk on buying a track (Panzerballet is one).

Of course, there are some downsides.  Some artists are absent (AC/DC, Paul Gilbert, and Led Zeppelin come to mind), so I will need my catalogs of these songs. As the licensing deals are reached, I expect those gaps to lessen, and while they won’t disappear, it will become much less annoying.

I welcome the change. Managing and preserving a 18K track, 150GB music collection takes a lot of work. But for everyday listening, Spotify rocks. I do worry about the economics. While getting the major labels less pivotal to the music distribution game, I fear that the remuneration for artists will remain low (An excellent piece in the NY Times in January highlighted this), and thus make them less likely to open their catalogs.

I still buy tracks from the various stores, and occasionally a CD when the tracks aren’t available (Paul Gilbert’s band “Racer X” comes to mind), but Spotify has disrupted the music market for the better.

Music Streaming – conclusion

TL;DR version: Spotify wins

To round out the saga, I needed to make a decision on whether to keep Google  All-Access or Spotify for my online streaming pleasure. If you recall, I signed up for a trial of the Google all access, and was comparing it to Spotify.  While I am an Apple fan, I am not sure their entry this fall into an ad sponsored offering is going to be worth my time. (Perhaps if it was free with my iTunes match subscription …) Primarily, it is because I need to use it on my windows machines as well as my Mac, my iPhone and my Android tablet. iTunes sucks donkey balls on the PC, so unless Apple does something amazing, I am discounting it without trying it.

Early on, Google All Access was plagued by the glitches that I experienced with my tunes in their database. Skips, pauses, and long halts in playing. Spotify pulled into the lead, because their dedicated application was really solid, and whatever magic they do buffering, it has almost no issues (except when my crappy work network connection flakes out).  But about 2 weeks ago, Google got their streaming act together, and it became solid. Almost as reliable as Spotify.

However, I am going to stick to my Spotify premium account, and turn off the all access.  While it is $2 cheaper, and it is better integrated with my Android tablet, the Spotify apps make the difference. A quality user experience across platforms, coupled with great streaming, and a good catalog. Spotify FTW.

Aside: One thing that I never did much of was use the radio option of spotify. I compared the radio option of Google All Access versus spotify, and I like the selections of the Spotify radio stations a wee bit better than on All Access.  Both services have holes in their catalog (due to licensing issues, I would believe), but points in All Access’s favor is that since I have all the Led Zeppelin and Paul Gilbert tracks (legally) they get in to the mix. But that isn’t enough to save its bacon.

Winner: Spotify

Feeling like an underachiever

Sometimes you stumble across someone who has accomplished so much in life that it makes you ponder your own life path. This happens frequently with me, but a few days ago, I bought the latest Paul Gilbert album, Vibrato (kick ass guitar work), and on it is a song that sounded familiar. Blue Rondo a’la Turk.  This sounded vaguely like some Keith Emerson pieces so I went searching (Paul Gilbert had done a live cover of the ELP staple “Karn Evil 9”). 

Instead, as any true jazz afficionado will attest, that it is from the Dave Brubek Quartet’s seminal album “Take Five”. Fortunately, spotify has a lot of Dave Brubeck music.  But since I know nothing about Dave Brubeck, I hit wikipedia. Damn, what a long, and storied career. Here is his entry

Feeling mighty small indeed. Still grooving to the Dave Brubeck quartet.

The first Supergroup – Emerson, Lake and Palmer

This weekend, I completed my collection of ELP albums.  I started listening to them in the 70, and had worn out so many copies of Brain Salad Surgery (with the H. R. Geiger art on the cover), that I was glad to finally be able to buy it as a CD.

Ah, great times, great tunes, and in awe of Keith Emerson’s keyboard prowess.  From the piano pieces, to the wailings of the Moog.  Just awesome.

Great drive in music today – Steve Vai set

About 2 minutes into my drive to the office today, a great set of tunes popped up on the ol’ iPod plugged into my stereo.

From the forgettable movie, “Crossroads” (the Ralph Macchio one, not the britney spears one), there is a scene where Macchio’s character cuts heads with Jack Butler (played by Steve Vai), a guitar player who sold his soul to the devil.

The scene has for parts, “Fried Chicken”, “Butler’s Bag”, “Headcutting Duel” and the victorious response, “Eugene’s Bag of Tricks”.  Fantastic guitar work, and the piece de resistance, is the Eugene’s Bag of Tricks.  It is really one of Pagannini’s Caprices arranged for the guitar.  (In the soundtrack, all these parts are played by Vai, naturally).

What a great way to make it into the office.