For those of us Apple faithful who jumped right on the bandwagon of Apple Music when it was let out into the world, the three-month trial ends today. Much as I’m a pretty strong Apple nerd, I will not be resubscribing. Thought I’d write a little of the journey to this point.
I’ve had this weird relationship with music as I’ve aged. I think I long ago stopped being cool and up on what’s new in the world of music. As Douglas Coupland once said, (to paraphrase) you sort of reach a certain age, sometime in your late 20s or early 30s when you kind of just have your box of vinyl and that it–you don’t stray too far. I’ve found that to be very true. After I left University and I wasn’t steeped in all the latest and greatest being blared from all the University hangouts, I went back to what I knew best. I went back to all the beloved 70s and 80s tunes that I grew up with, and that ushered me into my adulthood. I really don’t stray too far from there. And even though it hurts me when Suz points out that many of my favourite “Yacht Rock” songs sound like opening music for sitcoms, I’m not going to justify or apologize anymore–it’s where my heart lies.
What has changed, more through duress than anything else, are the ways in which I consume music. I started at an age where it was perfectly normal to have a collection of 45s that you’d take out and play, and a healthy addiction to Top 40 radio. I grew up on Casey Kasem and the American Top 40 charts. I sat in front of our family’s 21″ CRT TV and watched Marilyn McCoo sing cover tunes on Solid Gold, and I taped everything I could so I could hear it again when I wanted to. It didn’t matter a whit that the quality was crap.
I guess it all changed when CDs finally came around in the mid to late 80s. They were something wholly different. Even before I got to the music part of the experience, I loved the look of them. That shimmery, rainbow-glinted silver disc. I couldn’t believe, looking at it, there was actual music on there. I remember pining for a CD player for a good long while before I somehow scraped up the cash to buy the absolute bottom-level one I could afford. I spent literally all of my money on it–I couldn’t even afford to buy a CD to play in it when I got it home. My dad took pity on me and fronted me for one CD. I didn’t even think about it–I ran right out and bought Dark Side of the Moon. I just had to hear my favourite band’s most awesome record in all that crystal clarity. Gone was the hiss, gone was the horrible dolby noise reduction that made everything on my tapes sound like it was being played on the other side of a pillow. Gone was the crackle-pop-skip of the vinyl (which I would later come to love for what it was). From that time, for the next number of months, any time I had the money, I’d buy a CD. I thought they were the cat’s ass.
The next change came when people actually were able to record to CD. That was something–I recall following my friend Jake to his office where his boss had the only CD burner we knew of, and he let us try it. It took hours, but I did get a disc of music out of it. Amazing. We listened to the CD we created on Jake’s car CD player (another rarity at the time) on the way home. It felt like the future was here.
Finally came MP3, which didn’t do a thing for me until the rise of Napster, at which point I and everyone else I knew turned into a kid in a candy store. It was the first time music was ubiquitous. I could get whatever I wanted. I heard songs then I hadn’t heard in forever. And it’s been that way ever since.
The only change really is that the physical media slowly went away. My extensive CD collection sits boxed up in the basement, having been ripped to iTunes years ago. All new music (what little I buy) I still get on CD, but I rip it almost immediately and stock the disc. I can enjoy it on my iPhone that way anytime, anywhere. I also sometimes just buy the album directly from Apple and there’s no physical media at all. This totally removed the ritual aspects of listening to music for me, but I think that’s another post sometime.
That was a hard hurdle to overcome for me. For a while there, I was arguing that we as consumers were paying for a sub-par product. The lossy MP3s sold on the iTunes Music Store only contain a third of the data on the CD. It couldn’t possibly sound as good. But then, I realized first of all that the humble record store was becoming extinct, and I couldn’t get the CDs anymore if I wanted to (unless I went to Amazon, which is my current go-to), and second that the music I grew up listening to–the very same that has the strongest emotional hooks into me with the most powerful nostalgia connections–sounded like crap when I first heard it. When I was a kid, it was about the song, not about how good it sounded. It was icing on the cake if it sounded awesome, but it never stopped me from getting my music any way I could. I was never snobbish enough to say, “yeah, I’m not going to tape it–it’ll sound like ass behind all that hiss”. I took what I could get, and I was far richer for it. I’ve been seriously rethinking my audiophile snobbery of late. The equipment I have sounds every last bit as good to me playing a 320 kbps MP3 as it ever did playing a CD. The argument has always been that the equipment clearly isn’t good enough then. But honestly, the more I think of it, the more I think that even if that is true, it’s not going to make me feel any happier or better to get that miniscule improvement that I wouldn’t ever even know I was missing.
So I guess you could say that I’ve been becoming much more happy with having my tunes with me in the quality I can get, which let’s face it, is probably plenty good enough–certainly far better than what I had when I was a teen. To that end, I’ve been thinking more about streaming music. The only thing I still don’t like is that I don’t own the music anymore. If I stop paying, the music is gone. Somehow, this is still a hurdle for me, although I can’t see why. I own most of what I like to listen to, and the rest is supplementary, and a good way to shuffle play what I enjoy. It’s taking time, but that hurdle seems to be going too.
It’s Apple’s fault. Streaming music isn’t anything new, but it took Apple to give me a taste to bring it into my mind on any kind of serious level. As with most things, it took longer for the services to get to Canada–Spotify and Pandora still reign in the States, and their Canadian offerings are only now getting good. I don’t even want to wade into the hell comprised of the reasons why Canada can’t get good streaming media. Apple seemed to have it mostly together though, so I tried it. I liked it, but the focus on Beats doesn’t do it for me (because I’m apparently an old fart and not the demographic anymore) and the way the service works its convoluted little self around my local library of music, my music stored in the ‘cloud’ and the streamed music was just too damned confusing to me. Finally, they didn’t really have everything. As I said, my little demographic has been left behind more than others by Apple. They absolutely want the 13-25 crowd. I’m thinking that’s where most of the energy goes. I decided it wasn’t for me.
But I did like the streaming. I mean imagine it–a library that is literally millions of songs large. Pull up almost anything you want to listen to from the newest to the oldest and enjoy. And all from something the size of an iPhone? Yes, please. The same setup that required tens of square feet of my space in components and media gets reduced to an iPhone. That’s kind of nuts. So, I thought I’d look around to see what is available for us here in Canada. I think the best bet, and the way I went ultimately, is Rdio. They have as good a selection as any (and in some cases better–no one else could give me Sheriff’s “When I’m With You”, although their omission of anything by Ben Folds is a tragedy–but I’m willing to bet that’s more Ben’s fault than theirs). And their UI is really pretty, and I like the way they implemented making playlists.
Actually, the playlist thing is one of the funnest parts so far–I have been remaking the mixed tapes I created along the way as playlists in Rdio. It’s working about 95% of the time–not everything is there.
That’s really the only place it falls over. Some of my musical loves aren’t going to be in any streaming service. Canadian one hit wonders are particularly susceptible to being missed, to say nothing of the just plain weird stuff I found and loved during my stint on RGD. But, that’s what I have iTunes for–I mean, the local library and the songs that I keep in their ‘cloud’ as matches.
Overall, I’m happy with the way it looks right now. I have come to a place where I can’t really imagine wanting more. And the cost per month is about what I paid for a CD. If I could afford more than one of those a month back in the 80s, then I can afford it now. Pretty decent deal when you think about it, in fact.
So yeah, stream on!