Ask Henry: What should I do with my music collection?
My music collection is a bit of a mess, one part CDs, one part mp3s passed around from friends, one part iTunes songs. Switching between various laptops/mp3 players has gotten ridiculous - I lost a whole swathe of the files a while ago and now a third of the files show a ! mark and don't play. I've heard a whole lot about Spotify or Pandora solving these issues, but I'm worried about not using up too much bandwidth, and my tastes might be a little obscure for it. Should I dive in?
I've had friends move to Spotify and tell me how freeing it is, and I've had friends (and myself) find it lacking. As for a possible move to Pandora - Pandora isn't really what you are looking for, it is more an incredible radio service than a huge music library. Spotify is quite a good option if you are looking for a way to listen to your music on all your different devices, but as a tool to keep a music library, it ain't so great.
This is due to multiple issues. Foremost, it is even worse than iTunes at pure organisation. The entire user interface is slow and clunky, it hides the "library" button beneath all its social features, and it is kinda ugly. The software is just not as fast as a music player should be - iTunes isn't either - but still. Currently it only exists as a desktop program and a (paid) mobile app, so you can't even listen at work or at a friends, making the whole 'streaming' thing a little useless in many circumstances. A web version is on its way however.
Obscurity-wise, the situation is kinda complicated. The desktop app can import and play your entire iTunes library, although getting your playlists in is a bit of trouble, and you can mix this up with the streaming stuff. If you pay for premium you can upload this music and stream it anywhere, but the system for doing this is often more trouble than it is worth. If you have a whole lot of devices this makes sense, but it is probably more work than just syncing your laptop with your iPod every few days. Spotify's library is fairly impressive, so do take a look before deciding it doesn't have all the obscure stuff you want.
Of course, the biggest reason to switch to Spotify is the price. Adding new music from their catalogue is free, and the premium service only costs an album or two a month. If you are adding new (relatively well known) all the time it is great for this, but the artists aren't exactly making big bucks from it. Plus, it sucks at getting new songs in a speedy manner, so be prepared to go back to downloading (legally of course) for that new single from your favourite band.
Data usage wise, Spotify not only eats up data streaming tracks for you to listen to, it also eats it up letting other people stream off your computer. The backend of Spotify is an extensive p2p system - instead of keeping all the files on their servers and streaming from their everyone chips in to stream a bit to everyone else. This isn't a hugeeeee data drain, but do make sure Spotify is properly closed whenever you aren't using it, by right clicking it and pressing "Quit Spotify", not just pressing the [X]. You can also save on data by telling Spotify to only stream low quality songs (your local library will sound just as good), look in the preferences menu.
Spotify and other services like it (Rdio is pretty great) are on their way to replacing iTunes et. al. For me and most other people I know with large libraries, they aren't there yet, but for many more casual listeners they make a whole lot of sense. Give the free version a try, and if you don't love it, don't pay for it - just wait a few years.
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