More notes on Music

When we last checked in, we had come to the conclusion that the two “winners,” Spotify and Amazon, were the two services I kept subscriptions to. Both offered excellent coverage, deep catalogs (more on this later), and quality apps for computers and my iPhone (presumably for Android too).

I will admit that I have been listening more to Spotify. Their “Daily Mix,” personalized for my tastes, are outstanding. 6 playlists, that are fresh, and quite appropriate to my preferences. Spot on. Continue reading →

Music in the New Year

I know that I post often about my musical travails, as I wove my path between the various services, Spotify, Apple, Google, Pandora, and Amazon, so this is another installment.

The last episode found me back in Spotify, cancelling my Apple Music service. Partly this was due to my desire to back away from the Apple ecosystem, but also because Spotify is vastly superior to iTunes in streaming on my train commute.

I have been using it pretty consistently for 2 months, and without a doubt, the Spotify streaming is the champion. The only service that comes close to its performance is the Amazon service. (Google is just lousy at streaming. Every time I have evaluated it, it has been glitchy, even on wired, high bandwidth connections.) Continue reading →

Linux Observations – 2017

A follow-on to my last post. Having last fiddled with linux (on the desktop, not as a hosting solution) was a VM running under vmware workstation probably 7 years ago. Back then it was just a fancy, enough to get my feet wet.

Last weekend, I resurrected an old PC (the one that I ran VMWare Workstation on, surprisingly), and the Windows 7 installation was borked. As good a time as any, I grabbed a Linux iso (Ubuntu) burned a DVD (alas, this machine is old enough that booting from USB is not supported) and I was off to the races.

Amazingly, one of my gripes in the past was the lack of out of the box support for a lot of hardware. This system installation it found and properly setup all my hardware. Even the cheap wifi card in this system (it is a small PCI board with two antennae and supporting only 2.4GHz radio). Continue reading →

The new king of Streaming – Spotify

Throughout 2015 and into 2016, I was evaluating the streaming music services, Spotify, Google Play, Amazon, and Apple. The result of that initial evaluation was that the then new Apple Music plan was the winner. The combination of all my music collection in their cloud, plus the access to their enormous library, and arguably at the time, the best streaming over wifi at home and on cellular data. I ended up keeping Apple, and ditching Spotify, when

Fast forward to today, late 2017. I dropped my Spotify account in early 2016 due to a stretch of unemployment, and grooved on Apple. But lately, I am souring on the Apple ecosystem. Not enough to ditch my Mac and my iPhone, but having experienced iTunes on windows (that is truly a trying experience) I knew I needed an alternative for general use. Continue reading →

Streaming Video Notes

I do not watch much “regular” television. I have my Tivo set to record MotoGP, I have some of my favorite old TV shows set to record on MeTV (currently “Perry Mason” and “Get Smart”), and I simply can’t live without “Full Frontal”. Other than that, I watch Netflix, and am in general satisfied with that.

Netflix

Continue reading →

Amazon Music – A review

I have in the past blogged extensively around the streaming music services, and my waffling back and forth until I chose my current preferences – Apple Music for the on demand streaming, and Pandora for ‘radio’. Both have a place in my dock, and I don’t mind paying for them.

Along the way, I compared Google Play, Amazon, Spotify (a former winner) as well as the two I settled on.

Amazon’s music offering was not chosen because it had a less than satisfactory web app, and the iOS app was weak. A benefit was access to much free music just due to my Prime subscription, but again, that list and roster kept changing (and it still does). This was before their plan to give access to their whole library “Unlimited Music” (for $7.99 a month – prime subscriber price, or $14.99 for all members of a family). A latecomer, they are entering a crowded market, but have made a solid entry. (Launched on October 12, 2016) Continue reading →

A “new” streaming contender – Pandora

Early on when I began to listen to streaming music, I got a Pandora account. Probably 2011 or 2012. At first, it was the only solution, and I listened, but I found that the depth of their catalog “felt” weak. Radio stations would repeat songs often, and it just fell off the radar.

Spotify, and then the Google / Apple offerings came along, and I was satisfied. So I seriously hadn’t even fired up Pandora in a long time. Like in two iPhone refreshes (that is 4 years).

But, a few days ago, I was cleaning up my iPhone’s apps, and I saw that the Pandora app had just refreshed. I figured “what the f*ck” and fired it up. Continue reading →

Music Streaming Services Revisited

In the last installment, I had raved wildly about Apple’s then new ‘Music’ service. Same price as Spotify, filled some holes that Spotify had in their library, and since they have my entire collection in their cloud, they have the inside track on offering suggestions that I will enjoy.

Add to that the fact that Spotify’s curated playlists had been somewhat stale and I was sold. Even before the first month of the three month Apple Music trial, I was ready to cut the Spotify cord.

However, I didn’t, and today I am increasingly glad I didn’t.

Apple Music is still a great service, and more than a credible competitor. The selection is large, and their “For You” recommendations rock. A constantly updated set of playlists that are eerily on target to my listening habits (and no recommendations for things that are completely out of my taste – like hip-hop or country). Continue reading →

Spotify – It’s Over

Apple Music has won my latest battle for my ears. As is often the case, Apple isn’t first to market (or even second), but when they do get to market, they have the best service, most polished interface, and it “just works“. After only 3 weeks of my 3 month trial, it is time to dump Spotify.

Dear Spotify,

I know this may be hard to take, but it is time to move on from your service. It isn’t you, it’s me. Wait, who am I kidding, it is you and the shortcomings you have. I can’t blame you, as I am sure that some of it is due to your agreements with the rights’ holders. But regardless, it is time to say “goodbye“.

I remember when Spotify came to the US, and I eagerly got in the early access list. The thought of access to a huge library of music, with the ability to sample as much as I wanted whenever I wanted. At the time, the only other option were the Internet Radio stations, and while I liked Pandora, I found that it took endless grooming of their stations to match my tastes.

With your service, I could create as many playlists with just the music I wanted. No limit on how often I could listen to the same songs. It was like having my library wherever I went.

I jumped at the chance to pay for the service, never once questioning the $10 a month. The Spotify app for my iPhone was a great way to take my tunes with me.

There were some second guesses along the way. Google’s Play music service when they launched the “All Access” subscription was briefly a contender. They had good coverage of genre’s in my taste in their library. Plus they had the benefit of having my entire music library uploaded. But alas, their streaming performance, uh, what is the term? Yes, “it sucked donkey balls“. Skips, pauses, and general shitty-ness. Even when they released a Chrome extension to better integrate it, it sucked.

So I returned to Spotify after flirting with the $2 a month cheaper Google All Access service.

I was satisfied, but there were still some issues. Your curated playlists for classic rock, and hard rock were stale. Worse yet, had some odd selections (note: in no universe does the Foo Fighters qualify as “Classic Rock”) Listening for hours each day, you quickly hear your “radio” stations repeat tracks. Yeah, I get that they are just a play list with some randomness tossed in, but I buy my music and listen to my library to not have the top 40 bullshit crammed down my throat.

The final nail in the coffin was the launch of Apple’s new streaming service. I am about 3 weeks into my 3 months free trial, but I already know that it will be the one that I keep. There are lots of reasons, but off the top of my head I have noticed:

  • The curated playlists are great. It is like they can read my mind, when I am trying to put together a mix CD. Doesn’t matter the genre, Heavy Metal, Classic Rock, Guitar Heros, Jazz, Blues, they nail it.
  • The “For You” Suggested listenings. Like when I was a Pandora user, if you painstakingly groom your stations, their algorithms pick some awesome tunes. The “For You” selections are a few suggested playlists rolled out and refreshed daily. Each day, there are some great things to listen to, playlists that are 70 – 90 minutes long. Last Wednesday, it offered up Deep Tracks of Yes. 90 minutes of outstanding music.
  • I have access to my entire library. Minor point, (or maybe it is major) but my entire collection of music is in the Apple cloud, so if I feel like digging up an ancient Yngwie Malmsteen track from his first album, it is there. So even where Spotify had holes (like for the longest time with AC/DC, or still with Paul Gilbert) I can just call it up.
  • User experience. A lot of people bag on iTunes. Hell, on Windows, I will concede that it blows chunks. However, the last two major revisions Apple has done a lot to improve the usability, and reduce the clutter. As a product manager, I know that iterative releases, and the tendency to glom shit into the main application is hard to battle, so clearly iTunes had become a multi-headed hydra. But it is getting a lot better.

While I could afford to keep two streaming services going, I am not going to lie, I haven’t fired up Spotify in over 2 weeks. It has already lost the battle.

From the outside looking in, I am not even sure that I could offer advice as to how to improve the service to beat Apple’s Music. I suspect that you will have a valid market position for the people who loathe Apple and all things it releases. But will that be enough to keep you close enough to profitable? Time will tell, but my bet is that Spotify will try mightily, but fail to grow to be consistently profitable.

Music Services: Google Play (and All Access)

Part two in the online music services reviews. Today, it is Google Play and its All Access “Subscription” service.

In 2011 when Google announced Play and their music service, my hopes were high. I was an early adopter (from when you needed an invite to join Gmail), and I assumed Google would rock this. You could store your music in their services, and play it anywhere. Up to a whopping 20,000 tracks.

It seemed awesome. So I downloaded the sync application for both my personal Mac, as well as my PC. In about a week, all of my library was on the Google service.

Of course, there were wrinkles. If I synced something from both iTunes, and from my PC, one was in .m4a, and one was .mp3. One would think Google would know this and not duplicate the album/track.

You would think wrong.

You would think that they would have some facility to view duplicates, and allow you to clean them up.

Again, you would think wrong. So to clean your collection you have to manually delete the albums.

Early on, the quality of their streaming was sketchy. There were glitches aplenty. Hitches, drop outs, and freezes, all plagued playback. Google relied on their HTML5 wizardry, and their back end cloud infrastructures. Regardless of their technical prowess, there were plenty of glitches, and other things that detracted from listening enjoyment.

In 2013, Google launched the “All Play” streaming on demand service to counter Spotify. I tried it (and even paid to subscribe for a few months). Like the rest of the Google music experience, it was clumsy, and plagued with glitches. In my initial attempt to ditch Spotify, I gave it a good run, but Spotify’s application and streaming quality slaughtered Google.

In 2015, Google upped the number of tunes you can store on their site to 50,000, but alas, I have moved on.

As an avowed Apple disciple, you might be tempted to passing this off on fanboyism. However, I did buy a Nexus 7 tablet, to give Android in its purest state a try. Google Music on that device was just as clunky to use.

There is an app for the Chrome browser that helps navigate, but it still doesn’t match the performance of Spotify.

(“Google Play Music icon” by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Google_Play_Music_icon.png#/media/File:Google_Play_Music_icon.png)