Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A year of trying different music services

Over the past year I've gone through and sampled a handful of paid and unpaid music streaming services. At one time I was researching these services to get an idea of what features they had and how easy it would be, as a software developer, to tie into their services programmatically. I was interested to see how accessible each one was for sharing data:  Could I take my data from one service to another, with or without restriction? What data was available? My concern here is that if I create a profile of my favorite artists, wouldn't it be a huge pain to leave that behind- and start over? If I could export this data, it would be simple to import into another service- as long as both the export and import functions exist. Besides data availability I've also made some comparisons based on the similarities between service offerings; quality of music, availability of different artists, and how robust and polished their user interfaces are.

Rather than writing a boring analysis of what I liked and didn't for each service I'll just write about where I landed. The winner for me is Google Play music. The service did not offer the data sharing that I was initially investigating, but after manually switching between several services I realized it doesn't matter. Almost all of the streaming services I had sampled were great at guessing the type of music I am interested in and making interesting recommendations for me to discover new artists. Since I don't really care about maintaining or porting individual tracks or playlists it wouldn't make much sense to make a fuss about leaving them behind, as long as I have fresh new music, good sound quality, and bug free software.

I made this switch to Google after using Spotify for several months, which really did meet all my requirements as a great quality set of products and services. The data accessibility from Spotify also the best, having a large, clearly documented API for 3rd party application integration. But ultimately what drove me to Google was that it included, at no extra charge, YouTube Red.  The primary reason I decided to pay for streaming music was for the removal of ads, and now I have two services that I use regularly, ad free, for the price of one.

There are plenty of high quality streaming services that are about $10 a month service. Each one has great software and selection for music.  Head to head, comparing Google with Spotify they are very similar in quality, except now Google throws in ad free YouTube (among other features) for free. I miss being able to program against Spotify and I never like using an unofficial API for Google, however after using Google I've realized my music porting app was moot anyway.

If you had read my previous post about Tidal you may be asking, what happened? Initially I was very happy with Tidal- sound quality, music selection, and accessibility were great. So why did I switch? Back then the switch was to Spotify. I liked how Spotify provided their recommendations, and I found a lot of new music. Using Tidal it felt that I had to work too hard to play music that I'd want to hear. I think Tidal is great for people who know the artists and tracks they wish to listen to, but for discovery I felt Spotify did a much better job. As far as the sound quality goes:  If you don't have an ear for it, or if your music equipment is not high quality, you won't know the difference (test yourself here). My music needs had also changed since using Tidal: the time I listen to music the most is now during my commuting, which due to so much outside noise I wouldn't appreciate the loss-less. At work I've started to prefer white noise over music. Since now my streaming would be mostly over cellular, a lossless service would eat a lot of bandwidth and may not always be able to stream at lossless.

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