Where’s The Music?

Music Records
Music has been one of my favorite things for as long as I can remember (see music category here in patrickWeb for stories).  Where is my music? Some of it is recorded on circular pieces of vinyl stored in boxes in my attic.  The music used to rotate at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute on a record player. The next generation for me included plastic compact audio cassettes that contained an hour of music. I might have a few of those still laying around in a drawer here or there. Then came the music compact disc (CD), which could store 700 million bytes of digital data. Beginning in 1982, CDs became available for recorded music and by 2007, there had been 200 billion CDs sold worldwide. I have a few hundred or so somewhere in the attic. One summer, I can’t remember how many years ago, I painstakingly converted all my CD music purchases into the MP3 format and stored them on my ThinkPad.  Each track of music became an MP3 file, and at one point, I had approximately 10,000 such files, most of them classical music. As I moved from computer to computer, my MP3 files moved too. I kept all the songs backed up on compressed CDs and later on DVDs. I played the MP3 music on many different “media players” over the years. Each had innovative features but none were great.  Then in 2001, Apple introduced an amazing piece of software called iTunes.    
The iTunes app is 250 megabytes in size.  It wasn’t long ago that a program of that size would not fit on the largest PC available. Now it is just one of many apps, but a monster.  Of all the apps on my MacBook Pro, the average size is less than one megabyte.  iTunes is the gearbox that coordinates all the activities between Apple’s devices and computers and iCloud.  The things iTunes can do with music are impressive. You can create smart playlists such as one that contains all tracks by Mozart, Haydn, or Beethoven that are less than 3 minutes long and for which you have given a rating of three stars or better. As your ratings and library of music change, the playlist automatically changes. The only problem is that iTunes has to run on a computer that you own and manage. You have to be responsible for the maintenance of the computer and backing up the music. It is easy to see Apple’s plan to get everything into iCloud and eliminate the need for a desktop, but they are not quite there. The beauty of cloud computing became quite apparent when I upgraded to the MacBook Pro Retina.  Moving everything over from the prior MacBook Pro was not as simple as I expected. Some better planning on my part could have helped, but it is still not a trivial process, even with Apple’s migration tool. To make a long story short, when I moved iTunes, somehow I lost all my meta data. The music is intact — all 3,805 tracks. The metadata, including all the ratings and playlists, is somewhere in one of the folders in the bowels of iTunes, and if I had the hours to study it, I am sure I could figure it out and get it restored.
Meanwhile, Amazon had sent me an invitation to put all my music in the Amazon Cloud Player where for $24.95 per year they would be the custodian of my music and playlists. I decided to take the plunge; to not have all my eggs in the Apple basket. When Apple turns the crank another turn on iCloud, I may move the music there. The point is, I have moved all my current and future music to the cloud. I can play it on my Mac, iPhone, iPad, or on the Sonos Connect, which is my main music source at the lake house and in Florida. I no longer have to think about backing up my Mozart tracks that I had converted from CDs years ago. I am liberated from the desktop I was chained to. It is very clear that this is the future and I like it a lot. So does Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and others. They all want to be music custodian and stream us whatever we want whenever we want it and on whatever device we happen to be using at the moment. Which one will win? Very hard to say. Apple has the best integration, and I suspect I will end up 100% Apple at some point.  Amazon is not to be underestimated. They are a serious player with a huge list of loyal consumers. Google has many strengths, but seems to be struggling when it comes to making consumer-friendly media plays (see Daily Report: A Stumble for Google With Media Player – NYTimes.com). Microsoft is way behind on devices, and their consumer cloud is in last place, but I would not rule them out as a serious contender. The competition is fierce. If we only had that kind of competition among the telecommunications operators, we could be like France, which now offers consumers 100 megabits per second for $70 per month. Très Bien.