Because I deal with online music services as part of my job, I have used most of them: MusicNet, MusicNow, Napster, iTunes, Rhapsody, eMusic and MusicMatch.
MusicMatch, MusicNet and Rhapsody are all mostly-subscription services – you don’t own the music but you can listen to a million different songs anytime you want as often as you want as long as you are at a PC. Add some wireless transmission and you can play them on your stereo at home.
This is the route I have personally gone. Owning the files is nice for my iPod but with the amount of time I spend at a computer every month, paying $10 a month is not a bad deal to listen to as much music as I do.
And after trying them all, I like Rhapsody the most. They haven’t updated their player in a loooong time but it is the friendliest and the way they help you discover other bands is excellent. Every band is classified into at least 3 categories so you can discover other genres. They also list influences, contemporaries, related projects and followers of a band. That right there is worth the price of admission. Discovering new music (or old music that’s new to me) is very important to me.
I do like what Napster has come up with as far as allowing your subscription music to be downloaded to an MP3 player as long as you keep your subscription. I would love to be able to take advantage of that except that I have an iPod – and Apple doesn’t play well with others and never has.
I just hope that this puts some pressure on them to offer something similar. Steve Jobs has said that people don’t want to rent music but I totally disagree. There’s very little reason to own the music files and what reasons there still are will continue to go away as convergence rolls on. Looking into the future, just like OnDemand on digital cable, your cell phone will converge with your PDA, your MP3 player and your laptop while your TV will merge with your game console, your computer and your telephone (not that it stops there) and you can just dial up whatever it is you need (music, movies, tv shows) as you need it, when you need it.
Just 2 short years ago, I had to trade large files via snail mail on 3 CDs to get a master copy of a Grateful Dead show. Then it was bit torrent a year ago and you could have that show in a few hours, rip to MP3 for the pc, to CD for the car and then another set of SHNs to CDD for the archive (5 cds right there). And now, you can dial up almost any show from the Live Music Archive at archive.org in any version you need for free (of guilt, time and money). No reason to archive it since your archive is provided for you online, just bring your broadband. And now my iPod has an FM transmitter, no reason for audio CDs and since it only plays mp3s, just download MP3s. I’m not a audiophile snob anymore, it doesn’t get you much, and though I loved bragging about having over 600 hours of Dead on CD (a lot to some, not much to others), that claim was made mute by the online archive. Now anyone can sit there all day and amass the same collection I have in no time (and sadly, no effort and no interaction with other deadheads… but that’s a different internet tale).
That’s the future happening and it’s about services and convergence. That *need* to own everything we touch will become less and less necessary. But there’s evil in the hearts of men and they are selfish and possessive and will not give up their "things" freely. And so for now, we get competition in the market place, this is what drives the stock market and why it will go up and down and the tech industry will continue to remain volatile for a years to come. Yay for competition!
Ever paid attention to Star Trek? Their need to possessions is nil, computers generate their food and their completely immersive entertainment is on-demand – nothing to possess (and no religion too, can you imagine?). Kicking and screaming we might one day reach that level of enlightenment and then storm the galaxies.
So go ahead, rent your music, it’s just vibrations in the air after all. But be warned I guess, if you only like 1 genre of music, say hardcore, there’s not a lot of it on the services (no Victory or Discord yet), so you might not like renting or even buying music online (but those labels will cave eventually too). But if you are like me and have Kate Bush, Jimmy Buffett and the Dismemberment Plan in the same playlist and are looking for stuff you’ve yet to hear of, it’s for you.