Music in the Clouds


A few weeks ago I finally began listening to music through a “cloud” service. I had been complaining to a friend about how weary I was of loading up my smart phone or my mp3 player with about a hundred purchased song files from my computer every few days – which is  how soon I grow sick of listening to a relatively small song play-list. I had even begun to believe that perhaps I was just bored with listening to music. How wrong I was. My friend highly recommended trying a cloud music service and putting all of my digital tracks into cloud  storage.

Here is the beauty of cloud storage – it's all about seemingly endless personal digital storage space. The concept behind these oft mentioned clouds is actually simple. Your music files (or another kind of file) are saved or “matched” on a Web server and played from it (in most cases).  Hence, like rain falling from a cloud that’s above you...well, you get music, lots of your music.

Why not just use Spotify to listen to streaming music (I can almost hear you ask)? Well, I'm a particular kind of music listener. Unlike some of my friends I've never taken to listening to “ discovery” music services – those that automatically play new songs for a user based on algorithms and accumulated user data. What I really wanted was to have my own enormous music library safe and accessible wherever I go, so long as I can access the Web.

What follows is an exploration of the major cloud music players and their finer points.

Google Music

Google music is a free cloud based online music service (part of larger, diversified cloud service called Google Play). A user can upload up to approximately 20,000 song tracks to their account. Songs can be purchased as it also functions as a store. You play your music by logging into the Google Music website or opening the Google Music app.  Songs you upload - regardless of file type - will play at the quality of a good sized (high bit rate) mp3. Google matches the songs you upload with an mp3 version of the song they own (if available – or if no match is found your song will still be uploaded and made accessible as is).  Songs with explicit lyrics may be replaced with sanitized versions of those songs or even vice versa. You can make play-lists. Songs can be searched for by index (song name, album name, artist, etc). Songs can be deleted. Each song can be downloaded to your computer or other device a maximum of two times. Songs can be shared with friends on Goolge Plus; however, if you did not buy the song from within Google Music you can only share a sample of the song, not the entire song.

Itunes Match

Apple used to offer a service called “iTunes Plus” which allowed iTunes users to replace their Apple DRM (proprietary protected) songs with DRM-free versions of those same songs, for 30 cents per song. Now that ability is only available by downloading songs that have been uploaded to iTunes Match, which is the music based side of Apple's cloud storage service, iCloud. iTunes Match costs $24.99 per year. This service is dedicated to Apple computers and devices exclusively – and relatively new versions of them (you'll need the latest version of iTunes as well). Songs that you purchased from the iTunes store are automatically uploaded into iTunes Match, and you can add songs not bought from iTunes as well. Up until recently iTunes Match was not available streaming on any Apple platform (and remains so on all but one, iOS 6). Tracks are actually downloaded (can be stored on up to 10 devices at a time). Some of the features in iTunes Match mirror those in Google Music – matched songs play at essentially generic mp3 (actually m4a) file size quality (at a reasonably high bit rate) regardless of uploaded file type. Approximately 25,000 songs can be uploaded. However, songs cannot be shared between multiple iTunes Match accounts – however, since an iTunes Match account can be used on 10 different devices, it is conceivable you can share your songs through sharing those devices.

ZumoDrive

ZumoDrive is a cloud storage service that costs a variable rate per month dependent on storage space used (although ZumoDrive is available to use free up to a fairly low storage space). It can be employed on most major operating systems, although the version of your operating system might exclude you (I had issues running it on my up to date version of a particular operating system). ZumoDrive is unique in that it employs a “hybrid cloud storage” system, whereby a certain amount of your files are automatically stored locally on your computer (in addition to the cloud), and these can be accessed if you are without an Internet connection. And the local files can also be used on all of your supported computers and smart devices. Sharing of files (of any type) with friends is available - by email. ZumoDrive works with iTunes (so you can use iTunes to play your entire uploaded song collection).

Dropbox

Dropbox is another cloud storage services which now offers streaming cloud music – via its DropTunes application. Like ZumoDrive, Dropbox is priced per storage gigabyte space and free up to a certain limit. DropTunes is the free program in which you can play your Dropbox song files (most audio formats can be uploaded). There are no play-lists used in DropTunes. You select songs to play by folder within your DropBox account, and you can share music folders with friends who also have DropBox accounts. DropTunes is not universally supported on operating systems, ,so you may have to rely on accessing it through a Web browser within your computer or device.

Amazon Cloud Player

Amazon Cloud Player is the music application for Amazon Cloud Drive storage. The Amazon Cloud player can be accessed from any computer with an Internet connection through a Web browser – or any device with an Android operating system and a connection to the Internet. Any mp3's purchased in your Amazon account are available to play in the Amazon Cloud Player (which looks like a virtual jukebox). Simply log into your Amazon account in order to access the Cloud Player. Up to a small limit, storing songs in the Amazon Cloud Drive is free, and then varies according to the amount of gigabytes added. What audio formats can be uploaded is limited. Songs can be downloaded. Playlists can be made.

In closing, there are quite a few cloud music players to choose from, and what may surprise some new users is how much they do in fact differ. Having explored these options I would recommend someone else do the same – do not invest too much in any one service as you begin searching for what's best for you. You do not want to feel locked into any one cloud storage provider, reluctant to try another, for whatever reason. Think about the operating systems and devices you like and use, and how well they're supported by the  various services. Also think about how much music you have and what your storage needs will be!

- Jay O.

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