Happy New Year! Fingers crossed, 2017 will be slightly less momentous than 2016, whether your measure of panic is political upheaval or celebrities ceasing to be. Some people even think 2016 was a real horror movie.
News just in, though, is that 2016 saw a resurgence in sales of vinyl LPs; in the UK, over 3.2m LPs were sold, up 53% from the previous year and the highest for 25 years.
Why? A few major releases from the likes of Bowie & Prince, but even new music is being released on vinyl at a rate unheard of a few years back. Amazingly, a high proportion of the LPs sold never get played – they’re objects to collect and to admire, while listening to the music in digital format. Maybe even bought by people who don’t own a record player.
Still, the burgeoning trade in big plastic discs is only 5% of the market and makes up the 41% of overall sales attributed to physical media including CDs. It seems streaming is the way most people consume music now, and the eventual outright demise of the digital download is being predicted in its favour.
But which of the many paid-for streaming services to use?
Well, Microsoft fanpeeps will turn to Groove for the Music Pass offering, which is slick, cross-platform and reasonably priced, has great integration with OneDrive for roaming your own media around, hugely improved Xbox and Windows apps, integrates well with Sonos (if that’s important to you) etc. But still, it gets little attention from the media, it seems.
Amazon Music Unlimited
Recently launched, but will tap into the huge subscriber base already addicted to free next day deliveries and some fat old men on Prime (as it can be had for a discount if you’re a Prime user already), and no doubt enjoy stickiness through the ease of integration with must-have techno-toy, the Amazon Echo (there’s even a £3.99/mo subscription that works with just one Echo device).
If you’ve an Echo or Echo Dot device, ask Alexa if she’ll open the pod bay doors. And many other stupid things.
There’s an app for some mobile platforms (not Windows Phone, obvs) and a fairly decent Windows desktop app, too. Integration with Echo/Alexa is great, and there’s a promise of being able to use your Echo to control playback of Sonos devices, later in the year. This opens the somewhat tantalising prospect for existing Sonos users, of having a relatively cheap Echo Dot providing basic Alexa type services while controlling the music on the better-sounding Sonos.
The Amazon Music desktop app plays back local music and stuff that’s streamed, even offering the ability to upload your own tracks to the cloud service so you can consume them when mobile, though you need to pay extra if it’s more than 250 tracks.
King of the hill as far as streaming goes, Spotify offers a free ad-supported but otherwise limited service. It says that 40m of its 100m users pay for Premium, which offers a richer feature set - it also supports Amazon Echo and Sonos playback (which is generally more pleasant than using Sonos’ awful desktop controller app).
There’s little more to say about Spotify other than it’s the service synonymous for most people with the act of streaming music, just like YouTube is for video or Skype is for video chat (unless you’re an Apple user, of course)…
One potentially infuriating thing about Spotify, though, is that its desktop app won’t play back local files encoded in anything other than mp3 / mp4 / m4p – so if you have a huge library of existing media all neatly encoded and tagged in FLAC, then too bad.
See comparison with the Amazon Music, here…
All the others
Meh. Some people like them, there are plenty of up & coming streaming services that think this is the year they’ll break through, but Tidal, Deezer, iHeartRadio, Pandora; whatever. YouTube is still the most popular music streaming service, for copyright-dodging tightwads who don’t want to pay for content and are stuck in 2002.
One of the hardest things to do is to switch from one service to the other – what if you want to try out the new service but don’t want to rebuild all the playlists you may have made already? Try Soundiiz, a free web-based playlist sync & export tool, which supports a lot of the popular services including Spotify and Groove, but unfortunately not Amazon, Google or Apple’s offerings. Still worth a look, though it’s been in beta for a long time…