Listening to Music in the Cloud

Cloud Music Icon

We’ve written before about listening to music online, but what if you want to listen to your own music online?  Enter music in the cloud.

Basically, all “in the cloud” means is instead of storing your music on your own computer, you upload it to a server somewhere else in the world.

The benefits of having your music stored on a remote server are:

  • Portability: Left your iPod at home?  The biggest benefit of storing your music with a cloud service is that you can access your music anywhere you can find an Internet connection.
  • Cheap: Most services offer 5GB of space for free, it’s the extra space (if you need it) that they start charging for.
  • Reliability: Many of the services are run by big companies that have the resources to dependably store your music so that it is always available when you want it.

The possible drawbacks to storing your music in the cloud are:

  • Offline Availability: The most obvious con to cloud music is what happens when you can’t access the cloud? The answer is nothing.  If you don’t have access to the Internet, you don’t have access to your tunes.
  • Poor Buffering: Playing your music straight from the cloud has the drawback of working about as well as your internet connection does, therefore you may have to be patient and say some serenity prayers as you wait for your songs load and buffer.
  • Licensing Woes: Some of these services have reached agreements with the big four record labels, and some of them haven’t. The ones that haven’t claim that you are listening to your own music that you have already paid for, saying there should be no licensing issues whatsoever.  We’ll have to wait and see what happens when all of that legal dust settles.
  • Changes: These services are all relatively new and therefore will most likely be changing and updating (this could be great, but it could also be terrible).  Additionally, the above licensing woes may lead to law suits and other actions that will force some of the companies to alter their services, leading to changes in availability and pricing.

Below is a summary of three cloud music services offered by three large players: Amazon’s Cloud Player, Google’s Music Beta, and Apple’s iCloud.

Amazon Cloud Player

The Amazon Cloud Player was the first virtual server music streaming service to go live (back in March).  Its biggest advantage is that it is ready to go right now, while Google’s service is in beta testing and Apple’s will be rolling out around September.

Here are some of the details:

Space

  • 5GB free space (about 1000 songs), but tracks bought on Amazon don’t count towards that limit
  • Right now, if you have any of the paid Amazon cloud plans, none of your music (mp3 files) will count towards the storage limit

Uploading

  • Can take a lot of time (depending on the size of your collection), but it’s very simple to do
  • Pro
    • You can easily re-download your music from the cloud to any device
  • Con
    • There’s no automatic syncing feature, you’re 100% in charge of maintaining your music collections

Offline Availability

  • Only way to access your music when you are offline is to download it to your device
  • Once downloaded, the tracks will be available in the “On-Device Music” tab

Licensing Woes

  • Amazon did not strike any deals with record labels (claiming that the services are covered under U.S. Fair Usage laws)
  • Could have possible future repercussions

Additional Features

  • Amazon Cloud Drive stores more than music (photos, documents, videos, etc)

Introductory Video

For more details on the Amazon Cloud Player, check out this introductory video.

Music Beta by Google

Google launched their version of cloud-based music streaming back in May.  Music Beta access is currently limited to people with invites while Google gets feedback to incorporate into the final product.  Currently, the interface is simple and very similar to Grooveshark’s, but it’s not linked up to any music stores like Amazon’s Cloud Player and iCloud are.  Below are some facts about Music Beta; although it’s important to remember that the final product might have some tweaks (hopefully for the better).

Here are some details on Music Beta:

Space

  • 20,000 songs for free (at least for the moment — worried speculations have been spurred by somewhat ominous notices from Google saying “Music Beta is Available free for a limited time”)

Uploading

  • All uploading is done by a Music Manager app that has received a lot of hate from reviewers
  • Pro
    • Automatic syncing leaves the music managing to the Music Manager
  • Cons
    • You can only upload songs using the Music Manager, which means you’re limited to adding tracks to Music Beta solely from your computer
    • Upload time is pretty slow and you can only upload whole folders – not specific tracks
    • Re-downloading your songs is not an available option (which makes leaving the service unpalatable and might be a problem since it may not be free on the other side of beta testing)

Offline Availability

  • You can “pin” whole albums or artists to your device, but they’ll take a little bit of time to download
  • Automatically stores copies of recently played songs so you’ll be able to access those even without an Internet connection (although if you’re conserving space on your phone, you can uncheck “Cache music” to turn this option off)

Licensing Woes

  • Did not sign any deals with record labels (although because you’re not allowed to re-download songs from Music Beta, they might fare better than Amazon in a lawsuit)

Additional Features

  • Rate your own music with a thumbs up or a thumbs down
  • Create your own playlists
  • Click “Instant Mix” to automatically generate a playlist based the song currently playing (although this playlist-building app pales in comparison to Apple’s Genuis Mixes)

Introductory Video

To watch a short video outlining the merits of Music Beta by Google, check out this intro video.

Apple’s iCloud

Recently opened to beta testing in early August (exclusively to developers), Apple’s iCloud is still somewhat of a mystery.  It would seem that unlike Amazon’s Cloud Player and Google’s Music Beta, iCloud doesn’t stream music.  This means that you won’t be able to access and play your music with any old web browser; for that you’ll need your computer with your iTunes account or your iPod/iPad/iPhone.  And it’s iCloud’s job is to keep all of those devices synced.

Here are some details on iCloud:

Space

  • 5GB free space (about 1000 songs)
  • Tracks bought on iTunes are uploaded for free, unlimited, and don’t count toward your 5GB

iTunes Match

For $25-a-year, this new service will scan your music and match all of your tracks that weren’t bought on iTunes to tracks that are stored in their massive iCloud servers.  This way you will have access to the titles that you own, but you won’t have to spend the time to upload each and every one of them.  As of right now there’s a limit of 25,000 songs.

Uploading

  • Takes merely minutes with iTunes Match (only songs you have to manually upload are the ones that it can’t match)
  • Once you’re done uploading, iCloud will sync your music on up to 10 iOS devices

Offline Availability

It is unclear whether your iTunes matches will be available when you are not connected to the Internet.  The current consensus seems to be that they won’t be available unless you have Internet access; however, your tracks purchased from iTunes will definitely be available, along with anything that you’ve actually downloaded from the cloud onto whatever device you’re using.

Licensing Woes

  • Apple has signed agreements with all four of the big record labels (Warner Music Group, Universal Music Group, EMI Music, and Sony Music Entertainment)

Additional Features

  • Stores and syncs more than just your music (i.e. documents, calendar events, photos, etc.)
  • iTunes Match will playback your matched songs with upgraded quality (256-Kbps)
    • Can also update your library by downloading this superior quality track to replace your lower quality songs

Introductory Video

If you want more information on iCloud, take a look at Steve Jobs announcing iCloud at the Worldwide Developer’s Conference in June 2011.  The iCloud portion starts around 78:55.

Extras

To see a lot of the information in this post presented in chart-form, check out the bottom of this article: Apple iCloud vs. Amazon Cloud Player vs. Google Music Beta. (Note: the fourth row from the bottom “Number of devices you can download a song to” would more accurately be titled “Number of devices you can stream a song to” in regards to Music Beta by Google).

Conclusions

Cloud music has a lot to offer in the way of convenience, ease and simplicity.  Amazon’s Cloud Player, Google’s Beta Music, and Apple’s iCloud will all cater to different needs.  Hopefully now you have the information to choose the right service to suit your needs.

Which of these services do you think is most promising?  Which are you planning to use?

Image courtesy of 365PSD