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Why You Should Use a Music Subscription Service

There are a few legitimate reasons why music subscription services may not be for everyone, but many people are missing out on hours and hours of flexible music listening fun just because of knee-jerk reactions. This article provides some responses to those common objections.


This is a guest post by Eddie Yasi, writer of the subscription music services blog CloudMusic.

With the launch of Spotify in the US, music subscription services have received a never-before-seen level of publicity and scrutiny by the American press. In general most of the professional articles have presented a fair look at the pros and cons of such services, but in the comments sections I’m often seeing objections that have been around since these types of services were first introduced many years ago. Most of these objections don’t hold water when considered more closely.


I want to own my music, not rent it

This is by far the most common objection, and it makes the odd assumption that you’ll immediately cease all purchases just because you use some subscription service. Suppose you purchase two or three CDs a month. If you do subscribe to a subscription service, you can keep the money you spend on music at the same level by simply cutting out one CD, or downloading 10 fewer songs that month. You’ll then have the flexibility of an entire streaming library on top of the other purchases you make.

Unlike services like Pandora or LastFM, with a music service like Spotify you can listen to entire CDs in their original track order as many times as you want, and make sure that the songs you think you like will hold up to extended replays over time. I know for myself that some songs that I really like on initial plays quickly grow stale, while others do withstand repeated listens. Wait a month or two, then purchase only those tracks you are still really enjoying and skip the rest. This is what I did when I first started using a subscription service, and I was immediately saving money month-to-month. I used to average five or six CD purchases a month, but that quickly cut down to one or two. These days I probably purchase one CD’s worth of songs every couple of months, even though I’m always listening to new music.

The point here is that there’s no reason you can’t use a subscription service and still purchase those special songs or CDs that stand the test of time. The subscription model is a great way to make sure your purchases are only the real gems, and not something that quickly pales.


If I stop paying, all my music goes away

As I noted in my first point, you can still purchase your absolute favorites so those will never go away, and still be saving money when compared to always purchasing everything.

But, my main objection to this complaint is: “Why would you ever stop?” Once you start using a subscription service and you see how much flexibility it gives you, you would no more think of stopping it than you would a cell phone or other valued service.

At the cost of one movie a month or a couple cups of coffee, the cost is trivial for most people. It’s odd how many think nothing of paying $10 for a couple drinks out with friends, but suddenly treat the same $10 a month as some outrageous expense when it comes to the music they listen to all the time.

Think of it this way: one videogame is half a year of a music subscription service. Half a year! The average videogame will give you maybe 20 to 30 hours of fun (and many give a lot less). Compare that to half a year of access to tons of music! I think the cost benefit here is pretty good in comparison.

In the past when there were only a handful of music subscription services, and it seemed one was folding every other month (Yahoo Music Engine, Urge, and so on). I was worried they would all eventually collapse. But now that we have so many new music services popping up (and all surprisingly good), and what with Apple rumored once again soon to be joining the fray, that worry seems less and less likely.

In the case of Spotify, with an always-available free level of service, your favorite songs will simply become restricted in terms of how much or often you can listen to them, but will still be available.

Finally, with all of these services including those without a free level of access, it’s worth considering the flip side of the coin: even if you do stop the service, all that music instantly returns the moment you resume it. No hassle, no fuss, no worrying about where the backup CD is, it’s just back with a few keystrokes. As someone who had his hard drive crash and couldn’t find his MP3 backup CD in the past, I really appreciate this!


I can listen to Pandora/Slacker/LastFM for free

All of these are great services in their own right, but they lack a couple key capabilities: you can’t listen to one specific album, or one specific artist, and you can’t create playlists of exactly the songs you want to hear in the order you specify. They are fun in their own right as a way to discover music, but they have some serious restrictions. Most subscription services also have equivalent functionality, and some like Mog or Thumbplay rival these services in generating radio stations or playlists that pull in lots of music similar to your favorites.

The next time one of your favorite groups has a new CD out, good luck using one of these services to listen to its tracks in consecutive order!


Their music selection is too limited

Now here’s an objection that has some merit to it. Most of these services have a limited selection, but they have grown much larger in the last few years. However, the library choices vary widely from service to service, and you need to be diligent during your free trial period to see if a particular service covers your favored genres well. You’ll frequently see the 15 million figure associated with Spotify, but for the US, at this time, the actual number is slightly lower.

For example, I like electronica and ambient music, and have discovered lots of relatively obscure favorite artists over the years. In comparing the services I’ve found that Rhapsody and Napster have the best selection, Mog and Spotify are close behind, and rdio is on the trailing edge.

Certain major artists are not easily available on any streaming service (The Beatles, Led Zepplin, etc.) so if that’s all you listen to you may not find any subscription service to your liking. But, assuming you have some variety to your tastes, you may still find that the $10 per month is still worth it to bring some lesser known artists into your life.

These days, most music subscription services all have 10 million or more songs in their libraries, so selection is less of an issue than it used to be. If music selection is critical to you then taking the time to use each service’s free trial is a good idea. Prepare a list of representative groups/artists from each genre of importance to you and use the trial time (or the free usage time on Spotify) to see how well each service will meet your needs.


I don’t listen to enough music to be worth it

Here’s another absolutely legitimate reason not to use a music subscription service. If you average one CD purchase a month or less, and are happy listening to random radio style stations all the time, then these sorts of music services may not be for you: you probably could spend the $10 better elsewhere. But, maybe try it for one month? Who knows, perhaps the reason you don’t like music is because you haven’t been able to freely roam through a large selection picking and choosing exactly what to try out next! If you can get an invite to Spotify’s free service then the only investment is your time to see if you may end up listening to more music once you have a vast selection available.


I listen mostly to my favorites that I want to purchase anyway

This is a variation on the earlier “I want to own” argument, but I want to address it separately because it gets to an important point: using a music subscription service may change how you listen to music.

In the past for me it was all about amassing a list of favorite CDs and songs, and then playing them through heavy repeated rotation. Over the months my favorites would slowly change, but I tended to concentrate on those favorites most of the time.

But, as the services out there mature and gain more music discovery feature,s I find that I am constantly discovering great new music, and even growing much more adventurous in listening to other genres. I’ve found I like early music (like 11th through 14th century early) as well as certain types of international music that I never would have discovered without the flexibility of a subscription service.

The way I approach music has changed: it’s less about repeated listening to a handful of favorites, and much more about exploration and discovery. I usually don’t listen to even the most beloved CDs or songs nearly as long as I used to because I stumble on something else equally compelling within a couple months. And, those I truly love I still purchase in order to show support for the artists that have brought me so much enjoyment.


I don’t want to have to be online to listen to my music

All the major services have offline listening now. This is not an issue unless you anticipate being off the internet for weeks at a time.


With torrents I don’t have to buy anything

If you truly feel comfortable taking what is not offered (i.e. stealing), then there’s not much I can say. If you don’t think it’s stealing (“I wouldn’t have bought it anyways”) then you’re overlooking the simple fact that you’re getting some amount of enjoyment out of someone else’s work that they do not provide for free, and are just fooling yourself.


Summing it up

It’s easy to cloud the issue (pardon the pun) by getting into the ideas of ownership vs. renting. Keeping it to the bottom line may help clarify: simply put, is a music subscription service worth $10 a month to you? Will you get your money’s worth? Whether you continue to buy music or not, whatever the holes may be in your favorite music library, do you feel the $10 is well spent?

All services offer a free trial, so give it a shot and see how it goes. If one stands out, try it for one month and see what happens. If you don’t like it then you’re only $10 worse off than you were before, and if you do like it you’ve just unlocked thousands of hours of future music listening pleasure, and it’ll be some of the best money you’ve ever spent.


About Eddie Yasi 

Eddie Yasi is an MIT-educated Application Architect based in Massachusetts. His blog CloudMusic is all about multi-platform subscription music services and is a great resource for anyone interested in music technology. Find him on Twitter @cloudmusicblog.