I originally considered styling this essay along the lines of a rant against reliance on digital subscriptions and the impermanence of “buying” digital goods. I’ve decided against it because I find the points I’d wish to raise on that front have already been well covered by other people and will be familiar enough to those even vaguely aware of the debates over ownership that occur online. Instead, I’d like to show a bit of my particular (and particularly weird) use cases for physical/local ownership of digital goods, why I chose to go this way, and the limitations of streaming and non-ownership models for me.
The folks who read this blog who know me personally are decently aware I have an odd taste in music. I’m not at all up to date on even the popular music of a few years ago and it takes a persistent effort to keep me aware of the comings and goings of any artists. Likewise, a bulk of my music listening comes in a passive form, ie: I put non-vocal music on in the background while I work or concentrate on other tasks. This is why ambient music (including many movie and video game soundtracks) have made their way into my music library. I’ve been off and on consistently keeping my local music library since roughly 2014-ish, when I realized I couldn’t easily plug my iPod into a computer and open the music files without iTunes installed (a problem I’ve since found a solution for) and when I wanted to keep track of various MP3s I was downloading from all over the internet from places like OCRemix and Newgrounds. That humble little MP3 folder has now grown into my Music folder on a locally mounted archive drive and is currently around ~65GB. The small size is due to the fact that a lot of the music I’ve ripped from my CDs or downloaded from places like Bandcamp where you are given format options, I’ve chosen Ogg Vorbis to save storage space and only recently fully embraced FLAC files but have not gotten fully around to re-ripping all my music to FLAC yet. Speaking of CDs, my CD collection is only about 30 albums, with a particular preference to grab CDs of music I can’t find anywhere digitally or where the CD is really cheap for no apparent reason. The music library is currently synced to my Plex server which I can access from most devices I own, making it extremely convenient except when my home internet becomes spotty.
I have tried, and sometimes enjoyed, streaming experiences for music. I started using Spotify in the fall of 2015 as I got into college and used it for many years. Many of the music I enjoy today was recommended by the Spotify algorithm (which is how I got into a number of Australian punk bands. Go check out Frenzal Rhomb). But, as is the common experience for college in America, money was tight and even with the student discount I could not continue to afford to pay for Premium. The service as free still largely works the same but with the added inclusion of 1 minute long ad breaks every couple songs (including skips) and a limit on how often you can skip songs. Given the popularity of Spotify as a platform and that I’d wager a large chunk of their userbase are nonpaying users, I’d say this arrangement works for most people in their music use cases. However, I mentioned above I like to use music to occupy my mind while I work. This seems to be a common trend for folks diagnosed with ADHD, that if they give their brain something small to be stimulated with, they can more easily focus on tasks that require persistent attention over long periods of time. The inherent nature of advertisements is to grab attention as sure as possible in order to insert the good/service you are marketing into the brain while the attention holds. A bit antithetical to my use case. One might ask “why not use local files for that and continue to use Spotify or a similar service for your other music needs?” To which, I tried. But its hard to justify using 2 different systems to meet the same basic need when fully converting to one or the other would be easier to use. Since money was still a large factor, I elected to commit to local files.
The first thing I noticed as I switched back to attempting to organize and sync my local files and find audio software that would work across Windows and Android (I ended up settling with Foobar for a long time but since Plex has a decent and low resource webapp, I’ve since went fully Plex). Its also quite difficult to justify the extra time needed for maintenance, whether reorganizing the files and folders to make sure my audio software can properly index them or recovering the library from drive failure (used to keep it solely on my phone and on a 1 TB Seagate Passport external. The external died and my phone for a couple days pretended like it didn’t want to transfer the files to my new drive). The convienence of having none of that mess to worry about is certainly one of the biggest boons for digital streaming platforms. During that drive failure, I returned a bit to Spotify for casual listening but stuck to my local files when I needed to pay attention. Many of my friends still used Spotify and it was impossible for them to share music with me or vice versa without me keeping on using the platform. However, once the drive failure days were over and the local situation was more secure from disaster, I switched back over.
I switched back to local again because I was finding a large amount of music I wanted to listen to just wasn’t available. I attempted to look on Amazon’s music service (Apple Music had not been launched at this point) to no avail either. As I said earlier, I have an odd taste in music. I say this not to make myself seem cool or unique but rather as a fact I’ve had to adjust to. If I want to continue to listen to the music I like, I have to maintain the platform for my usage. The music I like just isn’t popular enough to maintain licensing with streaming platforms or goes through legal hell with the copyright holders (its a mix of both for most music really). So I would once again have to split my usage, especially as Apple Music came onboard and they joined the fight with Spotify and Amazon over licensing to the music that the majority of people would want to listen to (and that I can sometimes be included in. I’m not that odd). I opened Spotify for the first time in a while last year and found that one of the first albums I had favorited on there was not available anymore but luckily I had purchased a digital copy of the album and had those MP3s on my Plex server so I can still listen without Spotify (its weird obscure Australian punk so likely the rights expired and no one cared to renew it).
I guess the end reason is its still more convenient.