Going Digital: Music

This is part of a mini-series of posts about 'Going Digital'. If you missed it you might want to read the introduction.

My History of Digital Music

Here's a little potted history of digital music in my life.

Let me let you in to a little secret: I thought Mini-Discs were great! But the rest of the world wasn't so keen and they died out with the advent of MP3s. Having been bitten by that, I was shy of MP3 players and so have generally been slow on the uptake of digital music.

Digital music software didn't help. The best software in terms of organising files was iTunes, but it was (and still is) big and slow and clunky. That hindered the process.

Plus, our car has always had a CD player, so we've always had CDs, and there is, I suppose, a general nostalgia for physical media and a fear of files disappearing that has contributed to us clinging to music on disc.

Eventually I found myself with an iPhone, which was great for music. But as numbers of apps and photos grew it became impossible to store anything like a decent selection of music.

Conveniently, this was around the time that cloud music services started to become available. It was time to Go Digital! Or was it?

To go fully digital I’d need a cloud music service to store my music with and to be able to access it from my computer and mobile devices, and I’d need to be buying music downloads instead of CDs.

Cloud Music Services

Cloud music services either give you access to a vast range of music stored at the music service, usually for a subscription, or they let you upload and store all of the music that you own in 'the cloud'. Some services avoid the need to upload ALL of your music by matching it to music that's already stored at the music service.

I researched a few cloud music services. I don't listen to music enough to make a subscription to something like Spotify worthwhile, so it was an upload/matching service that I needed.

At the time I signed up there were only two services available in the UK: iTunes Match and Amazon Cloud Player. Google Play Music has since become available in the UK.

Costs and tracks

These services limit you to a certain number of tracks. For Amazon this is 250 for the free service and 250,000 for the paid service. iTunes only has a paid service and it gives you 25,000 songs. Google's service is free and allows 20,000 songs.

iTunes Match and Amazon's upgraded storage for cloud player are both £21.99 per year.

So Google's service is the best value for money. But does it do what I need?

Functions and Features

The services are all pretty similar in what they do, they:

  • store music in 'the cloud'
  • let you stream it (play it without downloading, which requires a connection) * let you download it to your device
  • act as a backup of your digital music files

It should be noted that I'm really not too bothered about sound quality. If you are then there are other factors that might affect your choice.


Actually, from what I can tell, the only exception to the list above is iTunes Match which doesn't let you stream your music: you have to download it and play. But you can play a track while its downloading.

iTunes Match also only works with Apple devices and though iTunes, whereas the other services can be played on multiple platforms through web apps, or phone/tablet apps.

Google suffers from not having their own app for Apple devices. Third party apps exist but seem to vary in quality. Plus the web app really doesn't play well with iOS: I found that playing music in the background while doing other things was unreliable.

Choosing a service

So while Google seemed best value, it really didn't work well for a person with Apple devices. At the time I evaluated them I think Amazon's service didn't do track matching, so you had to upload your entire collection, which would have taken a LOOOOONG time. So I ended up opting for iTunes Match for a year.

In reality, I don't think any of these services is ideal. Google's service is amazing given that its free. And I think that, if I was paying again I'd opt for Amazon's service rather than Apple's – especially now that Amazon's service has caught up a bit.

So for the time being I have iTunes Match, but I’m hoping that there will be a decent iOS app for Google Music by the time my renewal comes up.

So did you 'Go Digital'?

You know what, I didn't yet! My music is in the cloud, and it's really good. But I'm still buying CDs. I'm yet to start buying downloaded music in any great volume.

But I'm not really sure why any more. Is there a good reason to buy a CD? Other than, perhaps, to put in the car? CDs take up space, are actually less safe and reliable and, if you don't care about quality, there doesn't seem much reason not to be digital only. So I expect I'll be buying downloads more in the near future.

Do you still buy CDs or Vinyl? What are your reasons? What stops you going digital?