Your music: in the cloud or on your hard disk?

Bowl of clouds

Music streaming has become popular in the past few years. Services like Spotify and Grooveshark offer cheap and convenient access to a vast catalogue of music. They provide ways of discovering music and sharing your discoveries with your friends.

Most music lovers, however, still envisage storing at least some of their music locally. According to the Evolution of Digital Media in Britain survey, 2010, only 15% of UK based music owners saw themselves moving soley to a subscription/streaming service to access music. It appears we still love to own our music, to be able to store it at home and organise it as we please.

Emotion and logic

Is this just an emotional response, a woolly feeling of control? I don't think so. There are several good reasons to store your music locally on your home server or other computer.

The first reason is quality. Fact is, if you stream music over the Internet, the limit at which you stream is lower than if you are streaming from your own network, or your hard disk. This means, at the moment, that lossless music at a CD quality level cannot be streamed over the Internet. For the audiophiles, this is bad enough, but it also means HD quality music at a higher than CD quality is a definite no-no. Of course, if the music is being played over tinny computer speakers or low quality headphones this may not be a big deal. Owners of expensive hi-fi equipment may prefer to hear their investment exercised, however.

The next reason is control. With streaming services it is the service that dictates how you view and navigate your music. In some ways this is helpful because organising your music is difficult. However there are certain aspects of your collection you may wish to control, such as how genres are categorised or how year of release is displayed.

Hard green shell

I think some music lovers have concern over the coverage of streaming site's back catalogue. For starters, you may have built a collection of music over time that you want to be able to access. Secondly there's access to such releases as bootlegs, live recordings and other similar non-official recordings. If we want these types of recordings, it appears we need to store them on our own computers for now. Additionally there's also the fact that many mainstream artists and releases simply don't appear on some subscription sites!

Finally, and this ties in with quality to an extent, there's reliability. Picture the scene: you're hosting a party, the music's pumping, everyone's dancing and then... silence. The last thing you want to happen is to lose your Internet connection and, with it, your party's playlist! Storing the music locally will at least make that particular problem less likely to happen.

A different victim?

So it appears the music loving public is not ready to go 100% streamed, and there are good, logical reasons for this. I think this suggests we'll end up with both. Locally stored music for your back catalogue, your favourites and rarities in high lossless quality and streaming services for discovering new music and discussing it with friends.

I wonder whether streaming services are as much of a threat to radio as they are to 'owned' music collections. We could begin to see a democratisation of music curation where, instead of radio stations deciding what we listen to, it's your family and friends who make recommendations via music streaming sites.

tags: cloud streaming
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The Music Library Management blog

Dan Gravell

I'm Dan, the founder and programmer of bliss. I write bliss to solve my own problems with my digital music collection.