A music library trilemma

For a while I've been building some notes to write about trilemmas in music libraries. A trilemma is a situation where you can choose two options from three, but never all three. Like many people I first learned of trilemmas in the classic project management choice: fast, good, cheap... pick two!

It's quite an interesting thought experiment to think up trilemmas in any one domain. Originally I was considering a trilemma for music file formats, but this proved difficult. I then started thinking more broadly about music library management, and how choices of storing music locally, or using a streaming service, mark us as implicitly choosing two options.

Streamed music collections are generally marked as low maintenance; where the storage, organisation and management (e.g. delivering availability of the collection) is largely outsourced. As a result, the music library is a service rather than a product, and the service is paid on an ongoing basis rather than a capital expense.

Self stored music collections are seen as more work; here the security of the library must be considered (e.g. taking backups) for example, and the ongoing management of the library. This takes effort both to align new music, and adapt to changing requirements (e.g. those forced by adopting new music players). However, the financial cost is paid at the point of acquisition (of course there are also ongoing costs to purchase and renew storage).

So when considering this, I derived the following trilemma:

Music library trilemma

To choose convenience and comprehensive is, I think, the streaming choice. Streaming services offer a larger library than any one private collector could amass, and they manage the entire library for you. And, given this is the obvious choice for the overwhelming majority of people, it's easy to see why streaming has become mainstream. You sacrifice control, however.

Choosing control and comprehensive sounds like a large self stored music library. Because the library is large, it requires more management. Or, at least, that's the traditional viewpoint... Ideally, automated tools like bliss can make your library more convenient.

If you were to pick control and convenience, this sounds like a small locally stored library. It might be possible to add comprehensive without sacrificing convenience, but only if you select the right tools. It is this choice that bliss is really aimed at.

It comes down to what you want in a collection, and the constraints you are willing to allow. Choosing to use a streaming service can force you into a vertically integrated ecosystem which means only certain devices can be used, but for the main services this is hardly an issue; everyone seems to have a Spotify integration, after all.

To an extent the "values" for these options are subjective. A streaming service is only convenient if you are connected to the Internet for example. Most services allow offline collection, but then you sacrifice comprehensive.

The control factor probably only appeals to a minority, but given a global market, this minority is still sizeable, and so it continues to be served by NAS manufacturers, software makers (ahem) and more.

Have I missed any obvious options, or are there any other areas in music library management that present trilemmas?

Thanks to N. for the image above.
tags: thoughts
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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.