Let it Stream, Let it Stream, Let it Stream...

One example of how streaming audio has become ubiquitous is perhaps illustrated in the following brief tale of a quick stroll around my own house today as we were preparing to enjoy a relaxing holiday period.

In our kitchen, a jazz trio is performing, with the music playing through a set of compact speakers attached to an older AppleTV (also used for cooking shows, etc. while we are in the kitchen).  The AppleTV is set to Apple's Radio channel on the box and tuned to a station known as "Absolutely Mellow Jazz"  curated by jazzradio.com.  The version of this station currently playing through the radio channel on the AppleTV 3 has commercials every so often, as there was no way on that earlier version of the AppleTV to identify yourself as a paid subscriber to jazzradio.com and other subscription services.  We nonetheless subscribe to jazzradio.com so that we can enjoy their terrific content through our iPhones and iPads when we're out and about.  

Meanwhile, in our home office, where I have been doing some desk work today, the Apple Music app on the new AppleTV 4 was just playing a new recording by an 11-year-old child prodigy from Bali, whose jazz piano album has been nominated for a Grammy.  Apple Music is a recent entré into the paid music subscription service arena, joining Spotify, Pandora, Google Play and others, including Rdio, which just yesterday, permanently closed down, a possible victim of Apple moving into the space.

Huguette is spending time in the living room this afternoon sitting before a fire and listening to classical music being broadcast on the SiriusXM Symphony Hall channel via their radio app on her iPad, which in turn is connected by Bluetooth to a Bose Mini Soundlink II speaker to provide great room-filling sound from a small sound box that's about 6"x3"x3".  Pretty amazing technology.

I also remember the day, shortly after we got married in 1972, when we bought our first stereo (a solid walnut three-piece unit) at the Navy Exchange on the base of the Naval Supply Corps School in Athens, GA.  It was our pride and joy for years and fed a serious recorded music addiction, to the point where we amassed probably 800 LP's before the compact disc made its appearance in our house in the early 80's.  Then it was off to the races collecting CD's (in many cases getting optical versions of our favorite LP's.  

For a time, I experimented with converting some of my vinyl records to digital form, but "real-time conversion" hardly seemed worth the effort (or the wait).  When iTunes for the desktop came along and digital music went portable with the iPod and later the iPhone (and other smartphones), I focused my efforts on converting my CD collection to digital files on my computer, so that this music could be synced with my iPods and iPhone.  This was, for the most part, a leisurely several year project of feeding CD's into the computer's DVD drive while I was usually doing something else, in order to build what has eventually grown to become an 18,000 track library (and I still have about 10% of my CD collection still waiting in the queue to be ripped).

This investment of time to convert my digital music collection from plastic to bits began to really pay off when Apple introduced iTunes Match a few years ago.  For $25 per year, Apple would read your music catalogs on all your devices and build a master library in the cloud so that physical syncing of devices to your computer would no longer be necessary.  Even better, with iTunes Match, you no longer need to worry about downloading to your device, as it now can be streamed from the cloud.  Only if you need access to your music while you are out of range from an internet connection do you actually need to download music to your mobile device.

Of course, time doesn't stand still for any technology, so in 2015, along comes Apple Music, the paid streaming service that, for $10 per month (or $15 per month for a family plan) gives you access to pretty much any music you might ever want to listen to.  If you haven't yet tried Apple Music, you can still try it free for the first 90 days to see if it works for you.  

Perhaps it goes without saying that I'm finding that it works well for me, although there is far from unanimous enthusiasm among the industry pundits for some of the choices that Apple has made in rolling out Apple Music.  I think it all depends on what you expect to get out of it.  The interesting thing about the Apple Music option is that, if you're willing to buy into a monthly subscription, you can skip all the other steps in my own journey that were described above.

I never though I would move beyond the purchase and ownership of music to the "rental" model, but if the significantly decreased use of my existing music library in recent months is any indication, subscription services are here to stay.  At least until the next big idea comes along.  And speaking of next big ideas, Todd Gordon, a commenter to the previous blog, notes that Apple may soon be delivering a higher fidelity music product for the audiophiles among us.  As one who jumped on Sony's SuperAudio CD (a 96hz multi-channel alternative to conventional CD's) when it had its all-too-brief heyday, I'd be all over this new higher-end delivery system.  

It's time to moving on the holiday scene, so I'll end it here.

A Friend in Need...

This summer I had a leisurely pre-concert dinner with some friends that I first met nearly thirty years earlier while working at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.  Over our dinner conversation, my friend shared his continuing struggle with being able to consistently transfer music from his CD collection to his PC and then onto his iPhone - the ultimate destination of this content for listening to music in the car and on-the-go.

We talked for a while about the obstacles he was encountering and agreed to have a phone chat when he was back home and I could clear some time to talk him through the process.  After several attempts to arrange for this "consult" during the summer and fall, we finally connected last Wednesday evening to see if we could solve his problem once and for all.

Because he was using a Dell PC and I couldn't see what he was seeing on his computer, it was a bit of "the blind leading the blind" for a period of time that evening.  However, after about 90 minutes of troubleshooting, we at least were able to verify that he was able to "rip" (i.e., copy from a CD to his computer hard drive) the music tracks he wanted to used for this test and successfully play them within iTunes.  One of the challenges was that he was using Windows 10 (which I have yet to experience - I'm still on Windows 7 at work) and it turns out that Windows 10 appears to want him to consider importing music into its own resident music player.  After getting past many of the dialog boxes prompting him to use the Windows 10 app, we were able to have his iTunes for Windows app capture the music he wanted.

We closed the phone call agreeing to regroup the next day when I would be at work and sitting in front of my Windows machine in my office, so I could better guide him through the menu options of iTunes for Windows (which is designed somewhat differently than iTunes on the Mac).  The good news was that, early the next day, he called me and reported that indeed he had been able to sync his iPhone to his computer and successfully transfer the music for his mobile listening pleasure.

The frustrations encountered by my friend as described in this brief anecdote is likely happening more often than not for many people.  My intent in this "Music + Audio" blog is to discuss how to spend more time enjoying the music you love and less time fighting with the technology designed to make the music experience a more ubiquitous part of our lives.  My hope is that this section of my website will prove to be one of the more enlightening areas of my "advice column", since almost everyone is capable of experiencing the joy that music can deliver.