Fifteen years ago, if you wanted music for your computer, it was a pretty simple affair. You went out, and you bought a CD from a shop — or perhaps via mail order if you were a serious distance from the nearest CD store.
CDs are all but dead in the market today; while it’s still possible to find music stores, they’re a dying breed, and the range they offer pales in comparison to the offerings that can be found online. Apple’s iTunes still dominates the local scene in terms of outright sales, and while we’re stuck paying slightly higher rates for individual tracks than, say, American consumers –an unfortunate legacy of the kinds of deals that Apple struck with the major name labels, although Apple clearly isn’t suffering for charging a little extra anyway.
But you’re not limited to iTunes, especially if you’re not fussed about music ownership anyway. No, I’m not advocating music piracy — far from it. Recent months have seen a number of online music subscription services emerge in the local market, offering access to potentially millions of tracks for a single set fee. You don’t keep the tracks you’re listening to, but then you’re not charged by volume; instead simply a monthly fee for access, rather like PayTV. Sony has a service labelled as Qriocity, Microsoft has Zune Music Pass and Blackberry has the not terribly inventively named Blackberry Music locally; it’s expected that online service provider Rdio will launch in Australia sometime in the new year.
It might seem counterintuitive to pay for music on your computer (or smartphone, or tablet — most of these services will work across multiple devices, because you’re typically signing into a service rather than downloading a file) that you don’t get to keep, but the subscription model has some definite upsides. There’s the obvious appeal of having access to millions of tracks; while there may be thousands you don’t care for, that kind of wide spread virtually assures you of being able to find something you’ll like. Many of them will offer initial short trial periods, so you can ensure that you’re happy with what’s on offer. Access to lots of music is also a great way to widen your musical horizon, and most services will suggest similar artists to those you’re already listening to. That can have social aspects as well; the recently launched Blackberry Music does limit the number of tracks you can access on your smartphone, but cleverly allows you to “share” your collection with other Blackberry Music listeners. If you’ve got lots of friends, in other words, your collection could be massive — and you’ll also get an insight into their tastes along the way.