How the Sharpton Six Listen to Music
Since roughly 2003, I've been building an iTunes library. From ripped CDs, friends collections, occasional purchases and the less than reputable ways you acquire these sorts of files, I've gotten a really sizable and varied collection. Just under 25,000 songs at last count.
But how do you listen to those these days? With six family members, multiple devices and very little downtime, any possible solution for my family needs to provide the following things:
1. Ubiquitous. - When we're throwing dance parties at home, we use the Apple TV in the living room. When Remy and I are exploring musical history, we use the iMac. When we're out and about, we're on iPads or iPhones. We need created and curated playlists to be in all of those places and to update frequently and transparently.
2. Obvious. - My wife is very tech savvy and even our twins can make their way around iOS pretty well (for two year olds), but no one but me is interested or intrigued by the vagaries of technology, or the intricacies or UI design. Any app or service we use to listen to music has to be simple enough for the kids and Kelly approved as well.
3. Price Conscious. - Between traditional subscriptions that families have dealt with for decades (utilities and cable packages) and the new "necessaries" like Netflix, and occupational requirements like Buffer and Dropbox Pro, my recurring subscriptions are already pretty high. I'm not particularly interested in adding anymore to that list. I don't paying something for this problem to be solved, but I'm not excited about it.
Between Kelly and me, we've tried pretty much every service available for music: Pandora, Spotify, iTunes Match and Apple Music, even the old faithful YouTube streaming (though not their paid YouTube Red service).
While Kelly really liked Spotify, I've never loved their mobile apps, and I really don't like the ads, or care to pay the monthly subscription to remove them. Apple Music was nice enough during my 3 month trial, but it's confusing cross-breeding with my established library was a con, not a pro. I did maintain my iTunes Match subscription though. This is a lesser known (and older) music subscription from Apple that let's you take your iTunes library and "match" it against the iTunes Store itself. Then get access to those matched songs from anywhere in the cloud just like you had purchased the song though Apple directly. That service is $25/year and means that I don't have to plug anyone's iPad or iPhone into my computer again. Well worth it.
Pandora was delightful when it launched, the novelty of having new interesting music brought to you all the time was amazing. But, these days, if I'm going to let the music find ME, I'd rather do it with an interesting terrestrial radio station, whether traditionally or digitally. Kelly likes to dip into her decades old Pandora stations from time to time, but as a primary music solution, this one is done.
I seriously thought about a YouTube Red subscription, even though I'm not exactly in love with the terms for the creators. The idea of my children never being presented with an ad through all their ridiculous YouTube views alone would make this is a compelling case, add to it the audio only music streaming options and the basically guaranteed continued growth of this service's features, this is one I'll definitely watch with interest. But for now, we're passing on Red.
The surprising answer to our wish to listen to music from anywhere anytime ended up being right under our noses (and already paid for). Amazon Music has been included in your Amazon Prime subscription for several years and even began with an Amazon version of the iTunes Match idea. You can match songs against their Prime library, and then upload any non-matched songs to be available in the same way as the others. It's really quite something.
On top of that function, you've got featured music suggestions based on your own library (think Genius features in iTunes), "radio" channels based on an artist or genre (and curated by your own Thumbs up and Thumbs down), and really interesting offline music features that make extra songs and playlists available on your device automatically so you've got something interesting and unexpected available to listen to in the subway or just on your commute without using your cellular data.
All those features work on the web, on your iPhone/iPad/Fire tablet or Android device. And chances are, if you do any Amazon shopping, you're already paying for this service right now.
As a serious Apple user, who's loved iTunes for years and uses their devices exclusively (but was willing to move on to a better service in Google Photos), I cannot recommend Amazon Music enough. Check it out.