Music Musings: MP3s, iPods and Clouds Oh My

I’m not what you’d call an early adopter. Of anything. That’s usually because I’m cheap and don’t want to spend my money on the latest, expensive gadget around. I’ve been around long enough to read about bugs in first round electronics and I’ve seen enough formats disappear (tapes, laser discs, minidiscs, VHS and HD DVD). I worry about buying the wrong thing and then getting stuck with it. So, I usually hang back in the cut. It was like that with the iPod. A lot of people had them when I was in college (2001-2005) though it took me a while to identify those now ubiquitous white cords protruding from hats and long hair actually were. They were new at the time and I didn’t really know about them or what they could do.

It wasn’t until I graduated and bought my first Apple computer that I realized the potential of iTunes and digital music. I know there’s a loss in quality when you rip a CD and compress the sound files down to an MP3, but I don’t think my ears are good enough to know the difference. Besides, the ability to have all my songs in one place in a kind of juke box was just so revelatory. I began the long process of ripping all my music which spilled out into my first real job where I spent all day at a computer and often had the disc drive whirring away as I worked. The problem, of course, was that I didn’t have any way to listen to this stuff when I wasn’t at my desk or in my room at home because I didn’t have an iPod. Sure I transferred files from work to home just to keep things complete, but it’s not really the same.

For my birthday that year (this would be early 2006 I think) my parents surprised me with a brand new, shiny 30 GB black iPod.  That seemed like almost limitless space and I was finally able to have all of my music in one place! I transferred everything from my personal computer and my work computer to it and that little device’s potential really blew me away. With more space you could theoretically put whole band catalogs or even movies and TV on these things, though why would you want to watch something on such small screen?

But, as these things go and my music collection increased (I buy a lot of used CDs at flea markets, garage sales and even comic shows, plus those Amazon $5 digital album deals) and about a year ago, I realized my iPod was full. I went through and deleted some things I didn’t really listen to anymore and most of the free compilations I got from my now-closed local record store, but it wasn’t enough. It’s not too big of a deal because I’m almost always near my computer (now a MacBook laptop), which holds the music not on my iPod. So, if I’m working at the coffee shop and want to listen to something, I can because I’ve got my computer and iPod. But, that means I don’t have access to a lot of the music I’ve purchased in the last few years to listen to if I’m out and about or in my car. I had an FM transmitter that was always kind of crappy that finally junked out recently. That’s what I get for only paying $15 for it though.

So, I’d been thinking about getting a new iPod lately, one with over twice the memory as the one I’ve got. That should hold me for another few years right? Then I started hearing about the cloud and was intrigued. If all my music could live in the internet (or more accurately be copied there) I wouldn’t need to go with the clunkier 80 GB, I could even go for something sleek and sexy (and app-friendly) like an iPod Touch or possibly an iPhone now that they’re on Verizon. My complaint with both those pieces of equipment was how little memory they had, but if I can just download an app that takes up hardly any space and have access to all my music? That’s a brand new revelation. I don’t even mind paying a yearly fee just for that. I don’t care about pictures or files or any of the other cloud stuff. For me it’s all about the tunes.

Of course, then it comes down to access. There’s no problem when using a computer obviously because most of the places I go have WIFI. I’m nowhere near an expert on smart phones or the WIFI-enabled iPod Touch (our Verizon “smart phones” are close to stupid and failing as I type), but my concern would be their ability to stay in contact with the servers so I can listen to my music in the car or while hiking or what not. I don’t really hike, but it’s a good example, let’s say more realistically that I’m in some comic shop’s dingy basement looking through books. Phones seem to have this nailed for the most part, which might actually play into our upcoming phone plan decisions (Verizon’s getting expensive and taking away a lot of the perks they used to have). But I don’t know how it would work with an iPod Touch say, in the car. Something to think about.

Regardless, I’m excited. I still like to purchase physical CDs when possible, but have moved into the digital world a little more thanks to those can’t-be-beat $5 Amazon deals. I know some people decry the digital revolution, but the truth of the matter is that physical carriers of information and entertainment (CDs, DVDs, books, comics) are most likely on their way out to join laser and mini discs in the great media graveyard in the sky (and landfills). It’s sad for some, a non-issue for others and frankly it doesn’t matter unless the next generation decides to go old school and collect dusty old books and VHS tapes for some reason. For me, as long as the quality is maintained, I don’t generally care. If I can transfer all my DVDs to some cloud and not have to keep huge binders or shelves in my house, I think I’d be cool with that. I’d probably still keep them in storage just in case, and maybe visit them for old time’s sake, but they won’t be my main source of music or movie entertainment. Books are a different story, but that’s a whole separate post.

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