A service that money can’t buy

Damn you Google and your excellent free products! I really, really wanted to pay somebody to store a back-up of our music collection online and make it available on a web-based player. The convenience and reassurance offered by such a service was/is something worth paying for. But in the end it’s Google Music that has solved the problem for us – and they’re not asking for any cash.

It was perhaps five or six years ago, soon after we gave up on buying CDs altogether, that we first started using MP3tunes.com, paying around $50 a year for a “locker” big enough to take our collection. The platform allowed you to upload your entire collection to the cloud and then access it from any browser. Their original idea had been to save you the hassle of actually uploading the music by just scanning your library and matching it against tracks they already had on the servers. But the record companies didn’t like this concept and forced them into keeping seperate copies of each track. (It took the best part of a week for our whole collection to synch up to their servers.) It was still a good service though, and it allowed Nadine and I to each listen to music at our respective workplaces as well as when away on holiday, at a party, etc.

mp3tunes

The now defunct MP3tunes.com player.

MP3tunes was good while it lasted, but in the end continued legal challenges from the record companies pushed them out of business in 2012. This brought us back to square one: a 50GB library of music looking for a home in the cloud. As we moved into 2013 I did quite a bit of research on the various options and saw that Google had launched what looked like a promising service, although only in the US initially. But I thought Google already had a big enough slice of my online life, so I kept looking.

Enter AudioBox

About six months ago I came upon AudioBox from a company called iCoreTech. It looked promising: “Synchronize, stream, manage and enjoy your content, on every supported device, anytime and anywhere.” For $5 per month we could have a 50GB drive to which we could upload our collection, accessing it via a web-based player. The player itself looked quite good, although I subsequently found it a bit lacking in features – not much flexibility on how you navigate through your collection and choose music (with similar problems on their Android app). But it wasn’t Google and it was worth a try.

Unfortunately AudioBox couldn’t deliver on its promise. We paid the montly subscription for six months but never actually managed to get our library uploaded. It couldn’t get beyond about 1,000 of our 13,000 or so tracks and, although they did try to get to the root of the problem, the tech support guys couldn’t find a solution. In frustration one evening in January I looked again to see what alternatives were out there, saw Google Music popping up again, signed in with my existing Google account and, hey presto, problem solved. By the next morning our entire library was available online, with a swish-looking interface and lots of different ways of choosing what to listen to (plus a superb Android app to match).

PlayMusicApp

Google’s lovely music app for Android.

Inevitably Google

It seems Google were able to get permission to do what MP3tunes could not: to scan and match your collection. This meant we only had to actually upload a small handful of tracks that they didn’t already have on their servers. The service will allow us to download the entire collection any time we need to, so it serves as a good back-up. And as long as we’re uploading only MP3s without digital rights management (such as those we buy from 7digital.com), it remains entirely our music with no restrictions from Google on what we can do with it.

One small drawback is that you can only actually play music off one device at a time. This means that Nadine and I can’t listen simultaneously at work. This should be a reasonable use, as we legally own the music together as part of the same household. Their T&Cs don’t allow for this, but hopefully in time sense will prevail on that front.

I feel a bit sorry for the likes of AudioBox. They can’t really compete with the Google juggernaut. But it’s hard to argue when it just works, without any hassle. Where will it all end?

(There’s another discusssion to be had about whether it makes sense to have one’s own music collection at all any more, in the days of unlimited streaming from vast libraries like Spotify and Google Music’s (paid-for) All Access option… but that’s for another day.)