The Quest for the Perfect Music-at-Work Solution

Many people have to share an office with several people or don’t even have real walls at work. I have a nice little office that I share with just one officemate. She makes up for her love of Top 40 country by spending much of her time in the field and the greenhouse. So most of the time I get to play with data to whatever soundtrack I’d like. Sort of.

You see, it’s surprisingly hard to find a way to listen to music at work that I’m satisfied with.

I relied on Pandora for a long time, but it’s gotten worse instead of better at figuring out what songs I’ll like. I love Emily Wells, for example, but Pandora never played anything on my Emily Wells station that I liked (except for the occasional song actually by Emily Wells). The ads are also really obnoxious. I’ll just be getting into the zone or be on the edge of solving a problem when a very loud ad for Chinese food will jar my focus. I eventually got so frustrated that I broke down and got a Pandora One subscription. But by the time it came up for renewal, I was fed up with how much effort it took to maintain ‘good’ stations and moved on. Plus, I was peeved that Pandora made ads so loud and intrusive that the service was essentially unusable for me unless I forked over $36 a year.

Last.fm is great because its radio pulls directly from songs you’ve scrobbled – so it’s only playing songs in your music library. This solves the Pandora problem of playing lots of crap I’m not interested in. But you can’t choose what artist or even what genre to listen to. When I’m writing, I don’t want to listen to anything with lyrics (at least in English). When I’m programming, I don’t want to listen to anything with a strong rhythm. Since my library has music from Max Richter to Goldfrapp to The Black Keys to Tupac, Last.fm radio isn’t a good option when I’m trying to work.

Grooveshark sounded like a good option at first. You can pick whatever you want to listen to! But I like to have a wide range of options and inputing them one by one into Grooveshark is a serious pain. It also don’t have a lot of the music I want to listen to and the search doesn’t work well enough to easily find what I’m looking for. I find the interface a little confusing, too. I was very excited about the ‘upload music’ feature – I thought I could solve all my problems by just tossing all my music online. But Grooveshark froze every time I clicked on my music folder no matter what OS or browser I tried it from –  my library was too big for Grooveshark to even look at, let alone import.

I want to be able to access my own music from everywhere with bonus points if I can scrobble it. The new cloud services are an answer to my prayers. (More proof of FSM‘s supremacy.)

Apple iCloud is problematic for me since the two computers I now use the most run Ubuntu and XP. I could probably get around the iTunes only issue, but the real dealbreaker for me is that iCloud is only for music you buy on iTunes. That eliminates about 95% of my music collection.Utterly useless. CORRECTION (Thanks Justin!) iCloud can be used for music not purchased on iTunes for a very reasonable price $25/year. Unfortunately, that music is played on other devices through downloading, not streaming, another dealbreaker for me. I can’t have my personal music collection taking up space at work. On the other hand, if I had multiple personal devices I wanted to sync my music across, this would be great.

I tried the Amazon Cloud service, but the 5 GB space limitation is killer; I have 15 times that right now, and I just did a major purge of my music collection. I don’t mind paying for extra space, but Amazon’s storage is way overpriced. I’m not paying $1 per GB per year when I can buy 2 terabytes for $90 (a one time investment of 5 cents per GB). It’s too bad, because I like how Linux friendly Amazon is.

Even though it’s still in beta, Google Music is definitely my favorite cloud service so far. The Google Music Manager (for uploading your music to the cloud) doesn’t work natively on Linux yet, but it’s pretty easy to get working in Ubuntu with (the most recent version of) Wine. I can upload all of my music to it for free, and I’m betting that when it does start charging, it’ll be cheaper than Amazon.  It can scrobble my music no matter where I play it from, which is important to me, but maybe not for you. Google Music also has a prettier interface than Amazon’s Cloud Player – it’s easier and more pleasant for me to browse.

A few more things I like about Google Music: It can handle more formats than the other cloud services. My music is a hodgepodge of flac, mp3, aac, and wma. For iCloud or Amazon I’d have to convert some of those formats before I uploaded them, but not in Google Music. Plus, with the Google Music Manager I can adjust the upload speed so I’m not killing my internet connection when my roommate’s trying to work from home.

Now if only they’d add a Flattr button for each artist to their interface, it’d be perfect! Oh, and it doesn’t ‘sync’ with my library – if I delete something on my computer, Google Music doesn’t notice and delete it from the cloud. I imagine that’s a feature they’ll add later.

While it’s still got some problems, Google Music is definitely better than the alternatives for my needs. We’ll see if I still feel that way when they reveal how much the service will  cost!

Google Music has quickly become my at work music solution, but it’s not the only thing I rely on. For something new, I really like NPR’s First Listen, and when I’m terrifically stressed, I love WCPE, which I listened to through all of my high school and college all nighters.

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Comments

  1. Justin Blank says:

    You’d be surprised about the costs of cloud based storage and bandwidth. Amazon S3 charges $.14/month/gb, and something like $.10/gb of transfer. Nearlyfreespeech.net, where I host some small stuff, charges substantially more (but might let you host a small website for a few cents a month).

    My point isn’t that you should suck it up with Amazon. You should get what strikes the best balance of price and features for you. But Amazon isn’t doing something crazy with its pricing, it’s just putting the cost upfront, whereas others are making it more indirect or making their money in some way other than charging you.

    P.S. I could be wrong, but I thought I read that iCloud would let you upload music you hadn’t bought from iTunes, but you’d incur a storage cost.

  1. […] few months ago, you could find me gushing about how much I loved Google music. Then this […]

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