To follow up on the post I did last year, the situation for listening to music is definitely getting better and better where I live. After messing around with a hard-drive-free netbook and playing music off that, I took the plunge and bought the Sonos ZP-90. I live in a flat so the Sonos’s multi-room capabilities were kind of irrelevant to me – the key thing here is the ability to play back music with no computer.
I have to say, it’s like night and day. While with the computer I was always messing around trying to get the network connection to work or waiting for Itunes to load, the Sonos just works. I can control it from my Ipod touch or Iphone via their free app. It brings up music from my network drive pretty much immediately. And finally… it also lets me access Spotify (note: for Spotify access you have to be a subscriber, which I am – more on that separately) and digital radio from around the world (even local radio – so I can bookmark WFMU and listen to that whenever I want). You can make playlists combining music from different sources.
So basically it’s unbelievable.
As for Spotify, having ignored it (I think I thought ‘hey, I’m a bigshot – I have 50,000 digital files of my own – I don’t need their library), I woke up to it a few months back having been able to hear an astonishing array of tunes (jazz/throwaway pop/new releases etc).
Consider the scenario now compared with how it was when I was a teenager.
Then: read NME, Melody Maker or Sounds. Read about new bands (or old bands for that matter). Wonder what they sound like. Try to borrow stuff from friends. If you didn’t know anyone, save up your money and gamble it on a 7″ single based on hearsay (and whatever they happened to have in stock).
Now: Dig around one or may of the authorative/interesting review sites or music blogs on the web. If they have a sample MP3, check it out. If they don’t have any audio (and this is sometimes the case with some great old school record store websites), make a note of the band names you’re interested in and you can listen to them on Spotify to establish how much you like them.
It’s all pretty fantastic. But there’s still an open question in my mind: do we still have a need for the notion of ‘This is my stuff – this is what I’m into’? Or as people become more digitally dependent will they just simply express themselves differently and not have the notion of a ‘collection’ of music anymore?
Spotify has collaborative playlists and Facebook integration, but still there’s something missing in terms of musical discovery tools. Not sure what it is though. I guess a kind of customised journey – almost like an audio compilation version of what things like flipboard are doing with social media/blog posts. I think maybe that’s it – the problem of how to find music is actually analagous with the social media overload – there’s so much stuff out of there it’s hard to keep up with what’s actually great, so maybe you need a systematic filtering and spoonfeeding.
The tricky thing issue with doing this for music is that applications like the one I mentioned are extremely visual. No matter how much people claim not to care about design, it has a huge and undeniable effect on how people react to an interface, and this is why applications like Flipboard are so powerful. So is what we need a kind of audio magazine with visual accompaniment? Perhaps. There could be a simple m3u or spotify playlist version too.
You might notice I’m thinking out loud. Sorry about that.