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The Truth About Music Streaming

bquimby

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The IP protocol only provides error correction for the header. On top of it, you have the two main transport protocols, TCP and UDP. TCP guarantees error free delivery by providing checks and a handshake protocol. UDP does not - it just delivers whatever payload and lets the layers above implement whatever they need to work.

Early on, UDP was used for a lot of "real time" applications. I think pretty much every streaming platform now leverages TCP. I know Spotify does as does Tidal. That said, it's in no way necessarily superior - you could conceivably implement error-free connectivity on UDP as well, and in some ways, you could do a better job at implementing "application aware" optimizations. But clearly the streaming providers have over time defaulted to TCP because of the built-in error correction for payloads and it means they don't have to re-invent anything, just use it: that's faster and cheaper.

That also means that the whole talk about "audiophile grade" network equipment and Ethernet cables is utter and complete mental diarrhea. If banks and hospitals and the military run their mission critical apps on networks, we know that the network is only relevant because of availability considerations, and *never* because you need "better cleaner bits". If your music system is as important as a heartrate monitor or missile detection systems or billion $ financial transactions, then go invest in *reliability* via equipment and interface *redundancy* with quality network equipment but avoid any "audiophile" claims that immediately highlight the fact that vendor has no clue what they are doing other than milking your wallet shamelessly.

An excellent summary.

On the subject of UDP and its reliability, I would also note that it's still the L4 protocol of choice in lots of one-to-many applications because it underlies multicast. For example, in financial trading, real-time market data is distributed by the financial trading exchanges over multicast. This is not only to reduce load on the network devices distributing the data, but also because regulatory requirements state that, for "fairness", all market data recipients have the opportunity to get the data at the same time. At the application layer, the payload data is encapsulated in a proprietary header*, which includes information the application's reliability mechanisms can use to track if they have received all the data expected. This is, of course, crucial to ensure traders are not using "stale" data, and thus trading on prices that have changed without them knowing, with the risk of increased exposure, and/or immediate losses. If the application detects gaps in the data, it will request (via a long-lived TCP connection) re-transmits from the exchange with the missing data, via another, lower-load multicast feed dedicated to that purpose. If there's still missing data, the application will request a full refresh via the long-lived TCP connection. If there's still gaps, tough! You likely have stale data (and a big problem to fix). And if the exchange detects you're seeing lots of gaps, and you're a major trader who can set prices (a "market maker"), eventually its systems will just automatically kick you out of trading for the rest of the day, to avoid you contaminating the market.

I'd also mention that, of course, there are several buffers used in the trading server's network stack, including at the application layer, so network segment-level considerations are not a problem unless something's badly broken.

The point of all this is that, as you say, UDP can be made extremely reliable, investment banks trust it utterly, and they absolutely must have their network shift the data without risk of error at the application level, or have the potential to lose literally millions. But, strangely enough, they don't use these magical, wonderful audiophile network switches that can transport the data much more "cleanly" and "precisely". I wonder why not? They've got the money to buy the best there is. But in fact some of the kit that I manage at work which handles the mission-critical market data is actually cheaper than some of the high end "audiophile" switches, and has much greater port density, better functionality and management capabilities, of course. On that topic, I've not so far seen any of these audiophile switches that are managed, so no QoS configs, no VLAN capabilities, no link aggregation, etc., etc. And these charlatans want thousands for these things, when my little DLink 8 port cost me £40, and is a managed switch, with all of those capabilities.

People are entitled to spend their money on what they like, but it's saddening that it appears many refuse to listen to the facts about this junk. I suppose it's all part of the increasingly anti-expertise, anti-intellect, anti-education world we seem to be inhabiting now... :(


* And if you're wondering if this makes troubleshooting multiple exchange feeds a pain in the backside, all with their own headers, yes, it does!
 

fpitas

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MattHooper

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I listen to lots of new music, stuff that I would otherwise not hear if I didn't subscribe to a streaming service, since I cannot abide listening to the radio - that's for various reasons: partly because radio stations don't generally play the kind of music I like, but primarily because I absolutely despise having to listen to advertising.

Boy do I feel ya on that!

I've been streaming music and podcasts, especially while in my car. I used to listen to local radio stations, both music and talk radio. When I listen to those now, and those 10 minute blocks of advertising come on constantly, I can feel my precious moments on earth draining away. Can't stand it.
 

MattHooper

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As to the worry about not owning music when streaming, and "losing" the music if a service goes down or you stop your subscription:

That doesn't strike me as particularly worrisome. You aren't for the most part losing that music. It's still available. Just grab a subscription again. Or if one company goes down, much or most of that music is likely available from another service. In fact, you could lose your physical collection in a fire or something and your money and investment is gone. Streaming music is more like having your music backed up in the cloud, in case anything goes wrong.

(I'm not saying there aren't some liabilities...but mainly speaking, I'm not sure the 'owning physical media as a safety net' thing really follows. And that comes from someone with a large physical media collection. I own records simply because I enjoy doing so. I also own tons of Blu-Rays I bought over years, and now frankly would love to get rid of them and only stream. Except plenty of them aren't available streaming at this point. I think that's a good excuse to own physical media for a movie fan, but it seems that music available via streaming services is vastly greater in scope than movie streaming).
 

Peterinvan

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As to the worry about not owning music when streaming, and "losing" the music if a service goes down or you stop your subscription:
Another option for backing up is to install Roon, and export all your playlists, so that they can be uploaded into your next streaming service of choice.
I have spent years now curating my playlists (in Tidal). These are what I need to preserve.
 

pablolie

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I'd also mention that, of course, there are several buffers used in the trading server's network stack, including at the application layer, so network segment-level considerations are not a problem unless something's badly broken.

Indeed! There is absolutely nothing "audiophile" network bullcr*p can possibly do to enhance the music experience provided it's simply available. It's up to the protocol stacks *above* to do whatever they do. The network's task is simply to deliver a payload from A to B reliably. The simple analogy is: Your UPS or Fedex delivery service wouldn't work any better if you forced the drivers to wear tuxedos and the trucks were made by Bentley or Lamborghini, shipped in boxes made of platinum. Same for network equipment: it does what the job demands. :)

The best network is the one you don't have to think about. It's simply there and reliable and its users just don't have to think about it. Basically, just like electricity and water and other stuff we take for granted and only miss when it's suddenly not there. Networks simply have to be available and fast enough from an end user's point of view. And "faster" is not necessarily better. Music for example works just fine on an ancient 10M Fast Ethernet connection, it will not sound any better if you buy yourself a $1Mill switch that supports 400G.

Reliability comes from three main sources: component quality, software quality and -if needed- redundant configurations. At home, I haven't had the need to implement a redundant network. I have a 10 year old Ethernet switch (it actually has 10G capability that I don't have a use case for) in the garage that has never ever gone down once, and also of course a wireless access point that's never failed either. Even when electricity fails, which is not uncommon in California, but I have solar and UPS (battery) that are good enough to bridge me for a bit - the music keeps playing just fine.

It's when my internet provider's network has issues when it hits me. Online music services are not available. But I have a large local music library. On top of that, I can use my smartphone as my access point in such situations - I call it accidental redundancy, because I didn't get my smartphone to have redundant internet access, but it is a nice side effect. I guess if there was a major catastrophe both access options (broadband connection and smartphone networks) may go down, but in such an eventuality my first preoccupation may not be listening to audiophile music. :)

I should note, as a disclaimer, that I have worked in the network industry for a loooong time. And I work for a company that would love to sell any of you a $5Mill+ router -truly the best of the best- if you think it'll enhance your music listening experience. :)

.. But in fact some of the kit that I manage at work which handles the mission-critical market data is actually cheaper than some of the high end "audiophile" switches, and has much greater port density, better functionality and management capabilities, of course.

Oh yes, from an operating perspective, wow, rich features combined with ease-of-use, comprehensive monitoring and perhaps automation is key. I'd hate to be in charge of a network in a billion+ dollar corporation without the best of the best in those areas, either. :)

.. audiophile switches that are managed, so no QoS configs, no VLAN capabilities, no link aggregation, etc., etc. And these charlatans want thousands for these things, when my little DLink 8 port cost me £40, and is a managed switch, with all of those capabilities.
Preach on brother :) You would think QoS would be something they hugely highlight, but nah. That makes it even more blatant: these guys simply reuse cheap stuff and put an expensive enclosure around it, and use a audio-buzzword generator to create some completely nonsensical data sheet.

In my over 25 years in the industry, during which I have worked in every possible role from development to sales engineering, I have never ever once experienced non-recoverable data corruption. I have *heard* extremely occasionally about a bit flipping in a memory module or FPGA that caused a momentary equipment malfunction, but have never encountered it in my path. And this is working with companies that probably supply over 80% of the network equipment that keeps the internet working and supplies your service providers, banks, military, healthcare etc. *Every* single outage anywhere in the world triggers immense escalations and investigation. And the cause invariably is a component or firmware or software issue that occurs in some corner case and can be fixed ... but is *never ever* fixed by better cabling or a swap with equipment that claims anything esoteric - in fact, engineers whose jobs depend on network reliability would run away from such equipment.

The good thing about bits is that, even if they look a tad distorted and jaggy to the untrained eye, they are still error-less when transported end to end. Let the receiver of the uncorrupted bits do whatever they want with them... that's not the network's task :)
 
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Jeromeof

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Great post - I am totally in agreement with the technical aspects of the post. A couple of points from my own home network streaming setup. While a high quality stream is effectively a small amount of "data" which will be either reliable sent (with error correction) or retransmitted. I have noticed the following problems:

1. Devices on the "edge" of a wifi network (especially 5GHhz Wifi - which is better at short distances but worse at longer distances)
For example in my converted garage which was (until I installed a Mesh network) a good distance away from my main router I would occasionally get incredible poor wifi data rates (as seen by speedtest). Mostly this wasn't a problem as mostly streaming client application cache at least one song in advance so can be fairly resilient. Wifi can also be susceptible to interference (e.g. a Microwave transmits at the same 2.4Ghz frequency so someone makes some popcorn and this can cause a 2.4Ghz network to termpoarily be almost dialup speeds. But this doesn't suddenly cause your perfect FLAC stream to sound like a 64Kbps mp3 - it will mean a possible delay between tracks. It will be interesting to see if the new home networking Thread / Matter protocol will help these bad networking situations (a mesh network definitely helps).

2. Bad protocols or bad implementations of complicated protocols.
So I mix my own collection (stored on a NAS but accessible on different devices from Plex, Volumio, Wiim Mini via plex, Heos on a Denon etc) with Amazon music and mostly works great on all these devices. Though occasionally I do 'see' problems which I believe are just poor implementations of protocols within the firmware of these devices, maybe memory problems buffering songs or problems like timing problems when syncing music playback between devices (where maybe 1 device blocks other devices in the group). I have seen very poor implementations of certain protocols for example UPNP / DLNA, or problems with say Airplay 'casting' (usually because of old iPhones and the way Airplay works. Even applications like Heos can have annoying streaming 'problems' which I know are 'bugs' that they haven't fixed ,e.g. a large number of tracks in a playlist can cause the Heos client on my Denon to freeze.

Streaming my own collection outside my house is also another "network" challenge (I mainly use Plex and PlexAmp does a great job which works well in my car with CarPlay) - but this can be dependent on your 'package' both your broadband upload speeds and your 3G/5G etc package as well as where you are. Recently when I was on road trip in the southern states I was stuck on very poor 3G (almost 2G) speed for long stretches so streaming wasn't working well.

Solutions to 1 above is really just better home networking (more correctly an understanding of placement of devices within the home). With 2 I hope it can be solved with maybe a survival of the fit - though say that Heos example has been a known bug for a long time and they don't seem to want to fix it.
 

pablolie

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Another great post!
Great post - I am totally in agreement with the technical aspects of the post. A couple of points from my own home network streaming setup. While a high quality stream is effectively a small amount of "data" which will be either reliable sent (with error correction) or retransmitted. I have noticed the following problems:

1. Devices on the "edge" of a wifi network (especially 5GHhz Wifi - which is better at short distances but worse at longer distances)
... (a mesh network definitely helps).

When covering a larger area, indeed awareness about wireless network capabilities is necessary. And in smaller, crowded areas, wavelength contention can be equally problematic. We have probably all experienced them. A friend of mine had big network issues in her apartment, turned out her neighbor had some ancient and possibly totally out of spec microwave that would freeze the wireless network every time it was turned on. As you say, mesh network and sometimes manually picking a wireless bandwidth band can do the trick.

Personally, I still like hard wired ethernet ports in every room. My main music shrine "streamer" (an old but still perfectly working) Squeezebox Touch is connected via Ethernet, as is my music server. I do have music devices in every room though, and can synchronize or unsych them at will, and for those wireless has worked fine (unless the device itself runs into an issue, which we kinda get into with your next point...

2. Bad protocols or bad implementations of complicated protocols.
... Plex, Volumio, Wiim Mini via plex, Heos on a Denon etc) with Amazon music and mostly works great on all these devices. Though occasionally I do 'see' problems which I believe are just poor implementations of protocols within the firmware of these devices, maybe memory problems buffering songs or problems like timing problems when syncing music playback between devices (where maybe 1 device blocks other devices in the group). I have seen very poor implementations of certain protocols for example UPNP / DLNA, or problems with say Airplay 'casting' (usually because of old iPhones and the way Airplay works. Even applications like Heos can have annoying streaming 'problems' which I know are 'bugs' that they haven't fixed ,e.g. a large number of tracks in a playlist can cause the Heos client on my Denon to freeze.

Streaming my own collection outside my house is also another "network" challenge (I mainly use Plex and PlexAmp does a great job which works well in my car with CarPlay) - but this can be dependent on your 'package' both your broadband upload speeds and your 3G/5G etc package as well as where you are. Recently when I was on road trip in the southern states I was stuck on very poor 3G (almost 2G) speed for long stretches so streaming wasn't working well.

Yeah, that can be an issue. There can be implementation bugs or corner cases that test the implementation, especially in multi-vendor environments. That's why I am still attached to the Squeezebox/Slimdevices ecosystem. It had early teething issues (which in the moment are immensely frustrating - nobody wants their music listening sanity session after a hard work day impacted) but then became immensely reliable, which it continues to be thanks to ongoing and extremely well executed community software development.

And yes, protocol implementation issues in the end device can be a problem every time anything is new and tries to be innovative. Ethernet is a proven protocol, but there are many protocols on top that can be at times problematic, ranging from DHCP address allocation issues to the more complex protocols you mention. That is why I don't yet trust magic all-in-one stuff that combines too much functionality. I love the idea, but it comes with compatibility or implementation issues early in the cycle or until the market defaults to *one* pretty much universal solution./protocol. And it seems we're not quite there with music/multimedia stuff. So my approach is to keep things as simple and minimalist as possible.

I do distinctly recall the times of transition for voice and telephony from the older PCM transport to VoIP in the late 1990s through the early 2000s. Voice communication is of course vital to business, so that was not a fun time - most companies overpromised and under-delivered on business needs. And it was the exact same implementation issues in the higher layers that caused that: adherence to standards, sometimes even the need to amend the standard, implementation issues when companies rushed products to market - but neither IP nor UDP nor TCP were to blame for it... :) In any case, it gets better over time as companies iron out the early wrinkles. But that was when I got my first grey hair. :-D
 

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Ahhh. Gotcha
That said, it's eminently doable with commercially available software. I have only done it with a very few TV documentaries that some company keeps hostage in their system because of monopolistic ambitions, which I like to defeat. :) I won't say more about it in a public forum. And I don't see the need to do that with music.
 

pablolie

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As to the worry about not owning music when streaming, and "losing" the music if a service goes down or you stop your subscription...

Yes and every approach has liabilities. What if you own 5k CDs and some house fire or other emergency obliterates them? Privately owned hardware is arguably less safe than a Billion dollar company's data center. :)

Like most things in life, embrace the grey zone and free yourself from polarized either/or thinking patterns. I love having a large local library of music I love and do my best to secure it... but at the same time I adore Spotify because of what you said: the ability to discover new music. I remember the days when you went to a record store, and you would check the musicians, composers and producers, and it'd allow you to build an extended knowledge of what you liked going forward. That got totally lost early in the digital music revolution: you'd get a bunch of files with no context.

Spotify -and I am certainly not claiming it's the only one- is great at recommending stuff based on stuff I clearly go back to. It's like having a personal music butler.
 
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drallim

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I don't like that there is usually only one version of a piece available and it's frequently not the original version but a crappy remaster. I don't want the version with a bad CGI jabba where greedo shoots first.

I don't like the centralisation of it, where some arbitrary group of people controls the world's music. It's only a matter of time until artists and/or users start getting banned from streaming services for questionable reasons like having political opinions or simply being born in the wrong country. I don't want a twitter mob telling me what I can listen to.

I don't like that it's only a matter of time until streaming has ads on top of the subscription fee. They are loss leading at the moment trying to gain users. Once they think they have reached saturation they will crank up the prices as much as they can get away with, and then bring in ads. Sure they will let you pay more to have no ads but it means more restrictive DRM so you can't skip the ads, more intrusive tracking and profiling so they know which ads to serve. And it means they are spending their time worrying about and developing all that instead of improving the service.

I don't like how smaller artists are being basically robbed. Along with convenience, the main attraction of the streaming is the huge available library, this is what people are paying for. The operators collect their fee whether you listen or not, but the artists are only getting paid per play. Then, all of the discovery and playlists are weighted towards music owned by the big corps, so they get most of the money. So the streaming operator profits from the inclusion of smaller artists without having to pay them for it. Many seem to put up with this in the hope they will win the lottery and randomly go viral. Now consumers expect unlimited access to everything for peanuts and complain when they don't get it "why isn't this on spotify?!".

I don't like the inefficiency of it, constantly streaming all this data around. Physical media or a digital download has a one time cost (cost of delivery, not the price you pay for it), and then each subsequent playback is essentially free. Streaming something ten times uses ten times the bandwidth, processing power, energy, etc. All those low latency servers are expensive to maintain and you need to over-provision to deal with fluctuations in demand. Hi res streaming is just downright offensive, now you are streaming around massive amounts of data for no actual benefit. Lets waste energy and bandwidth streaming around countless gigabytes of ultrasonic noise that your speakers can't even reproduce. It just seems very wasteful, and the end user will end up paying for it. You will pay for the provider's bandwidth costs to send it, and yours to receive it too.

None of this is the truth just my point of view. I'm probably on an island.
 

pablolie

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'''
I don't like the centralisation of it, where some arbitrary group of people controls the world's music.
But hasn't that always been the case? There are countless examples of artists that were screwed by their record labels before the "digital internet revolution". And I think it's even possible to say that it has helped empower artists: stuff like Bandcamp allows them to own their sales and marketing and saves artists the generous cut music companies help themselves to. As an example, Ottmar Liebert had a contract with a major label, but now simply sells his stuff through Bandcamp to avoid dealing with the politics.

I don't like that it's only a matter of time until streaming has ads on top of the subscription fee. They are loss leading at the moment trying to gain users. ...
Probably the market is still up for grabs so yes, in such an environment a company will sacrifice profits to establish market dominance. The ad thing... not sure. I recall Pandora had a service tier with ads. Kinda like what your fav long-gone FM Radio did. Pandora was my first subscription service, but I never ever went for the service tier with ads. Ugh. I'd think the first streaming company to add ads will lose customers. They'd certainly lose me :)

Once they think they have reached saturation they will crank up the prices as much as they can get away with, and then bring in ads.

Like you, I think once the market matures probably price increases for the service are quite predictable. (I also think my Spotify subscription is ridiculously low, all things considered - and it's probably by design so that people are not driven by cost concerns.) But not sure about the ads - probably for a basic, low-price service tier, yes.
I don't like how smaller artists are being basically robbed. Along with convenience, the main attraction of the streaming is the huge available library, this is what people are paying for. The operators collect their fee whether you listen or not, but the artists are only getting paid per play. Then, all of the discovery and playlists are weighted towards music owned by the big corps, so they get most of the money.

I think because of digital we are able to discover artists we'd never ever discover with the old model, in which music companies control access to the mass market with an iron hand, and can dictate terms to artists like overcharge them for studio time, "distribution" and take a huge cut of the album sale.

And with digital the balance of power may also shift in a different direction: just like Uber etc nullified the power of Taxi companies (which as a rule were horrible both for passengers and drivers), digital allows artists to market themselves. Wasn't Justin Bieber (ugh) a star in Youtube before he got a record contract with a large music company? Now he can do whatever he wants because the balance of power has shifted. A model that I'd describe as "Bancamp meets streaming services and bypasses record companies entirely".
I don't like the inefficiency of it, constantly streaming all this data around. Physical media or a digital download has a one time cost (cost of delivery, not the price you pay for it), and then each subsequent playback is essentially free.

Music doesn't consume that much internet bandwidth, not sure I'd call it "inefficient". When Netflix and Amazon etc are sending 4k video around, you know music streaming isn't an issue. :) I'd also point out my entire monthly fee for Spotify is $9.99 per month, whereas each new CD is now around $14.99 or so. With the former, I get access to pretty much most music ever recorded at once, with the latter to just one album (of which probably I only really like half of the tracks). The cost comparison means that for the same money I'd only buy 9 CDs a year [I used to buy for more than that, my music collection reports 4997 albums, most of them were CDs (ouch, I won't do the math)]... but I think that means I'd get over 500 years of Spotify... :) Which I guess I won't get to enjoy unless I turn into a vampire. :-D
 

Sombreuil

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I'd also point out my entire monthly fee for Spotify is $9.99 per month, whereas each new CD is now around $14.99 or so. With the former, I get access to pretty much most music ever recorded at once, with the latter to just one album (of which probably I only really like half of the tracks). The cost comparison means that for the same money I'd only buy 9 CDs a year.
That's assuming all CDs cost the same while buying only brand new albums. There is a second-hand market where you can find pretty much anything for less than $5.
Also, with Spotify you "get access to", but you don't own anything and "you" also feed a system that is known to be quite terrible for both the consumers and the artists.

I also use Spotify with a free account to discover some music, but the truth behind Spotify is terrifying:
unknown.png
 

JanesJr1

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The problem i have with music streaming from streaming services is otherwise:

1: You don't own any music, if the service goes down, so does your "music collection" and you have no way to recuperate it. Idem when you don't pay your subscription fee (for whatever reason). This is by far my biggest objection against streaming services. And also the artists don't get paid a lot for streaming their tracks. I'm close to many local artists, and they earn pennies from it, while buying their cd or lp makes them a lot more money.

2: the stream is often compressed in lossy format. I don't want that, i want full quality, at least redbook cd quality (44.1 16bit uncompressed). Flac or Alac format is not an issue, but no MQA and no lossy formats.

But at the end, i'm my own streaming service, with all my ripped cd's and vinyl records stored on a central NAS server that i can acces from any digital device in my housenetwork. That network is very standard to IT standards (i'm an IT system engineer) with very standard cisco and d-link gear. And like that i stream all the time. But there i got most of my music or in flac or in wav format... I don't use an iphone or so to listen to music (i hate headphones) and in my car i got the oldfashioned usb stick full of music that i change from time to time...

RE your first point, on ownership: , I spent thousands of dollars in the 80's and 90's for a few hundred LP's and CD's. I now have complete access to 95 million mostly lossless recordings for $8.99/month. IMO, most popular music has been derivative and uninteresting for 20 years, compared to what came before. Which has inspired me to just WALLOW in trying out non-top-40 music that I'd never would have listened to, if it weren't for subscription audio streaming. And when I die, I can't take it with me and I don't want to saddle someone else with disposing of a big collection of hard-copy music. And many re-masters (though not all) are very good compared to the original, especially for LP re-pressings on non-audiophile labels. (Most of the dynamic compression is for post-2000 music, too.)

I do agree with you about artist pay. I use Idagio for classical, which has good search capabilities, a very detailed catalog, good music discovery features, and pays artists on a formula that helps classical musicians.

Re lossy formats: it's easy enough and cheap enough to use Quobuz, Amazon HD, Idagio, Tidal or others to get all the lossless or hi-def lossless content you can eat!
 

pablolie

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That's assuming all CDs cost the same while buying only brand new albums. There is a second-hand market where you can find pretty much anything for less than $5.
that actually screws the recording artist more than any streaming service could.

With my fav artists I make sure to buy their new albums full price to support them

But thanks for highlighting one of the fallacies of today's music market because it is very relevant. And I don't claim innocence when it comes to scoring CDs on the cheap
 
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drallim

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But hasn't that always been the case? There are countless examples of artists that were screwed by their record labels before the "digital internet revolution". And I think it's even possible to say that it has helped empower artists: stuff like Bandcamp allows them to own their sales and marketing and saves artists the generous cut music companies help themselves to. As an example, Ottmar Liebert had a contract with a major label, but now simply sells his stuff through Bandcamp to avoid dealing with the politics.


Probably the market is still up for grabs so yes, in such an environment a company will sacrifice profits to establish market dominance. The ad thing... not sure. I recall Pandora had a service tier with ads. Kinda like what your fav long-gone FM Radio did. Pandora was my first subscription service, but I never ever went for the service tier with ads. Ugh. I'd think the first streaming company to add ads will lose customers. They'd certainly lose me :)



Like you, I think once the market matures probably price increases for the service are quite predictable. (I also think my Spotify subscription is ridiculously low, all things considered - and it's probably by design so that people are not driven by cost concerns.) But not sure about the ads - probably for a basic, low-price service tier, yes.


I think because of digital we are able to discover artists we'd never ever discover with the old model, in which music companies control access to the mass market with an iron hand, and can dictate terms to artists like overcharge them for studio time, "distribution" and take a huge cut of the album sale.

And with digital the balance of power may also shift in a different direction: just like Uber etc nullified the power of Taxi companies (which as a rule were horrible both for passengers and drivers), digital allows artists to market themselves. Wasn't Justin Bieber (ugh) a star in Youtube before he got a record contract with a large music company? Now he can do whatever he wants because the balance of power has shifted. A model that I'd describe as "Bancamp meets streaming services and bypasses record companies entirely".


Music doesn't consume that much internet bandwidth, not sure I'd call it "inefficient". When Netflix and Amazon etc are sending 4k video around, you know music streaming isn't an issue. :) I'd also point out my entire monthly fee for Spotify is $9.99 per month, whereas each new CD is now around $14.99 or so. With the former, I get access to pretty much most music ever recorded at once, with the latter to just one album (of which probably I only really like half of the tracks). The cost comparison means that for the same money I'd only buy 9 CDs a year [I used to buy for more than that, my music collection reports 4997 albums, most of them were CDs (ouch, I won't do the math)]... but I think that means I'd get over 500 years of Spotify... :) Which I guess I won't get to enjoy unless I turn into a vampire. :-D
All fair points but most of these are benefits of the internet in general and not streaming specifically. You can get most of these same benefits with individual purchases and ownership. The difference in price is big though, the fact it is so much cheaper means someone's not getting paid any more.

I wonder what the actual fair price for a service like spotify is, and what the value proposition would be like at that price.

In the video game market, there are many "free to play" games where most of the player base spends only a small amount or nothing at all, and most of the revenue comes from "whales" who will spend ungodly amounts on mostly pointless in-game trinkets, gambling, and convenience.

The streaming services need to figure out a way to let the whales spend big. The kind of people who buy 10,000 CDs or every different vinyl pressing of an album. Otherwise a big chunk of industry revenue has basically evaporated. At the height of CDs probably most normal people only had 10-20 CDs total. So there is a limit to how much that kind of person will be willing to pay every month, since it's not such a value proposition. That means they will have to look for other ways than just increasing the subscription price to get money.
 

bquimby

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I don't like that there is usually only one version of a piece available and it's frequently not the original version but a crappy remaster. I don't want the version with a bad CGI jabba where greedo shoots first.

I don't like the centralisation of it, where some arbitrary group of people controls the world's music. It's only a matter of time until artists and/or users start getting banned from streaming services for questionable reasons like having political opinions or simply being born in the wrong country. I don't want a twitter mob telling me what I can listen to.

I don't like that it's only a matter of time until streaming has ads on top of the subscription fee. They are loss leading at the moment trying to gain users. Once they think they have reached saturation they will crank up the prices as much as they can get away with, and then bring in ads. Sure they will let you pay more to have no ads but it means more restrictive DRM so you can't skip the ads, more intrusive tracking and profiling so they know which ads to serve. And it means they are spending their time worrying about and developing all that instead of improving the service.

I don't like how smaller artists are being basically robbed. Along with convenience, the main attraction of the streaming is the huge available library, this is what people are paying for. The operators collect their fee whether you listen or not, but the artists are only getting paid per play. Then, all of the discovery and playlists are weighted towards music owned by the big corps, so they get most of the money. So the streaming operator profits from the inclusion of smaller artists without having to pay them for it. Many seem to put up with this in the hope they will win the lottery and randomly go viral. Now consumers expect unlimited access to everything for peanuts and complain when they don't get it "why isn't this on spotify?!".

I don't like the inefficiency of it, constantly streaming all this data around. Physical media or a digital download has a one time cost (cost of delivery, not the price you pay for it), and then each subsequent playback is essentially free. Streaming something ten times uses ten times the bandwidth, processing power, energy, etc. All those low latency servers are expensive to maintain and you need to over-provision to deal with fluctuations in demand. Hi res streaming is just downright offensive, now you are streaming around massive amounts of data for no actual benefit. Lets waste energy and bandwidth streaming around countless gigabytes of ultrasonic noise that your speakers can't even reproduce. It just seems very wasteful, and the end user will end up paying for it. You will pay for the provider's bandwidth costs to send it, and yours to receive it too.

None of this is the truth just my point of view. I'm probably on an island.

I don't like all the non-biodegradable CDs cluttering up landfill. I don't like the amount of petrochemicals and other dodgy stuff that goes into their production, nor the reduced MTBF for the players (and their associated disposal issues) induced by all the electromechanical complexity required in their operation, and so on. My point is it's a complex issue with lots of debatable aspects.
That's assuming all CDs cost the same while buying only brand new albums. There is a second-hand market where you can find pretty much anything for less than $5.
Also, with Spotify you "get access to", but you don't own anything and "you" also feed a system that is known to be quite terrible for both the consumers and the artists.

I also use Spotify with a free account to discover some music, but the truth behind Spotify is terrifying:
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I don't see this as particularly problematic, within the context of the modern music industry. I know of (and know personally, in some cases :) ) artists unsigned by any label, with very small followings, who at least get some money out of the streaming services, and make most of their money through things like Patreon, and through gigging. Since they don 't have any kind of distribution deal for their CDs, and sell direct to fans via websites, they are limited in the number of CDs they can afford to produce, so their core fans will buy the CDs, but other casual listeners will at least give them a little bit of money through streaming that they otherwise simply would not get. And - and this is crucial - being on the streaming services does give an artist exposure: I've come across a number of bands that I now love, and would otherwise never have heard of, which were recommended by the streaming service algorithms. Even artists on smaller indie labels are often in a similar position.

In any case, it was ever thus. What is radio, if not a non-interactive "streaming" service, where between them the radio station management and the big record companies call all the shots, and the money going back to the artists per-play is very small - and artists without label backing for the most part simply don't get played? Even our non-commercial radio stations here in the UK have playlists influenced by record company pluggers.

Should the streaming services pay artists more? Yes, they should. Should record companies have paid artists more? Yes, they should. Should they not have jacked publishing rights from artists, leaving them with no revenue stream once their time in the sun is gone? Yes they should. And so on, and so on. It's the golden rule: them what has the gold makes the rules. Welcome to capitalism.
 
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Talisman

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I see streaming as a necessary evil, I have an amazon music hd subscription, and I use it a lot, but I am buying, now more than before, a lot of CDs, or even just the 44-16 flac files of my favorite artists / albums. I hate the idea of not being able to use my music if there is an internet problem, if I forget to pay a monthly fee, if I am in a place where there is no internet. Furthermore, like any convenience that is too good to be true, I am afraid that they can decide the price they want after having accustomed us to this curiosity.
I will continue to have a subscription to a music streaming service and I will continue to buy the CDs and files of the music I love, to have them locally, always with me, even if I become poor and live under a bridge with an mp3, a couple of 10 euro headphones and a 512gb microsd ....
Nobody take my music from me!
 
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