Choosing the Best Online Music Service.
Okay, it's time for me to finally say goodbye to my portable
disc player, and join the online and portable music revolution.
Okay, the revolution isn't so new any more, nor is my computer,
but as I wade through the sea of options for how to download
music, listen to and buy online tracks, I grow more eager to get
my feet wet and eventually suit up to take the plunge. But I
happen to be a bit more practical than that. So, I've spent a
considerable amount of time over the last few weeks trying to
determine what's best for my lifestyle, my wallet and my
First thing I realized when searching all of the music services
is that things seemed to work a lot smoother with a broadband
connection (and most services seem to point that out from the
get go). Just like my CD Walkman, the time had come for me to
lose my ancient dial-up connection to the online experience. It
actually turned out to work in my favor as my cable company gave
me a good deal on high-speed, and also threw in a discount on my
existing costs for cable TV.
Now that I was "connected" at an acceptable speed to the Web, I
had to determine, what I was trying to get out of the online
music experience. After some intense melodious soul searching, I
realized that the only thing the separated me from the
perpetually hip is perhaps the types of music I was searching
for, and the amount of time I wanted to spend online searching
The guy who sits next to me has a 60 GB iPod, and is complaining
that it is almost full. That's over seven thousand songs. I
don't know that I would even live long enough to listen to that
many songs. My needs were simpler. I had an MP3 player still in
the box from two Christmas' ago, and it promised to hold over
500 songs. That would be perfect for me, at least in the short
Next, what was I looking for in my new online music experience?
Did I want to listen to music on my PC, in my car or on my MP3
player? Yes to all three. Did I want to listen to the radio
while I was on my PC? Again, yes. Did I want to trade music with
others online in a peer-to-peer Napster-like environment? Eh,
that one scared me a little, and I decided that opening up my
files to strangers made me feel dirt, so I put that one on hold.
My next stop in determining how I would "music online" was
price. I searched dozens of sites and services, but narrowed my
sights to three of the big guys: AOL Music Now, iTunes and
Rhapsody Music Service (provided by Real Networks).
I already had AOL, so I signed up for their Music Now product
for .99/month (that's in addition to their monthly fee as an
ISP). I was able to download songs, listen to them while
"offline" and burn them to CD or move them over to my MP3 player
for an additional fee per song. That seemed to be standard
across most of the services. Music Now was a follow up to the
original AOL Music Net, which I actually liked better because it
ran locally on machine and the new Web-based Music Now takes
much longer. AOL also has a partnership with iTunes, so you can
be on AOL, but iTunes will launch and then you're actually in
the iTunes application. It's confusing. If I want to move my
downloaded songs to my MP3 player, the monthly fee jumps to
.95 per month, and if I want to put them on a CD, I pay and
additional 99 cents per track. This is too much money for me. I
typically buy one or two CD's a month, and that would be cheaper
than this online service. Not to mention you have to be an
existing AOL member (more money per month) in order to even use
the product. I'm passing on AOL Music Now.
On to iTunes. Okay, so there is no monthly fee for iTunes. Love
that. And I can purchase songs for 99 cents per track. Love that
too. But wait. I don't have an iPod, and iTunes has songs in
their proprietary MP4 format. Ugh. The cheapest iPod out there
is around (so much for no monthly fee), and it's not the
model I would select. I like my MP3 player. If I already had an
iPod, this may be the route I would go, but Apple tends be very
inflexible, and I hate to be tied to one provider, player and
format. There is also a limit to how you can share the songs on
your home network. I feel like even though I own the song, I'm
being watched on what I do with it. Good bye big brother.
Rhapsody Music Service from Real Networks. So far they are the
least expensive. .99 per month and that's with unlimited
access to over 1.3 million songs. I do have to have pay the
additional 99 cent fee if I want to burn to CD or transfer to my
MP3, but that is the industry standard for paying the artists,
and the monthly fee is five dollars less per month than AOL. The
music comes over in the more widely supported MP3 format and the
songs are mine to rip transfer or share with my other computers
on my home network. Like the other two, I can listen to live
radio on my pc, but I like the freedom I get with Rhapsody Music
Service. I'm not being watched, and the music is mine.
Now that I know how to download music and have chosen Rhapsody
Music Service, I'm on my way to joining the new world of
portable digital music. I've already burned several CD's for my
car, albeit with an older man's twist on today's favorites, and
transferred those same songs over to my little antiquated MP3
player for those long weekend walks.
Now I've got to start looking for a replacement for my VCR.
Onward and upward!