Google Music – The spice must flow

I had always thought that by this time phones would have at least 32gig of space built in and that micro SD cards would be in the 64 Gig range. Unfortunately we are not there yet. This may be a side effect of everything moving to the cloud as less & less local storage is needed. I wrote about this in July of last year.

As my music collection is just over 40 Gig I could not store it all on my phone. Sure I could get a separate MP3 player but it’s something else to remember and maintain. So for years I used Subsonic which basically runs on a PC connected to the Internet, then it streams your music to your PC, Laptop or phone etc. This works fine and is a bit like having your own Spotify service for free. Of course you do need a spare PC and leave it on all the time, but I had this already so no biggie.

Like most Internet connections your upload speed is almost certainly going to be a fraction of your download speed. This is perfect for most situations as you are inevitably leeching more data off the net that you are uploading. When streaming from your home PC to a remote location however this starts to become an issue. I tended to find most of the time subsonic would work fine then other days you had to let it buffer for a fair bit of time. Not a fault of Subsonic, more my ISP. Still rather upsetting that your song would stall just when you were getting into it.

Mood's a thing for cattle and love play - Gurney Halleck

Now with Google Music you transfer all your tunes to their servers and this issue goes away. You do have to first upload all your music which took me just over a week and was not without issue. It seemed to not like any WMA file that had a ‘-‘ in the filename and would simply stall. Once I figured this out it was fine. Guess it is still in beta after all. However now my songs are on fast Google servers with fast upload speeds I start streaming a song in a couple of seconds. With the advent of HTML 5 your web browser can now function as a very impressive media player.

As long as you have a good connection to the net the streaming is absolutely fine, it’s extremely rare to have a track stall and from clicking play to the track starting is only 2 or 3 seconds.

Google Music

Google Music on the web

A tip I would suggest before uploading your collection is to run your local library through something like Windows Media Player and get it fill in all the missing meta data. You can add it after the upload but its a very slow process. I would imagine that in the near future Google will add the option to auto tag music, but it’s not there yet.

Google is pretty late to the online music game. Other services are available such as the aforementioned Spotify & there is of course iTunes. I believe that if you use iTunes cloud music service you don’t have to upload your music at all, it scans for what you have locally and then lets you stream shiny new high quality AAC versions. Sounds fantastic. I have heard that it then (in the background) replaces your local music library with these new AAC versions which would not seem to be a problem, some of your local music may be 128k versions in MP3 so getting this replaced with a 256k AAC version is going to be awesome right? It is till you find out they are all DRMd. Now this may not be an issue for you, but sounds a bit sinister to me. Any legitimate non DRM music that you owned has now been replaced by Apple DRMd tracks. Now you are restricted in where you can play them. Owned!

Any path that narrows future possibilities may become a lethal trap 
- The Spacing Guild Handbook 

Interestingly Google Music has chosen MP3 as it’s format of choice. It’s not the best compression format for audio, AAC is much better. However at high sample rates, I would suggest 196k+, MP3 sound absolutely fine. I am guessing the choice of MP3 has to do with compatibility, everything plays them back no problem, especially if they are DRM free.

So now we have our music in the cloud it’s a simple case of visiting and you can start playing your tunes on your PC, laptop or slate etc wherever you have a connection to the net. You can also load an app on your phone and stream to that, which is what I use most often. The phone app also has the ability to store music locally so that if you venture onto the subway or visit far flung places without 3G you are still able to throw some shapes.

Google Music on Android Phone

The service has an ‘Make Instant Mix’ option that you apply to a track and it creates a playlist of 25 tracks similar to that selected song. This seems to work very well and is a quick way to create a playlist. Like everything else you do on Google Music it’s replicated on whatever device you use to connect to the service. So when you create a playlist on your laptop it appears on your phone and all other devices. No longer do you need to export a playlist from one device to another.

All the usual functions such as sort by artist, Album, Track, Playlist, Recent, Genres etc are all there. Ratings for songs just have a thumbs up or down option which I don’t like. I would prefer to have the good old 5 star rating system. Also my ratings have not been carried over to Google Music, however I have heard other people have experienced any track with 3 or more stars automatically gets a thumbs up. Perhaps I have done something wrong. So I now find myself having to go through my library online to give it a thumbs up/down on each song. A bit of a pain but hey, it’s free.

Yes free. This is probably the most amazing thing about the service. I think they let you upload up to 20,000 tracks for free. My 40 Gig collection is about 2,500 tracks. So that is very generous of them. I guess they could be using the drug dealer model and in a year say that ‘Due to huge volume of storage we now have to start charging’. Hopefully not.

I think Spotify charges about £15 a month (£180 a year) & iTunes ‘Match’ is about £22 a year, but is limited to a certain number of devices and this service appears to already be failing. Also I am not sure if the iTunes service does stream, it may be the case that you need to download it first to your device. For now Google Music is a no brainer IMHO, it’s easy to set up (initial upload takes a long time but is a one off thing), works on any internet connected device that can play audio and is free.

I do tend to find it a bit scary how much of my data Google has, however they do such a darned good job of it all. I guess I must not fear…

He who controls the Spice, controls the universe! - Baron Harkonnen


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