Why Streaming Music Is Not The Same As Owning It

An acquaintance of mine asked me why anyone would ever buy music when there are multiple on-demand streaming services available in India for free. I can answer the question from my perspective:

  1. Quality – I am yet to see any form of streamed music that matches the quality of CD music. In India, internet service (whether it is broadband, Edge, 3G, or any other variety) is erratic and/or slow. Even in the West, where these problems don’t exist, streamed music is nowhere close to CD quality. I may sound like an old-timer but when I am home, I use my CDs when I can instead of plugging my iPod to the home theater. The difference is mind-blowing. And for people who plonk a good deal of money on a home theater, it makes sense to spend on CDs to get the most out of their investment. In fact, when I rip my CDs, I use the AAC encoder instead of MP3. Although AAC files take more space, the sound quality is a lot better. When storage becomes cheaper and more compact, I know I will be re-ripping all my CDs in WAV format. Forget about CD quality, I also haven’t heard streamed music that matches the quality of the 256 kpbs songs that are available on iTunes.
  2. Physical Ownership - I like arranging (and re-arranging) my CD rack. I like showing off my collection to people! I enjoy reading CD inserts. I also enjoy spending time on my digital collection. I constantly update ID3 tags. I like the fact that the songs I have on my device songs have special meaning for me unlike everything else that exists on the cloud. They are a manageable subset that I listen to more frequently than everything else.
  3. Everything in one place - This is specially relevant for Indians who tend to have eclectic tastes. There is no single streaming website that can sate my interests – rock, pop, jazz, Bollywood, Koliwood, Mollywood, Carnatic, Hindustani, Bhajans and some really obscure, independent stuff. One of my all-time favorite albums is a fusion instrumental album called Conversations by L Subramaniam – not available on any streaming service. I don’t want to go to different places to listen to different music.
  4. Independence - I don’t like being dependent on things I don’t have control on – availability of internet, internet provider reliability, the streaming company (its financials, its agreements with the labels, etc.) – to be able to listen to music.

Which doesn’t mean I don’t use streamed music. I do. I use it to discover new music and to try something new before I buy it. Nobody can deny these differences but I understand that there are many who are willing to overlook them for one thing – streamed music is free.

To each their own.