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Buying Music: Download Songs or Listen to Music Online?

This article points out your options when buying and listening to digital music

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Paid For Music Services
Image © Darren Hester

Introduction
Are you confused about which way to turn when buying and listening to digital music? Do you want to own the songs you listen to, or is an abundance of streaming tracks more important to you for music discovery? Some people argue that music ownership is more important to them, while others say that paying a monthly subscription gives them the flexibility to listen to music online with a virtually unlimited supply -- not to mention the freedom to listen to it almost anywhere (and on any mobile device).

This is a question that digital music fans will always hotly debate and therefore never fully agree on. More importantly, it is an essential question to ask yourself if you are jumping into digital music for the very first time -- especially when spending your hard earned cash! There are good arguments for using both, but it really does depend on how you want to connect with digital music. If you're not sure about the way to go, or you just want to weight up the pros and cons of each, then reading this article may just make your decision a bit more straightforward.

The two main options for listening to digital music boil down to:

Digital Music Ownership
If you prefer to build up and own a physical music collection -- like the good old days when you could walk down to your local record store and buy a vinyl album or CD -- then you'll want to use a digital music download service that you can purchase songs from to keep. This type of service is sometimes called, a la carte, and enables you to physically move your purchased music around in anyway you like. This means that as well as storing it on your computer, you can also sync to your iPhone, iPod, MP3 player, PMP, etc. Digital music ownership also means that you can rip your own CDs using a software media player (iTunes, Winamp, etc.) for example to further build up your music library in a pseudo-physical way. However, all this ownership can come at a cost. For instance, what happens if you loose the music you purchased and downloaded? Not all a la carte services allow you to re-download your purchased tracks and so you could see your collection evaporate in an instant! To prevent your digital music disaster, you'll therefore need to have a disaster recovery plan and keep your files backed up safely somewhere, like an external hard drive or burned to a set of CDs/DVDs -- all this could take a lot of time however if you've built up a very large library. That said, providing you're willing to manage your digital music library, you'll always own the music you have purchased and won't have to continually pay a subscription to keep listening to it. Ownership could therefore be the best option in the long term.

Subscription Streaming Music Services
Streaming music which has seen quite an explosion in its offerings in recent years, can be a more flexible way of enjoying digital music if you don't mind the fact that you'll never own any of it. This type of digital music service typically offers a monthly (or yearly) subscription rate to access a smorgasboard of tracks covering practically every type of genre you can think of. Many streaming music services also offer mobile solutions so you can access and listen to millions of songs on popular portable devices like the iPhone, iPad, and other smartphones and portables. There is also no worry about running out of hard drive storage space, or cluttering up your iPhone's memory with tracks -- but, you'll need an Internet connection with most services to get at it. Some cloud music services like Spotify and iCloud (which features the iTunes Match subscription add-on) do offer a special offline mode, but most don't have this option.

But what about organizing a collection of songs? You can still use your elected streaming service to organize the music you listen to the most (via playlists in the cloud), but it'll only ever be rent space. That said, if you like discovering new music rather than building up a library of 'oldies', then this type of music delivery is a smart solution. Other upsides are that you won't have to worry about: converting between formats, MP3 tagging, or syncing to your iPod -- making this solution a much simpler affair. You'll also be able to steer clear of storage disasters like losing all your music because the hard drive that it was stored on went south! Just remember with listening to cloud music that unless you purchase and download it, you'll never actually own it and when your subscription stops so does the music!

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