Reader Dave had a detailed response in a comment to my post yesterday on the complexities of discovering, buying, maintaining and enjoying music in the midst of the music distribution revolution. He has some good advice:
"First off, quit buying anything with DRM and consider that you've learned a foolish expensive lesson on previous purchases. Something not available without DRM you say; hogwash, buy the CD and rip it! You are using the LAME encoder, right!?!?
Second, put all of your CDs together in large plastic bins, then put them in the garage or somewhere out of the weather, but not in living areas. You need that Billy Joel CD, you know where the CD bins are and can have the song ripped in a minute or two (once you find the correct bin). I have way over a thousand CDs, but I know where all the bins are in the loft if I'm missing anything.
Third, standardize on the mp3 format; it's the defacto standard, don't fight it. MP3 formatted files play on all devices worth using. Add all devices that can't play mp3s into the same e-waste bins that your Sony MD players went into.
Fix your network server disk format or get a proper one that can talk to Macs and PCs. Most SOHO NAS devices can do this and are O/S agnostic. Centrally store your music collection; hard drives very cheap and managing a large distributed collection is too painful.
Don't ever use iTunes for a music server with a large music collection. It's designed for a casual music listener with a meager music collection. You have the right idea with the Sonos system (I prefer SlimDevices, but 6 to 1, half dozen to another). Sonos (and Slim) do not need iTunes. The only purpose for iTunes is to change the content on an iPod!"
He goes on with additional advice on maintaining the collection, including the all-important backup.
The thing is I've followed most of his advice for some time now. The difficulties arise in the trade-offs that arise between pragmatism and convenience. Allow me to explain.
I do prefer buying CDs as my first option. The problem arises when you want just a track or two and don't want to pay the $10-15 for the whole CD. This is increasingly an issue as one can pick and choose just the track that catches one's fancy off a post on a music blog, or in a TV commercial or a show.
After all, that's one of the primary benefits of the digital download revolution. You can buy just the song you want, not the collection of songs the artist and/or the label wants to package for you.
Then one faces a series of searches to make the optimal choice in buying that one track.
Buying the track in MP3 format is always the first choice here, as Dave aptly suggests. So one searches for the track on eMusic, and recently on Amazon's MP3 download service. If it's a relatively popular tune, it's likely not available on most of these services as an MP3 download.
So one searches next on iTunes, or any number of other services that offer digital downloads of single tracks with DRM protection.
iTunes will charge $1.29 instead of the traditional $0.99 for a DRM-free track, IF available, but it's worth it of course to get a non-DRM track.
More often than not, the only digital download available is in a DRM protected format.
Notice that for each track, one needs to search for the best deal as it were, in format and price, on multiple online music retailers. This can often take 5-10 minutes per track, with multiple tabs open in a browser.
Gets pretty tedious when trying to buy a handful of tracks.
As yet, there's no meta-search engine that I'm aware of, which searches for the best deal on a track across various online retailers. So it's a hunt and peck process on every track.
The other issue one runs into in choosing to buy a CD or a single track, is the convenience of immediate gratification. Often, one wants the music without waiting for Amazon to deliver the CD, or without the hassle of driving out to the local Walmart or Target.
Dave's advice on using iTunes for just changing the content on an iPod is also on the mark.
Again, the complications arise when one has to manage a handful of iPods for several users in a household.
Why not just use one iPod or other MP3 music player?
Because we now have different iPods for different types of activities. One may want a specific set of music and TV shows for one's iPhone, a different set of workout tunes for the iPod Shuffle or Nano, and yet another one for the voluminous iPod Classic or large-screen iPod Touch.
Music players are getting specialized for different applications, just like our cars, our computers, our watches and other daily tools.
It gets even more complicated when you start getting into managing play-lists. For now, the playlists are best created and managed on the PC or Mac synced with a particular iPod or MP3 player. It's pretty complicated trying to copy playlists from one iTunes on one PC to another. You quickly start to drown in managing .itl and .xml files. I'm pretty resigned to re-creating the same play-lists on different versions of iTunes around the house, and hope for the best.
Dave and other commenters to yesterday's post have suggested using a centralized library off a NAS server that's connected to both the Windows and Mac computers on the network. I tried that for a while, but it got pretty complicated getting the iTunes clients on two of the main computers to sync properly with the centralized NAS server file folder.
It had to do with the FAT32 file format off a Windows-administered NAS server not being compatible with the Mac file folder system. An Apple Genius no less told me there wasn't a clean work-around this problem. If anyone has a suggestion here, I'd as always be most appreciative.
One saving grace in all this is that Sonos is great about copying over your play-ists from iTunes onto the various Sonos controllers. Although if you sync various libraries from various computers onto the Sonos index, you can quickly get many copies of the same play-list like "Recently Added".
iTunes is not yet set up to manage multiple music collections and play-lists across multiple iPods for multiple users. It can be done, but it requires a disciplined set of procedures and rules, not to mention turning off the automatic iPod syncing and management that iTunes offers for users with just one iPod on one computer. And it all gets tediously geeky in a hurry once you start manually managing multiple iPods for multiple people.
And they get unruly when most of the users (aka civilians) in the household don't care for all the rules in order to keep the collection organized and well-maintained.
Again, the usually self-appointed CTO of the household, the Chief Tunes Officer, has to deal with managing the complexity of managing all these disparate pieces.
And we're a ways away from this stuff really being as easy as it should be.