To stream or not to stream, that is the question


I stream music. Sometimes. Not at the moment. I’ve been on Apple Music on and off for the last couple of years. Every so often, I take a break from it. I’m on a break right now that started perhaps two months ago when I let an annual subscription expire.

This is driven by a behavior of mine. Whenever I have streaming, I tend not to listen to my collection of nearly two weeks worth of music. That’s not counting my own composition files, both original and constructed, from rough to polished, mostly rough, but all mine, which would take an additional five days.

Why? There’s nothing forcing me to listen to the stream. Apple even offered me a playlist of my favorites, AI-curated with the knowledge of my collection and iTunes Store purchases.

But there’s the thought that the clock is ticking, that I’m paying for the music whether I’m listening to it or not, and so I stream.

There are other good reasons to stream. I love to listen to music in as many languages as possible. Apple Music gives me access to plenty of Latvian, Serbian, French, German, Ukranian, Japanese, Thai various Chinese languages, and more. Although I’ve always been peeved that B’z isn’t among that collection, and it took a long time for Buck-Tick to show up.

Also, I can follow up on music I learn about from YouTubers. Adam Neely has introduced me to jazz, and, after many years of only ever being interested in Take Five, I’ve been diving into Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and others. Streaming allowed me to “freely” experiment with a new for me genre that I hated in my earlier years. David Bruce has done the same for me with modern classical. And many others, all providing me recs for all sorts of music that I can try on a whim.

It’s also helped me with my study of musicals. I took a course in the Architecture of Musicals from John Dietrich with the Dramatists Guild Institute. I read the scripts for multiple musicals, and used streaming to follow along. I also listened to the music for a wide range of other musicals. This helped me with my study for working on my adaptation of my play Evil Fan as a musical.

In short, streaming offers an insanely wide variety of sound to discover. I haven’t even scratched the surface.

There are downsides of course. Check out Adam Neely’s How much is music worth? on YouTube. Short answer: about $0.0029.

I’ll admit I don’t think about that much when I shell out my subscription fee to Apple. And I seriously haven’t bought a lot of music since streaming came into my life. During my non-streaming periods, I mostly listen to stuff I already have.

When you have two weeks of music to listen to, plus five days of your own, there’s only so much time you can spend.

How many times do I listen to something? When I stream, if I really love something I may listen to it five times in a row, but after that, it’s usually forgotten to never be heard again.

Before streaming and during breaks? Check out the play counts for my 10 most-played songs, all originally ripped to my computer from my CD collection, where I listened to them who knows how many times before iTunes graced my Mac:

  1. 對錯 by LMF, 177 times
  2. YYYY by LMF, 144 times (warning: flashing images in video)
  3. Berangkat -ブランカ- by The Boom, 138 times
  4. Bran-New Lover by Buck-Tick, 132 times
  5. ตะโกน by Out, 127 times
  6. 沒有去的旅行 by Zen, 116 times
  7. Absorbing Man by Parokya Ni Edgar, 115 times
  8. Yuk Yai Lai Yuk Lek by Big Ass, 104 times
  9. 陋巷(FLAMENCO MIX 97) by Zen, 95 times
  10. (tie) Subete No Hito No Kokoro Ni Hanna O by Shoukichi Kina and
    אז למה לי פוליטיקה עכשיו by Mashina, 92 times each

It takes 140 songs to get down below 50 plays per song. And about 33 (and a third?) songs shy of 2,000 songs to get below 10.

If I kept track, which I don’t, I likely could count the number of songs I’ve streamed 10 or more times on my fingers and toes. Probably just my fingers. Not counting the thumbs.

I think about this a lot. As I walk down the street with my mental iPod sending random songs my way, the songs it’s sending me are those either from my CD or long-ago LP/45 collection or from the days I listened to radio for my new music.

It doesn’t take a lot of plays with the right song. If I look at songs with play counts in the teens, I can call bits of a few of them into my head. The count goes way up when I get even just into the twenties.

But streamed music? No.

I love my mental iPod. It’s a major loss for me that I listen to music that I like that I will only ever listen to once.

But I love having the chance to hear it that once, to expand my horizons.

So, someday, probably some time this year, I’ll electronically plunk down another year of Apple Music, or maybe I’ll try Spotify, or Pandora, or YouTube, or something.

There’s a site Every Noise at Once, that provides 10-second samples of dozens if not hundreds of music genres from all over the world. Each genre can be entered to explore a broad sample of artists from that genre. There is so much music in the world, and so little time.

I’ve just picked up a copy of Every Song Ever by Ben Ratliffe. Alas, it’s been years since I’ve finished a book that wasn’t a script or a graphic novel, but I want to understand this issue more deeply. I also wanted to post this essay before I cracked it, so that my thoughts aren’t pre-biased by Ben Ratliff’s thoughts. Assuming I complete it, I plan to come back and record new thoughts about my relationship with streaming.

I may or may not be moved to resume streaming while reading it. It might offer me too much temptation. As well as annoyance, given streaming doesn’t really offer every song ever.

Gotta catch ’em all.

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