I haven't attained new music very regularly in years since the days I actually respected FM content. Between the modern choice—buying tracks, subscribing to a service or stealing it—I'm just not getting enough exposure to try before I download. Last night, things changed in a way that I hope paves the way for the future of buying music.Microsoft's Zune team, of all people, are allowing subscription music buyers to keep 10 songs a month from their subscription downloads. Their whole collection. And 90% of the songs you keep will be DRM free, with the other 10% (wimps) coming along shortly I SHOULD HOPE. The cost is $15 a month, so $5 more than the cost of buying the tracks individually. It's worth the cost of being able to really explore the musical landscape again while keeping the prospect of fully owning my music at the end of a day. All in all, though, it's much like when we were kids and the radio was the focus of my musical world. When I was younger, I listened to Z100 as we drove from Jersey to Queens and would later pick up cassette singles at the local mall. Maybe I'm just old and crotchety now, but to me modern radio is a corrupt clusterfuck owned by the RIAA and Washington DC lobbyists, attacking helpful companies like Pandora that try to recommend new music based on our existing tastes. Industry power struggles aside, satellite radio has the same problem. It doesn't know that I hate the song it's about to play three times in two hours on a roadtrip. I enjoy the control of digital downloads, but miss the constant exposure to radio coupled with the conversations I could have at the record store: Fresh, timely exposure plus the occasional music purchase. Of course, the subscription model isn't new. Subscription services combined with recommendation engines were a great idea, but ultimately not one that had many takers, because many people, including me, saw no reason to shell out money for music that would eventually and inevitably evaporate when the subscription ended. With this hybridized service, the new Zune Pass changes that. At the end of the day, you've got the structured presentation of iTunes/Zune software combined with the Mix recommendation engine with full access to an almost endless set of tracks that you can explore. And for the really special songs you want to play for your future kids, you can keep them forever and ever and play on any device you want, Zune or iPod. The only problem I can think of is that 10 songs usually don't equal an album, and some might prefer to get $9.99 worth of credit to use on 10 tracks or an album. And for some of you, this being on PC only and Zune only will be a dealbreaker. Which is why I'm hoping this hybrid music sub/buy model spreads like wildfire. Before that happens, I'm going to get Parallels/XP on my Mac and I'm switching to a Zune. But I hope other companies pick up this model, too, so I can use new and different ways to explore full music collections without paying a dollar for every track along the way.
I finally took the Zune plunge at the beginning of the year, and 3.0 made me dive into the Zune Pass, and I couldn't be happier with it. This latest improvement is kickass, though, and it helps counter those few artists (Metallica, I'm looking at you) who refuse to let their songs be downloaded under the pass. The value of this is fantastic since, as you point out, it basically equates to $5 a month for the pass if you were going to be buying music anyway. I get to feel like I'm really crediting the songs I like most by guaranteeing their place in my library, meanwhile I can sample anything I damn well please at no risk to myself. It's a fantastic value, and I couldn't imagine using iTunes and its limitations after having used this.
Congrats to Microsoft for first having beat the iPod on hardware (minus the Touch), and now having trashed them on software. I'm not crazy enough to think it'll make a major impact, but I'm just happy to see a worthy competitor that fits my needs better.