Spotify, you had me, then you lost me

Well, I’ve had it. Spotify and I were getting along just fine up until today. Then I started getting this popup message on my phone:

Syncing Error
I have over 10GB of space free on my phone–plenty of room for more music, and I just want a decent selection of my favorite music to be able to listen to anywhere, offline. I swear I only have a few dozen albums download onto my phone–definitely nowhere near what I would consider excessive. After wiping Spotify completely from my phone in frustration, I noted there was around 11GB of music that freed up, so I assume that’s how much space it consumed. I had it set to download in high quality. I think that’s ridiculous though. They have all the copy protection in place, allowing you to download seemingly unlimited music locally, and you have to check-in with Spotify at least once every 30 days to make sure your account is still valid, and the music is in a proprietary format no other media player can use. The system works. So why limit the number of downloads??? Nothing says anything at all about a limit on the amount of music you can download. You just get the error when you hit the barrier. There is no way I’m going to start juggling artists and albums to work with this limitation. I had enough of an issue just trying to get “Local Files” to let me put my personal music (the albums I couldn’t find in Spotify) into the Spotify app on my phone–which I still can’t see to find any time I try to search for a song or artist in my local files.

Well, at least I found out before my 30-day free trial was up, so it won’t end up costing me anything. I just wonder how many other users ended up paying for months or years, THEN ran into this wall! After googling the error message, I now see that the apparent limit is 3,333 songs per device or 10,000 songs total on your account. Agh.

I am not back to my old standby, which I never get rid of and always seem to end up coming back to: Subsonic – my personal music server, and DSub, a great Android client for Subsonic. No more limits on my downloads, except for free space, and all my music is mp3 and unprotected, so I can even access it with other apps that support MP3s. Once side benefit to this is that my favorite Alarm Clock (Alarm Clock Xtreme – https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.alarmclock.xtreme&hl=en) now works properly again, allowing me to choose any artist or album to randomly wake up to each morning–very slowly ascending in volume, so I can turn it off before it gets too loud and wakes up the rest of the family!

Bye bye Spotify!

Spotify Review

I’m trying out Spotify. After hearing so many good things about it, and having looked at a few other streaming music services, I thought I’d give this one a shot. I’m already past my 7-day trial, and now on my first free 30 days. I’m hoping to know definitively, by the time it comes to charge me the first time, whether I’m going to stick with it or go back. So far, here’s what I’ve learned:  Spotify seems to have the largest music library out of all of the streaming music services–or at least pretty close–and it’s definitely the most popular.

The Good: I love the 12-second cross-fade. I haven’t seen this feature since my old MediaMonkey days, and I really like it. It sort of feels like a DJ-blended mix when I listen this way, smoothly fading between each song. Then there’s the simple “SAVE” button on every album, which saves it to “My Music” instantly, making it easy to find anything I grab when browsing their gazillion tracks. And once you “Save” an album, the option to make it “Available Offline” appears as a toggle switch, which results in the album downloading to your device locally. You can even stay offline for up to 30 days before you have to go online again, at least to “check in” to make sure you’re still a Spotify member. Very nice. It seems they’ve got both solutions (the ability to offer their vast library to their members available for STREAMING as well as offer local downloading and saving of any content for the members who prefer to download–or can’t afford to constantly stream). The interface is pretty solid with a nice layout and options. And I believe Spotify has the largest music selection out of all of the current streaming services, so it’s probably the best one to go with, if I stick with a streaming service.

The Not-So-Bad: Just after I signed up, I spot-checked some of my old classics, just to test the waters. For the most part, everything was there and easy to find. I had an issue with a few albums though, and this one kinda bugs me: I searched for Hootie & The Blowfish’s album “Cracked Rear View”, as this is an old favorite of mine. I couldn’t find the album, though there were other Hootie songs and one other album I found, as well as a few of the songs from Cracked Rear View on other albums. So I figured out how to do “Local Files” on the PC, I dropped my old copy of Cracked Rear View into it, then created a playlist that contained the album, which showed up on my phone in Spotify, then I was able to stream and/or download it. That worked ok, but the very next day, I played around some more, and there was Cracked Rear View, in Spotify, like it had always been there. I removed it from my “Local Files”, and it’s on Spotify now. Was that just a weird coincidence, or does Spotify just monitor user searches and Local Files and act on what they find really really quickly??? If it’s the latter, that would be amazing to learn. Wow, that would be amazing. Now I’m anxious to find another one that’s missing and do the exact same thing just to prove it was a coincidence. So that’s not so bad.

The Bad: I have over 67,000 local songs and audiobooks, all purchased as MP3’s, extracted from CDs, or converted from other formats, accumulated over the years. To quickly answer my next question, I pointed “Local Files” on my PC to my entire music section. I gave it a full day to add, catalog and index it all, but it failed miserably. Spotify on my PC froze up each time I clicked on Local Folders to view them, sometimes it even worked, somewhat, and displayed the tracks, but I wasn’t able to search them so they were pretty much useless to work with. If I were going to use “Local Files”, I would have to pick and choose the exact albums to make available to Spotify. I think 67,000 songs is way too much for it to handle at this time. One other feature that most other music players that I’ve used on my android device (and Audible) have is the ability for the app to pause or at least lower its volume when it loses temporary “focus”–this is when a notification sound occurs on the system, or another application uses the audio momentarily, such as Runtastic, which has a voice coach that announces my workout progress every so often while I walk. Spotify doesn’t have this feature, and I’ve grown very fond of it over the years with all my other apps. It makes them sort of “cooperate” with each other instead of fighting for the audio all at the same volume.

So, overall, I’m fairly impressed. It has it’s flaws, but nothing so bad I find it unusable. I’ll continue giving it a solid workout for a couple more weeks before they take their first $9.99 out of my wallet.

If you use or have used Spotify, I welcome your input, tips, suggestions and/or recommendations! Thanks!

Google Music Unlimited vs Amazon Cloud Player Premium

cloud-music-showdownI recently tried Google Music Unlimited as my primary source for music. Subsonic is still up and running though, and still contains my entire music library, ready to stream via web or smartphone client (or Roku) whenever needed. I figured Google’s unlimited music service might just end up being the ultimate music service, based on their size and power, so when they offered a special low subscription rate for early subscribers, I decided to jump on-board and see how it goes.

There’s a “Google Music Manager” application available for the PC that I used for awhile. What it does is scan your personal music library, match it with Google’s library, and upload anything unmatched to their site. So basically, when it’s done, your entire existing collection, as well as Google’s entire library is available to you in one place. It is currently limited to 20,000 songs you can upload, so I was anxious to see what it would do with my massive existing collection. It figured it SHOULD match most of my albums, since most aren’t very rare and are on most music services, but it sure didn’t match many. SubSonic says I currently have just over 59,000 songs in my collection, and well over 20,000 (the Google Music limit) just in my “Rock” folder alone (my largest category). So I pointed Music Manager to the Rock folder and let it go. Over 8,100 songs failed to upload after I hit my limit, and I can’t find where it shows how many it actually matched. So far, I don’t think it matched any, which is a real shock. If I can get it to somehow match much of my collection, or at least allow users to increase the 20,000 uploaded songs limit by paying a monthly fee, I’d love to use it permanently. But so far it’s not looking good.

I tried the service for several weeks, and I’m pretty disappointed overall. It refuses to match any of my albums (hundreds of which were purchased from Amazon MP3) and 20,000 songs isn’t even HALF of my collection. I filled it in a few days, and most of what I want to listen to isn’t there, even though a lot of that is probably in Google’s vast unlimited collection, I’m still having a hard time with it. I keep trying, time after time, to use the “Radio” feature. This is supposed to take any song and create a “Radio Station” based on the song’s properties–the type of song, artist, title, etc., and then play music you’d most likely enjoy similar to that song. But almost every time I try to start it from a song, it fails with “Cannot create radio station at this time”. It gets pretty frustrating. And I’ve verified that connectivity isn’t the issue. It does the same thing whether I’m on my home wifi on a solid connection or out somewhere on my cellular connection. Sure, it works sometimes, but it fails enough of the time to make it unusable for me.

So right now I’ve given up on this one. I canceled by subscription, even though it was permanently at a discounted price of $7.99 a month because I started subscribing during it’s initial release. Instead, I am now trying Amazon’s Premium Cloud Player service. In comparison, Google’s service allowed 20,000 songs to be imported at $7.99/month, and Amazon’s Cloud Player Premium service allows 250,000 songs to be imported. This is over 10x the capacity, and probably way more than I’ll need for quite some time! Amazon’s premium service is also only $24.99/year. That’s a little over $2/month. Granted, Amazon doesn’t give you access to their vast music collection for free–and that might be a big factor for many users–but it’s not something I find extremely valuable myself. Usually, when I find new music, I want to purchase the actual album anyway, and add it to my personal collection, and I will usually purchase these through Amazon MP3, as I have for years, so it works out for me. And music I purchase this way doesn’t even apply toward my 250,000-song import limit, so I sincerely doubt I will EVER hit the limit. As for discovering new music, I know it’s pretty handy to have a wide-open huge selection you can sample all you want like Google’s service offers, but I find plenty just by listening to the radio, browsing Amazon’s site, and getting my fill of music exposure from the various TV and music shows I watch.

Based on all of that, I think Amazon Cloud Player Premium might just be the solution for me. There is one catch with a music collection as large as mine, however: Getting over 50,000 songs uploaded and synchronized with Amazon is no small task. It took me a total of about 5 weeks, using a “server” PC that I leave on 24/7, in order to get my entire collection uploaded and sync’ed (August 2nd, 2013 – September 10th , 2013. It did have it’s issues, and even crashed a couple times, completely freezing the “Amazon Music Importer”, but every time I restarted the app it never failed to resume. I reached a point, somewhere at around 4,200 remaining songs left to import, where it never got any further after restarting. I’m not sure what caused this–whether it got stuck on a particular song or whether it kept looping through all of them, but it just continued to flip through song titles scanning for matches in Amazon’s collection compared to mine, and didn’t get any further, so after two days of noting this, even after restarts of the app and restarts of the PC, I used a different approach: Instead of mass-adding my entire “MUSIC” folder, I instead chose one subfolder (which I have broken out into music types, like “country”, “rock”, “new age”, etc.) and started importing them separately, one category at a time. This seemed to resolve the issue, and after that every subfolder completed and imported without issue until I was done.

During this 5-week process, I also noted that on a few occasions the “AmazonMusicImporter” process in Windows would keep running and the memory usage would continue to increase even long after I closed the utility and stopped importing! This only seemed to happen when I was importing folders containing several thousand songs though. It never seemed to happen on smaller folders. Whenever this occurred, I noticed that the PC kept running very sluggishly until I ended the process using task manager. So all in all it was quite a chore, but I should never have to do it again, and I can rest assured that my entire collection is in the cloud, securely backed up and available for streaming, any time, anywhere.

The Android app itself is a little clunky, but it does have all of the functionality that I need, offering the ability to view “Cloud” and “Device” music separately, download entire albums or just songs to the device as needed, etc., etc, There’s also a web-based “Amazon Cloud Player” you can use for managing your playlists, albums and songs, and it offers many more features that I really like. It’s very quick and easy to make my playlists this way. They also have an installable app for the PC, also called “Amazon Clound Player”, but I don’t recommend it at all, at this point. For some reason, a lot of my music–and even some of my playlists–just don’t show up in this app, but they show up in the web-based app and on my phone, so I know they’re there. What the deal is, I have no idea. I can log out of the app, back in, tell it to re-check my cloud for new music, and I still have literally THOUSANDS of songs missing in that app. So for now I’ll still to web-based and Android versions, which work smoothly and “see” my entire music collection.

DSub opens my eyes

Today I discovered a weird convergence of the two big issues I posted previously.  It started when I discovered DSub, an Android Subsonic client that ROCKS!  The regular Android Subsonic client–called simply “Subsonic” was decent, but lacked some crucial features and functionality that made me lean more toward Audiogalaxy when they were both excellent streaming music server options.  DSub is (and looks a lot like) the Subsonic client on steroids!  It’s open-source, so I’m guessing it’s the same client at it’s base, just customized to be much better.  It’s like the “full version” of the Android Subsonic client!  It costs $1.99, but it’s well worth it!  Anyway, one of the big features of this app that just punched me in the face and woke me up today, is an option in its settings called “Temporary loss of focus”.  It has 4 options under it: “Always Pause”, “Pause and lower volume when requested”, “Always lower volume”, and “Do Nothing”.  I didn’t realize what this weird function was until I clicked on it and saw these 4 options…. then it hit me–THIS is the feature than an audio-heavy app needs, to know what to do when another sound plays on the Android device!

So now I was on a mission.  I set it to “Always Pause”, threw on my winter coat, and hopped in the car for a ride around the neighborhood.  I turned setup Google Navigation to take me to work, started up my DSub music, then drove around the neighborhood while Google Navigation kept interrupting my song to give me directions.  It was FLAWLESS!  DSub paused every time when the Navigation started talking, and all is right with my (Android) world again!  So next I started up an Audible book and drove around some more… Bummer.  Audible isn’t working that way, and keeps playing now, blending the two voices of the book and the navigation into something very confusing (and potentially dangerous if I were relying on actual directions while driving).  So I came back home and send a support e-mail to Audible.  They responded very quickly to another question I had previously, so I am anxiously awaiting their response to this one.  Here’s what I wrote:

I listen to my audible books heavily on my Android phone during my daily commute, along with Google Navigation. I’ve been having a problem recently, however: The audible application no longer pauses when Google Navigation speaks–they both talk at once, which can sometimes make me miss a turn or direction unless I’m constantly watching the GPS directions on the screen.

After some research on the web, and finding other apps that still work ok and pause for the navigation, I have realized that it might be something that has changed in the Audible app.

I also found this explanation on Audible regarding a slightly different issue:

“We have received reports from users of the Audible for Android application, that the Audible application pauses at random. Upon further investigation, we have found that other applications may ‘steal’ the audio focus for no apparent reason when running in the background. The Audible for Android application respects audio focus requests to pause or stop playback. At the current time, the only means of resolution is to uninstall the offending application from your phone.”

To me, it seems like the Audible application used to respect the audio focus change, but now it no longer does. Can I get this ability back? Maybe if I uninstall and reinstall the app?? Or was something actually removed in the app so that it will no longer auto-pause like it used to?

Please let me know if there’s anything I, or Audible, can do to resolve this issue. I’m afraid I would no longer be able to safely listen to audiobooks in my car (with Audible) if this can’t be fixed, and I’d have to seek another alternative.

Thank you.

That’s it.  I’m pretty sure they took this ability out of their app, but we’ll see if there might be a way to correct it’s behavior and make it work.  It worked properly ever since I first subscribed to Audible and started listening to books in the car.  I’ll post the response I get.

UPDATE: 

Wow, Audible is quick. About an hour after sending that support message to them this evening, they responded. They gave me a $10 coupon for my trouble, apologized, and said there’s an update for the app, and I need to completely uninstall, delete the Audible folder, then install the updated version. So I did all of this, but was unable to completely remove the application, since it came pre-installed on my phone. I could only uninstall the updates. So I did that much and deleted the folder. Then ran Audible, signed in and downloaded a book. I played the book, then started Google Navigation. Sure enough, it worked great by pausing the book when driving directions were spoken, then resumed the book again right after. Next I installed the latest update from the app store and did it again. Crap! It went back to having the issue again by completely ignoring the driving directions and playing the book right through them. Back to the drawing board!

This definitely proves it’s something in the updated versions though, so it helps. I e-mailed support again, as a reply, so they have the entire history of the issue. I asked that, if they don’t want to have the auto-pause feature due to a lot of users having the “random pausing issue” they talk about on their help page, why not add it as an option that the user can toggle in the app’s settings? I’ll let you know what they say.

For now though, I’m back to listening to my books in the car–I just can’t update my Audible App beyond the version that came with my phone.

Latest obsession complete

My Ultimate Forrest Gump Soundtrack collection is finished.  51 tracks, including all of the songs missing from the “Special Collector’s Edition” as listed on Wikipedia.  I would have just bought the darned thing, if it was even available in MP3 format!  Sheesh.  It costed me less than $5.00 though–I was only missing 5 of the tracks.  I even created custom album art and re-tagged all the tracks properly.  It was pretty fun, actually.

Burn, Forrest, Burn! (music, I mean, burn music!)

I just watched Forrest Gump tonight.  I had seen it 3 or 4 times in the past, but this is the first time I watched it on Blu-Ray.  Now I’m on a mission.  The awesome soundtrack is one I am drooling for, and the internet is not making it easy for me.  According to Wikipedia, there was a soundtrack CD released–first with 32 tracks of the original songs (not the musical background score–which was released separately–but the actual songs in the movie), then, later, a “Special Edition” version containing two more songs for a total of 34 songs, on two CDs.  So it is out there, but I’ll be damned if I can find an MP3 version!  Amazon doesn’t have it, so I doubt it’s for sale anywhere.  It makes no sense.  I have everything I need to convert a CD to MP3’s, but in today’s day and age, I shouldn’t have to.  I’ll dig around some more, someone’s gotta have it somewhere.  I hate to have to purchase a silly plastic CD case with two more plastic CD discs, then burn them to MP3’s and just let the CDs rot in their case forever.  It’s such a waste.  But then again, this could be an awesome quest–even the 34-track set is still missing 16 songs that were skipped for some reason.  So I could attempt to assemble the ULTIMATE Forrest Gump Soundtrack of my own!  I’m sure I already have several of the songs in my collection, so there’s a start.  I’ll add comments to this post as I progress.  Stay tuned.

Amazon MP3 ROCKS!

Wow, Amazon MP3 just blew my mind!  When their service started, I was pretty disappointed that they didn’t grandfather in all of my old MP3 purchases.  Instead, from the day their cloud player went live and forward, it would store your music.  Bummer for me, since I had spent hundreds of dollars on music on Amazon since they first started selling MP3’s.  I didn’t lose any music though, I still had it stored on my own drives.  Well, today they’ve finally included all of my previous MP3 purchases into my Amazon Cloud collection!  I had just under 100 albums on my cloud drive before, and now, as Amazon continues to scan my old purchases, it is importing 1,936 previously-purchased albums!  Wow.  Luckily, NONE of these albums go against my GB storage limit, since they were purchased from Amazon!  So now this gives me another streaming option in addition to Audiogalaxy and Subsonic.

Up until now, Audiogalaxy has been my preferred streamer.  It’s completely free, streams much smoother than any of other option I’ve tried, and it even works great at work.  Subsonic has the added benefit of downloading as standard MP3’s so I can use standard media players on my devices to play the music, but it doesn’t want to play at work.  I’ll have to see how Cloud Player stacks up, now that I have all my music back on it.

New Kenosha Art

I added 8 new photos to the Kenosha Art set today.  These were all taken during my Pennoyer Park walk yesterday.  They’re the first 8 photos in this set – 2 new park signs, 4 black-on-blue themed music murals that were ocated around the restrooms at the bandshell, and 2 new tile art images, located on either side of the bandshell itself.  Enjoy!

Kenosha Art – click on any thumbnail to view the set

Amazon vs Google – The quest for the MP3 market

Amazon just released “Cloud Drive” and “Cloud Player” for Android.  It lets you stream your music from the cloud.  5GB of cloud space is free, and you get upgraded to 20GB if you buy just one MP3 album from them in 2011 (from this date forward).  All future purchases of Amazon MP3 music are stored in their cloud space for free, so if this is the only place you get your music, like me, this could be great.

But unfortunately they’re not including everyone’s previous purchases, which is very sad.  I have purchased hundreds of albums from them over the past few years, so this would have been awesome, so unfortunately this is a deal breaker for me.  I have over 250GB of music, so they’re saying I would need to purchase a t least a block of 200GB of cloud space for $200 per year!  Or worse yet, their next plan up, which is 500GB for $500 a year! Yikes!  So it looks like I’m sticking to streaming my own music from home for now.

Google, however, is about to release “Google Music”, which promises to offer streaming of your own music from home, as well as from the cloud, and they’ll have their own MP3 store to purchase new music!  This sounds pretty promising, and if it works out, I might just have to switch to purchasing my music from Google instead of Amazon in the future!  We’ll see.