Music in the Cloud? Solutions pour forth.

For those of us with large music collections, many of us have been aching for a solution to make life just a little easier. A few requirements:
  • Allow me to back up my music someplace besides a few devices at home so I’m not wasting disk space which would ultimately be useless in the case of theft or fire.
  • Allow my various systems at work, and home to play music synced from, or based on a single authoritative source.
Right now I have 84GB of music “backed up” on various devices (laptops, ipod, etc). The issue is that I have to sync all these devices from the master. Of course not all the devices are always reachable all the time. Being an Apple user, I have an rsync script that just rsyncs ~/Music/iTunes/ which runs into its own problems from time to time. I’ve been looking for quite some time to find a better solution for syncing my music. A few companies have entered the fray to help users with this sort of issue, though at the moment, there is no perfect solution.
Google Music:
So I tried Google Music (beta). To start, you install Google’s uploader app, Music Manger, which scans through your music and figures out what’s going on. If you have iTunes, it will just import everything from there. It also doesn’t matter what OS you’re using. Mac, Linux, PC. You can upload with any of them. Music manager also has some nice features, such as types of rate limiting so your internet connection isn’t dead slow during the process. Once you’re done, you’ll find it’s imported all your iTunes music and playlists exactly. There’s little after the fact mucking around with fixing things it didn’t import right. They also support the more popular formats, along with less popular onessuch as OGG and FLAC. Finally there’s a 20k song limit which doesn’t affect my 13k song library yet.
As for the player, the mobile web version works well on iphone.  They of course have an Android app. For everyone else there’s the browser which is very nice considering it’s just a web browser for control. Maybe not as nice as iTunes, but I’ve seen a lot worse native players for OS X.
The dealbreaker with Google Music is that their system is a one way backup. Once you’ze put all your stuff onto Google Music, then great, you’ve got your music there. The theoretical fire or theft happens, or you simply want to “cash out” your music and take your files somewhere else. Too bad. It’s stuck there. Sure you can play your music anytime you want, but for your music, Google Music is the Hotel California of music storage. The only upside is that (for now) it’s free. Google satisfies my requirement #2, but certainly not #1. One option would be backing my music up to something like Amazon S3, which would be nearly $12/mo for my 84GB.
Amazon Cloud Player
A very similar model to Google though it’s not free. It’s also not a bad as Apple claims. If you compare Apple’s competitor pricing to that of what Amazon claims. It’s a ways off. Also, Amazon now stores your music for free, technically it’s an annual cost of $20 since that’s the lowest paid plan with the free music option. Still, that’s much better than Apple’s claim. In fact today, Amazon’s Cloud Service is cheaper than what Apple is announcing since it’ll be $20/year vs $24.99/year. It seems they’re taking a preemptive strike against Apple and Google.  Like Google, you download an uploader app. In this case it’s based on Adobe AIR.
Like Google’s Music Manager, it’ll take all your iTunes playlist and replicate them with a great amount of accuracy. However, there are somethings the uploader is lacking. First, it won’t let you upload tracks over 100MB. Ironically, you can buy these tracks from Amazon, and store them on your cloud drive. The cloud uploader just filters them. If you have anything that’s not MP3 or AAC, you’ll need to convert these. The Amazon uploader won’t let you rate limit your uploads. It’s either on full bore, or off. Finally, you can only use a Mac or PC for uploading. Sorry Linux users.
For “cashing out”. Amazon does make it possible to download your music. It’s not quite the same as  s3, but they’ve released an Amazon Downloader app (to compliment their uploader app). So cashing out of the Amazon ecosystem is almost as easy to get out of as it is to get in. Selecting all tracks to download isn’t exactly easy. Likely the best way is to make a playlist based on adding each genre you have, and then downloading the whole playlist. Better than nothing I suppose.
The player is similar to the Amazon player. They also have an Android player. Cloud Player “works” on the iPhone. Meaning you can play from it, but as of this writing it’s not mobile optimized. Strange that they’re courting OS X users, but not providing a decent iPhone option.
Web Players Lowdown
Like Apple claims, yes it takes a very long time to upload my music. Really I don’t care that much. I’ll let my system happily upload music all day long. I just want it to work, and I’ve been trying to devise my own solutions for years, so what’s a few weeks?  I admit I also like the fact it’s all browser based, so it works on anything. Message to Apple: “Being forced to use iTunes is a negative, not necessarily a positive.” One other thing with these services. If you’ve painstakingly populated a bunch of fields in your tracks, well, they’re not really visible in these services. It’s just simple track number, title, artist. Nothing as fancy as what iTunes provides.
The Dark Horse: iTunes Match
iTunes Match is touted as a service which will store your music on it’s cloud (named unsurprisingly, iCloud). They’ll upconvert your music to their standard of 256kbps AAC. Mostly by scanning your drive with itunes, and then tagging that song as yours in their collection (that’s the match part). There’s no uploading here. Recently used songs are stored on your system as a caching measure. It sounds like a utopia of music sync if you’re an iTunes user, right?
As of now, most assumptions about how iTunes match works are speculation. Their site is somewhat vague with how the service will actually work. It seems that iTunes Match will satisfy my requirement #2, so long as I’m using iTunes. Though I wonder if I’ll be able to cash out and download all my music back to my own storage if I want to. On the surface, it seems like Apple is using iTunes Match to provide a much demanded service to their customers. I do wonder if Apple is trying to lock it’s customers into it’s iTunes ecosystem, or if they’re just relying on this feature to make themselves more successful, and they don’t care what people do after the upconvert. We’ll find out this fall.