So following on from the Spotify post earlier this week I had a look at Google’s All Access service that just launched in my region of the world this morning. 

As I use Google Play Music to backup and listen to my own CD/Music collection when out and about, I thought I would take the opportunity to try their music service - free for one month.

It is hard to knock a service like this or Spotify without using it personally. I have access to Spotify at work, but somehow in that environment, where the experience of listening is shared, Spotify makes more sense… it can cater to everyone at once and provide a little of everything. A personal experience is very different however, so I felt it best to take this opportunity to see what it feels like for me.

I say feels like, because like a lot of music lovers I truly value the experience of music discovery, shopping and listening. I get a little bit of a buzz every time I buy something new and like it - and get an equally powerful feeling when I don’t like it, but it is always a lesson learnt and a new experience to be had. 

So what does it feel like to explore, listen and learn on Google All Access? 

Well it is early days yet, but it is pretty weird and very new. On the one hand the selection is staggering. Seemingly endless amounts of music from a humongous catalogue of artists and albums - where to start!?

I already have 12,000 or so songs uploaded into Google and All Access seems to attempt to merge the experience by integrating the search with my own music and that which is available through the service. As a result the lines are really blurred and I get the feeling that my own collection - which I cherish and enjoy on a daily basis - has become pretty pointless and insignificant.

Then I search for my favourite band and get a selection of their most recent releases mixed with some special once-off singles… it is interesting to see but compared to my own collection of their music it truly pales in comparison. I can compare my own selection of their full back catalogue and numerous b-sides, rarities, live shows etc… to the 30 or so tracks that the Google Music service provides and I am starting to see the cracks…

But the service is not about providing everything ever (or is it?)… it is more about broadening your interests and letting you hear something new and exciting (isn’t it?). This is presumably so that you can then go and buy that band’s album on the back of that listen and invest some real money in them… presumably. But why would I do that if I can just listen to it here whenever I want… I’ve paid my 7.99 monthly fee (or 9.99 for some)… so why would I go and  spend any more cash. 

This is where it gets scary. Nobody owns this music… we only have the right to listen to it. It is not a possession, it is not something that I can happily share or stack on my shelf. 

Ok, so then there is the option to buy these tracks - this offers a digital “download” of the track  - presumably this is simply getting added to your library on Google and is only ever downloaded to your device if you request it. They would have to allow for a download which you can then burn to a physical CD - I presume this is available. It still feels however that the purchase of a digital download is pointless if the service allows the user to listen to anything at any time when connected to the internet.

Furthermore, for Google the transaction is potentially money for nothing - the user may never download the track and only ever stream their music from their servers, thus making the transaction completely pointless and a waste of money for the user. 

Putting the idea of ownership aside, the overall feeling is that the effort has been removed. The challenge of finding and listening to music has diminished to a mouse click and an algorithm devised by Google to find music that you will like. This is disguised as a way to enable the user but in actual fact it is a method of ensuring the user is more likely to either purchase the new music through their shop and/or be more likely to renew their subscription at the end of the month.

The reality is that a truly new experience is gained through taking chances, listening to something that is dissimilar to your current collection, and broadening your interests. That sort of approach breeds new culture and  helps keep the musical gene-pool from getting stagnant - which is sort of how it is getting at the moment. 

So how does it feel? It feels easy, comprehensive, all encompassing, effortless, pointless, scientific, heartless… commercial. You can look at all of those feelings and read into them however you like - each to their own point of view - but to me these feelings felt like an attack on the effort and commitment I had put into my own music collection. It felt like the idea of ownership of music had been completely removed and it was no longer about investing in the music and only about experiencing it.

The catch here is that the experience is significantly enhanced by the act of investment. By investing in an object you take a gamble and partake in a challenge. The reward for getting it right can be hugely gratifying and the experience is engrained in real memories that last far longer than the length of a pop song. 

Ask yourself, what was the first album you ever bought? That’s the feeling I am talking about. With services like this it is likely that this question and many other fond memories we routinely associate with music will be removed. 

- “…the day, the music died”