No matter what you think about iTunes, there’s no denying that Apple’s music software revolutionized the music industry and how we experience it. Along with the iTunes Music Store, this software made buying, listening to, and collecting music an all-in-one experience, while introducing the notion of buying a single song rather than an entire album. It’s hard for many to remember a time when you couldn’t do that, and we have Steve Jobs to thank.
Just because iTunes was so revolutionary, and is still so ubiquitous, doesn’t make it the best option for consumers to collect and access their music with these days. As your library grows, iTunes sometimes slows — and besides, a growing number of people want to be able to access their stuff anywhere without having to deal with transferring files around manually, like some sort of music sys admin. Aren’t computers and the internet supposed to take care of stuff like that for us?
The answer is floating above you: the cloud, where you can store all your tracks so they can beam down at you like so many rainbows.
To get out of iTunes and onto the cloud requires a solid grasp of the options, because this is definitely a case of “different strokes for different folks.” Let’s take a look.
Moving to Subscription Services via iTunes Import
If you’re ready to embrace the cloud in a big way, it’s time to stop buying individual songs (for the most part) and switch to paying a blanket monthly fee. It costs, like three lattes per month to add the best of around 20 million songs to your life. Luckily, this doesn’t mean leaving your iTunes jams behind; Rdio, Rhapsody, and Spotify can import your downloaded MP3s (see notes below), and also allow you to transfer those to your iPhone or Android, so that you don’t have to use a separate app to play your legacy collection. Or, if you’d prefer a more robust locker with a subscription add-on, check out Google Play Music All Access.
Google Play Music All Access: We’ll talk more about Google in the context of its music locker below, but it’s worth pointing out that because Google has a music subscription now, you can upload your iTunes tracks to Google’s locker and play Google’s subscription songs right alongside them, on the web or Android. Uploadable file types include AAC, FLAC, MP3, OGG, M4P (AAC), and M4A.
How to do it: Install Google Play Music Manager for Mac or Windows, then just follow the directions. Because Google Play is also a locker, you can download as well as upload:
Rdio: Many people prefer Rdio’s clean interface, but people switching from iTunes should note that while Rdio can scan-and-match the music in your iTunes library using its Mac or PC software, it won’t grab anything that’s not already on Rdio. Almost all of your stuff will mirror up, but if you have lots of weird, non-released, or live music, you’ll need to use another app to handle that stuff, as well as subscription holdouts like the Beatles and Led Zeppelin. On the plus side, this mirroring technique is way faster than waiting for files to upload.
How to do it: Download the Rdio app for Mac or Windows, then click the little down arrow at the upper right of the Rdio screen and choose Match Collection:
Rhapsody: Same here — you can only import iTunes music that exists on Rhapsody. When you want to listen to the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and Thom Yorke, or your weirdo SoundCloud downloads, you’ll have to switch to another app.
How to do it: Install Rhapsody’s Cloud Sync software for Mac or Windows, then tell the software where your music is:
Spotify: Like Google, Spotify can suck up all the music on your computer from iTunes or anywhere else, and let you play it alongside Spotify’s subscription tracks on any platform, even if Spotify doesn’t have the music in question. File types include MP3, M4P, M4A (without DRM) and M4R (Apple’s ringtone format, for some reason).
How to do it: Go to Spotify > Edit > Preferences, and look for the area where you can add any folder:
Spotify also lets you import playlists directly from iTunes in File > Import playlists, like so:
Who’s It For?
iTunes-leavers who want a mix of their own downloaded/ripped/purchased music, plus on-demand access to millions of songs on multiple devices, should go this subscription route. It’s the best option by far, from the perspective of acquiring new music to add to your former iTunes collection – but it’s also the most expensive month-over-month, because it gives you almost every track in the iTunes store, without you having to pay for them.
Think about it: 20 million songs x $1/song on iTunes = $20 million. In that sense, a music subscription is a great value at $10/month, and you can bring all of your iTunes stuff with you (Google, Spotify) or the vast majority of it (Rdio, Rhapsody). You’ll need to follow the directions for the service you choose.
Who’s It Not For?
People who already have all the music they want, or who don’t want “all access” for some other reason should go with a locker instead, if they want a piece of the cloud.
Moving to Apple iCloud (Locker)
Apple’s answer to local-only iTunes is iCloud, which stores not just your music, but apps, pictures, videos, contacts, and other stuff from your Mac, PC, iPhone, iPod Touch, and/or iPad. Supported file types include MP4 (Apple’s term for AAC) and MP3 files. It’ll also take your AIFF, WAV, and Apple Lossless files, but it’ll transcode those to 256 Kbps AAC.
That means the files will sound about as good as your connection will allow (and as with all the others here, you can download the files locally too). As with most things Apple, it’ll cost you a little more than the other lockers.
Yes, there’s a free version of iCloud, but it doesn’t make sense for the serious music fan, because it only stores music you bought from iTunes — none of your ripped CDs or downloaded songs. To fix that requires a $25/year iTunes Match subscription (25,000 songs).After that, you can play them from up to 10 devices (not Androids though).
To buy iTunes Match and upload your music, go here.
Who’s it for?
iCloud with iTunes Match is for people who don’t mind paying for a service (its feature list shows why it costs money) and don’t want the perceived hassle of moving from one service to another. Also, the initial process of shifting from iTunes to iCloud with iTunes Match is really easy.
Who’s It Not For?
Android people and those who want to “cloudify” over 25,000 songs from their computers. Also, you’re not leaving iTunes completely behind — that’s what you’ll use to play these tracks on computers, because there’s no web player. Finally, there’s no all-access subscription option, so if you want to add music, you’ll need to download it into iTunes first.
Moving to Google Play (Locker; Optional Subscription)
Google Music allows you to upload 20,000 songs to Google’s servers, for free. These can be AAC, FLAC, MP3, OGG, M4P, or M4A files from your iTunes library.
Google Play’s music locker also allows you to listen to your music like a radio station (interview).
Who’s it for?
Music fans who value a bargain above all other things might want to start here, as should those who put an emphasis on uniting subscription and local music.
Who’s it not for?
Apple iOS device owners probably don’t want this. Google doesn’t offer an iOS version — although at least one app does offer access. Also, if you’re trying to import more than 20,000 tracks from iTunes, this won’t work for you.
Moving from iTunes to Amazon Cloud Player (Locker)
For the music download hero with thousands upon thousands of songs, Amazon offers the best cloud music solution, for those willing to pay. The free version only includes 250 songs, but $25/year lets you put 250,000 songs up there, accessible on any platform (even Sonos). File types include AIFF, Apple Lossless, FLAC, M4P (AAC), OGG, WAV, and WMA. As with all of these services, your sound quality depends on your connection, or you can download the files to your device so that a mobile connection is not an issue.
This page has all the necessary tools, which essentially just means the ‘Amazon Music Importer, which searches your iTunes and Windows Media Player libraries to find music and playlists.
Who’s It For?
This is the best locker if you have a massive music collection on your computer and don’t want a subscription.
Who’s It Not For?
If you don’t want to pay, this is a poor option. Also, as with Apple iCloud, you’ll still be living in a download world, although any music you buy from Amazon (including CDs and vinyl!) will appear in your account.
(Image via Grant Eaton)