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A New Kind of Record Collection
A Forty-something Goes Digital
by Kevin Sutton

I have been nuts about records since I was a baby. My mother tells me that I learned to read from record labels. When in 1986, I got a job in a record store to pay for graduate school, I was doomed to amass a ridiculously large collection of recorded music. Never one to resist change, I have always embraced new technologies, although I have seldom given up the old ones either. I just keep adding on.
As you might recall, 1986, the year of my first record store gig, was the beginning of the end for the long playing record. CDs had taken a strong hold, and had become the medium of choice for music-lovers. It was as important then for an old favorite album to come out in the new format as it was for an artist to release something new. During many discussions about changing formats and the future of recorded music, I made a prediction. I predicted that there would come a time when all forms of music storage that could go on a shelf would become obsolete, and that eventually, music would be stored in a giant data base, and that users would pay either a subscription fee, or a per-use fee to access the music. Nothing would ever have to go out of print, and for a nominal cost, you could access millions of recordings at will.
With the ipod now practically ubiquitous, the age of the music collection is seeing the beginning of its end. And now, Real Networks have introduced Rhapsody and a set of sleek portable devices to go along with it. My prophecy has come true, and alas, I didnít patent it first!
Rhapsody (see website) is a music subscription service which can be yours for only $9.99 a month if you wish to stream it from your computer. For $15 a month, you can transfer files to a portable device. SanDisk makes a series of MP3 players especially designed for use with Rhapsody that range in price from about $130-240, depending on the amount of storage you choose and the kinds of features you select. The units are compatible with other MP3 files, photographs and video files, and they all have the capacity for additional memory. The devices are sleek, sexy and easy to use and remarkably compact, far more so than the standard iPod. The portable players can also be plugged into a docking station or a set of self-powered portable speakers so that they can be used without headphones.
Rhapsodyís library of music is immense. They boast over a million songs in dozens of genres, but since this is Musicweb-International I will stick with classical music for our purposes here. Thus far, I have yet to search for a piece of music on Rhapsodyís server and not find it. Most times there are multiple performances from which to choose, and the available recordings range from classic performances by the likes of Herbert von Karajan and Artur Rubinstein et. al. to the most recent recordings by the likes of Christian Thielemann. Many labels, Naxos for example, have their entire catalogue available, which is kind of surprising since they offer a subscription service of their own. (Naxos Radio, see for more information.). A number of labels are now issuing recordings specifically aimed at the MP3 market, and these are readily available on Rhapsody.
Now, one might ask what the benefits of such a service are. Here are the most important points as I see them:

- My Rhapsody MP3 player is the size of a credit card and weighs four ounces. Compare that to my collection of some five thousand CDs and LPs and you now see that having my entire collection on my laptop has some appeal.

Practical use
- I have approximately 170 days worth of 24 hour music listening in my personal collection. Given that I listen to music for about two hours a day on a good day, it would take me four years to listen to everything in my collection once. Given that the average CD costs about fifteen bucks, I am not really getting a very good return on my investment. With the subscription service, I have twenty-four hour access to nearly everything in my personal collection and literally thousands of items that I donít own. And I get to use all this music whenever I want to for the yearly cost of twelve compact discs.

- My MP3 player goes anywhere I go, and if I want to listen without headphones, I only need my laptop and my speakers. All of which I take with me whenever I travel, which is frequently. It all fits in my carry-on baggage, and I have a huge music library with me wherever I go.
Of course, I still love my CD collection, and I would never give it up, and I will certainly continue to add to it. However, for a person who has limited space and funds, the subscription service model is ideal. You get practically unlimited musical choices for the cost of one meal a month in a restaurant. Given the number of CDs that continue to get released, I donít see the demise of the format any time soon, but services such as Rhapsody, make for an excellent alternative to those huge collections of plastic.
© Kevin Sutton, 2006

Editor's Note - Rhapsody's online servcie is currently restricted to residents of the United States.


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