The Socialization of Sound:
Music in the Cloud Keeps Us Connected

To be the "cool kid" these days you need at least 1,457 friends, 4,523 followers, and 257,893 hits. It’s no longer the quality of the people you know but the quantity.

Undeniably Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have become staples in our everyday lives.

So what is all the hype about? Are you really so concerned with what your girlfriend from 15 years ago is doing? Are you interested in seeing 300 pictures of her cat? Do you need to know what she had for breakfast this morning? No. But you must be interested, at least somewhat, because you keep logging on each day to find out if her morning meal consisted of oatmeal or her old standby of Honey Nut Cheerios.

We use social media to share information about our lives—through photos, videos, and now, music. Now that cloud storage sites have been around for a while, it’s only natural that they have blossomed into social media platforms where we listen to the music we love and share it with the people we like.

Connecting through the cloud

A long time ago, in a land far, far away, we used to share music on the prehistoric site known as MySpace, which has, for the past five years, been the "go to" site for musicians—but it was limiting. You didn’t have a distinctive URL to paste onto your website or blog, there was a file-size limit, and you didn’t have a streamlined platform to connect directly to and get feedback from other users.

That’s all changed with cloud-based services like SoundCloud, Hype Machine, Last FM, and Maestro FM, which offer various platforms that allow you to collaborate, promote and distribute music with widgets and apps.

You can tweet about your music with distinctive URLs, comment on specific songs, search for new music and create playlists. In addition to these capabilities, sites like Pandora, Rhapsody, Shazam and MOG give you access to hundreds of thousands of songs, introduce you to new music based on your favorite artists, allow you to purchase songs directly, and offer mobile capabilities.

If you’re just not into streaming random music that somebody else has picked out for you but don’t want to give up the social media aspect, you can upload your favorites, anytime, anywhere, with a new wave of cloud music platforms. Some of the lesser-known sites are: MP3tunes, Deezer, MusicPlayer.fm, and mSpot.

In the company of giants

Making headlines are the three giants: Amazon, Google and Apple. In the last month, the Amazon Cloud Drive and the Google Music Beta platforms were released. Reviews on these sites are mixed. Google music only plays on your computer or Android mobile device, and Amazon doesn’t allow file sharing. The reason for the headlines is that neither Google nor Amazon actually negotiated contracts with any of the major music labels. Can we say Napster? Back in 2001, Napster shut down services due to copyright infringement laws. (It was subsequently purchased by Best Buy and currently operates as an on-line music store.)

Then there’s Apple, which has just released iCloud-its own aptly named cloud storage service. Through iCloud, Apple makes a myriad of data—images, music, calendar, apps, etc.—accessible across all of its devices (e.g., iPhone, iPad and PC). And Its free iTunes in the Cloud music service allows users to download new music and apps to Apple devices and back up all of their iTunes files remotely. For $24.99 per year, people can upgrade to iTunes Match, which scans their hard drive’s music files and matches them with songs in its iTunes store.

Also making headlines is Spotify, a Swedish streaming music service, which has recently partnered with Facebook with plans to allow users to stream songs and share music with friends in their social circle. But like Google and Amazon, Spotify has yet to strike a deal with the major music labels.

The ongoing cloud-storage debate

Arguments against using cloud-based storage systems for music are wide and varying—ranging from gawking at paying additional fees to access something you’ve already paid for to the possible inaccessibility of files due to signal outages to fear of compromising personal privacy and security via cloud breaches. (Threats, like viruses, hackers, data exposure, spam, and spyware, exist as ever-present dangers—users should always protect themselves and their remote music files with cloud security.)

Those in favor of taking their music to the cloud say that doing so eliminates the need for music software that eats up RAM; doesn’t require messy wires to transfer music between devices; and, gives them the freedom to share, create, blog, connect and learn about music with technology that was never before available. Simply put: The future of music collecting lie not in storage but in access.

Whether you’re interested in accessing your music from anywhere, getting feedback on the music you’re making, or creating a Honey Nut Cheerios playlist for your old girlfriend, cloud music is here and it’s here to stay.

By Jeannie María Dougherty