A rant about music streaming services

I was happy with Google Play Music. It worked, it worked for me, it worked in the way I wanted, I was happy. And then they switched to YouTube Music, and said “oh look, you can have all the same features, and it’s brilliant and great!”. Spoiler: no, no, it’s not. Among others:

  • Last time I checked, while there was still a way to have some uploaded music (which is a neat way to fix the lack of the catalog, BTW), there was no way anymore to play these seamlessly with the rest of my tracks – I needed to first choose between both sources and then choose my music. Like, seriously, I do not give a single fuck where the music comes from, and I don’t know on top of my head whether it comes from your catalog or mine.
  • One of my main use cases, namely “take all the music of my library and shuffle it on my Sonos”, is just not working: the Sonos app decided that what was important to the “all tracks” list was the few music videos I had put a like on YouTube-not-Music. Not sure if the fault is Sonos’, YouTube’s, or myself, and again, I don’t give a fuck – that’s a deal-breaker for me.

So I tried looking at other options.

  • Spotify: the handling of albums and tracks is shit; if I want to add a full album to my “all the tracks”, I need to do that individually by song. It gets old really, really fast. And what broke me at the last attempt was the fact that I tried to play a specific album in order on my phone AND WAS NEVER ABLE TO DO THAT. (Yes, this was on a paying subscription.)
  • Apple Music has been my go-to recently. The major issue for me is the Linux support. It goes through a web application – great. If I want to shuffle my track library, I need to pick a song, start playing it, and click on Shuffle afterwards. Okay. Except that if I do that, it creates a shuffled playlist OF THE SONGS STARTING WITH THE SAME LETTER AS THE SEED. Additionally, the interaction with Sonos is not great – it takes ages to be able to start my “shuffle all tracks” – to the point that it starts displaying systematic error messages before it eventually gets there. Took me a while to understand that it was eventually getting there, but for now I’ll consider that a minor annoyance.
  • Tidal, which I just looked at – also two issues. The first one is that there’s things I definitely miss on their catalog (if I can’t get some Rammstein sometimes, I get a sad). The second one is the same issue as Spotify’s: adding an album to the library does not add the individual tracks to the library.

I have the impression that my set of requirements is simple, but apparently I’m special, yet again – and I fucking hate that. My list of requirements:

  • Have a music library that allows the following:
    • Have a list of tracks in my library on which I can shuffle everything. Ideally, interface wise, I want a track list and a large SHUFFLE button and be done with it.
    • Be able to add to said library either individual songs or full albums, and not have a difference in the playing interface between these two.
    • Have enough of a catalog that I don’t often get annoyed by “this album is not available there” (I don’t have super weird tastes. It still happens more often than I’d like), or allow me to upload what I miss.
    • I can’t believe I need to put that in requirements, but THE ABILITY TO PLAY AN ALBUM IN ORDER.
    • Ideally, not have to go through a gazillion hoops of “HEYYYYY DO YOU WANT TO DISCOVER THIS??” to achieve these goals. No, I do not want that.
    • Ideally, also have an “artist” view that allows to shuffle all the titles of a given artist that are in my library.
  • Support all the reading features on:
    • a Linux computer,
    • an Android phone,
    • a Sonos environment.

There. That’s it. This was a set of features that used to work with Google Play Music, and work brilliantly at that. I’ve been frustrated with music streaming ever since. Some days are worse than others; I guess this is one of these days. End of rant. Suggestions that do not involve “plopping an MPD server somewhere with a bunch of MP3s” (I am emphatically NOT doing that) welcome.

March 2022 update: When the set of requirements is impossible, the only solution is to loosen the set of requirements. Since the one thing that was breaking most for me on essentially all the platforms was the Sonos support, I reconsidered my use of Sonos and loosened that one. Now instead of playing music while I’m working on the office’s Sonos, I put my headphones back into rotation, start my shuffle on my computer instead, and limit the Sonos to “single albums” and “small playlists” use case. With that out of the way, I finally went back to YouTube Music – it’s not ideal, but the fact that there IS a way to upload music is actually a nice solution to catalog gaps wherever they are; and the fact that it gives me ad-free YouTube is a nice bonus.

Peter Bence in Zürich / Theater 11

On Tuesday, we went to the Zürich concert of Peter Bence. Peter Bence is a Hungarian pianist who gained his fame with piano covers/arrangements – I particularly like his Don’t Stop Me Now and his Bad. Generally speaking, the guy is impressive. He also happens to have held the record of the fastest piano hitting (with 765 hits in a minute 🙂 )

So when a friend mentioned to me that he was coming to Switzerland, I hesitated a bit, and finally went “why not” and bought a couple of tickets for the Zürich show. And I didn’t regret it 🙂

We got treated with two hours of a great show – an alternance of known covers, original pieces, and Bence discussing what he was doing and joking around with the audience. I’ve had a few favorite pieces during the evening: the John Williams medley, the Don’t Stop Me Now (with a bit of Bohemian Rhapsody) and the original piece he called Fibonacci. I was, however, not super convinced by his Somebody to Love – I assume it’s musically good, but to me it felt “messy” and didn’t trigger the “right” emotional response for me, I think.

On the “non-strictly-musical” part of the show, the audience was also asked to contribute during another original piece to clap our hands after a given musical phrase – that was fun, and everybody played the game… even when it came back a bit later. The “lighting” part of the show was also very impressive and working very well.

Theater 11 is not a very large venue (but I think I’ve only been to Hallenstadion in Zürich so far, which is… essentially 10 times larger), which I liked, because even when booking late (and with a low number of places left), we still had pretty good seats. However, there was some issues with the sound system (apparently worse from Bence’s perspective than from ours). I was kind of disturbed at the beginning by a low… hum, I guess, in the speakers – whether it disappeared or I got used to it quickly, I can’t say 🙂

Generally speaking, it was a very, very enjoyable experience, the show was great, and I’m really looking forward to Peter Bence’s album. And to re-listen to what’s on YouTube in the meantime 😉 And if you have the opportunity to see the show: it’s worth it!