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Own the Music You Listen To

In the last decade people (in the western countries at least) are moving away from buying their music on physical medium. Instead they tend to subscribe to a streaming service such Spotify, Google Play Music (R.I.P.) and iTunes. Streaming is certainly more convenient. You don’t have to lug around real-world objects in order to listen to your music, you don’t have to decide which part of the music collection to actually cary with you and most importantly, you don’t have to change the vinyl, tape or CD every 40 minutes or so.

This convenience comes with a significant downside, though. After you’ve been using such a service for a significant enough period (think 5-10 years) you will be down a non insignificant amount of money. Something in the range of $600 to $1200 by today’s prices. Probably even more as price increases are expected and normal, especially over long enough period of time. At the end of this period you might decide to stop using the service or switch to another one. When this happens you will have nothing to show for the money spent. Your music consumption is now like food. You pay for it, consume it and it is gone without trace.

This does not happen if you are buying the music in the old-fashioned way. The value from the money spent is somewhat retained in the real-world objects you own. At some point in the future you might decide to sell them, gift them or use them in some other fashion. Your money is not gone, it has been invested to some extent. One never knows what might happen 10 years from now. It might happen that the $500 you could get from selling half your music library is a significant sum which gets you out of a sudden liquidity shortage. Which is to say, you are broke and need to sell something to keep going. Or some of your records might become a collector’s items and suddenly be very valuable. The point is you have options. Which is my definition of wealth.

Of course, in the western societies $500-$1000 is not common or even really possible to change once’s circumstances very much. At least not on individual level. But think about it this way. When you consider a whole population then the music subscription business is just a wealth transfer from the listeners (subscribes) to the subscription service owners. When you multiply by hundreds of millions of people then the effect is quite significant. And, of course, listening to music is only one aspect of a human’s life. There are possibly many other subscriptions like this one might be tempted to use. So in effect there is a massive wealth moving from the many to the few. I don’t like that. So here you go, there is a political reason to buy instead of rent too!

So, what is one to do? The convenience of the music streaming is just too great! Wouldn’t it be great if one could have the cake and eat it too? Well, with music this is quite literally possible! There are many open-source and one might even say free options around. Host your own streaming service using software such as Ampache, Jellyfin, Kodi or, indeed, Euterpe. Euterpe is something I’ve built and it is free (in any sense) for everyone to use. It lets you set-up your own personal streaming using the music you own. Bought on physical medium or a digital download. It all works because ownership and streaming are in no way at odds with each other. For me, personally it has worked out splendidly in the last 8 years. I’ve continued to expand my music collection by mostly buying digital MP3/FLACs and vinyl while still enjoying the streaming experience.

I really hope that with time power and wealth will be more evenly distributed between all people. Euterpe is my small step in that direction.

Of course, there are significant hurdles one has to jump through in order to set their streaming server. At least compared to just downloading an app and paying $5 a month. But the set-up is mostly done once and then it one tends to forget about it. And this is something Euterpe aims to make even smoother by virtue of its simplicity and backward compatibility guarantees. There is much more to be done but so far the foundations seem solid. It helps that the focus is squarely on music.

Edit (2021-10-03): I’ve mentiond other streaming servers. People may find them useful.