Fortune editor David Kirkpatrick believes that subscription services, like Rhapsody, rather than iTunes-type online stores, are the way of tomorrow, fueled by ubiquitous broadband and the proliferation of mobile devices. That made me pause and look at my own music set-up.
I have, on my PC, close to 200 GB of high bitrate mp3s. Most of them I encoded myself from my collection of CDs, some I've acquired through iTunes-type online stores (and un-DRM'ed) and, yes, there's a bunch I acquired by encoding some of my friends' CDs and sometimes filesharing with them.
That PC is in the small office I have in our apartment. My modified XBox, running the awesome open-source software XBMC, is in the living room, connected to my HDTV screen, to my sound system, and to my home wi-fi network... this makes my set-up the Poor Man's Sonos (also mentioned by Kirkpatrick).
With XBMC I can stream all my mp3s, build playlists and use visualizers on my TV screen. I can also stream Shoutcast stations (including my own server, which resides on an antique laptop). I can also watch my digital pics, DIVX movies, youtube clips and do many, many more things, (including playing XBox games...). Setting up and customizing XBMC takes a bit of skill, or, in my case, trial, error and a lot of tutorials, but the possibilities are plentiful.
We have a similar set-up in the bedroom, where I use another old work laptop, connected to the wi-fi network and to a set of speakers, and running VLC.
I've never owned an iPod (but Christy has one). I have a pre-iPod, old and bulky RCA Lyra Jukebox residing in the car and a trustworthy Archos Gmini400 for running, working out, or just walking around (I usually walk to work).
But, the new exciting addition to the family (merci papa !) is the Archos 604wifi. The thing has a full color 4.3" touchscreen, plays mp3s and other audio formats, videos and pictures. It has a wi-fi card which allows me to connect to a hotspot or to my home network, browse the web with its Opera browser, but also stream all the tunes and flicks I have on my network, whether I'm in bed, in the bathroom or on the balcony. Current firmware doesn't allow it but I can easily see the day where a device like this one would allow me to connect to any hotspot and stream music from my home server, or from a subscription service. Maybe I'll write a more detailed review of the 604wifi soon.
I have transferred a few GBs of music to my work laptop, but recently started using Vibe Streamer, which allows me to stream all the music I have on my PC at home, from work. I also used Vibe Streamer to DJ at the New Year's Eve party we held at my friend Cyril's loft. Really cool, although not everyone was pleased by my disdain for 80's hits. Streampad has a similar feature, but I couldn't get it to work on my system. I also tune in to my Shoutcast station (and others) from work.
So basically with Vibe Streamer I can now access my own music collection anywhere there's broadband internet. In theory, I could also give that access to anyone I want, giving them a free subscription to my music collection. And they could do the same, creating our own private Rhapsody...
I also finally started spying on myself and installed Last.fm last week, on my computers and enabled it on XBMC. I need to spend more time with it but it seems very exciting. Pandora, the Hype Machine and the various music blogs are other music sources I've enjoyed in the past months.
So, I haven't really used CDs (and their evil jewel cases) in the last 2 years, except to encode, right after I buy them. I realise that, for digital music, I'm very much the early adopter and that today's tools and products aren't for the average consumer. But these tools are getting more and more user-friendly and affordable. And the average consumer is getting more and more tech savvy.
I think Kirkpatrick is probably right and that subscription services are the future. I don't need to carry around CDs and even today I don't always need to have the actual mp3 files with me. But I definitely believe that a lot of those subscription services will be open and user/community generated and will, once again, evade being controlled by the music industry. I can easily see a future where I will stream all the music I need from my own server or from my Last.fm friends/neighbours' radios, not necessarily Rhapsody... It'll also be interesting to see what kind of free subscription access the piracy groups, darknets and other filesharing communities will make available...
In the meantime, according to I Am Robot And Pround - The Electricity in your House Want to Sing. If you ask me, that's damn good news.