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Thursday, May 5, 2016

'Tis the season for streaming

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Spotify, about which I've written in this space before, is an online music service. There are both free and paid versions. With the free version, you can simply go online and make up playlists from Spotify's huge music library, and listen to them through your computer (interrupted by the occasional ad) whenever you please.

You can spend money to upgrade to the premium version of the service, which takes away the ads, improves the sound quality, and allows you to move your playlists onto a portable device like a phone or tablet.

There are other streaming music services, of course, but many of these are built on a "radio station" model instead of a "playlist" model, meaning they don't give you as much control. Pandora, for example, lets you pick a particular artist that you like and then builds a personal radio station around your choice, throwing in other songs and artists which Pandora believes to be similar to your favorite. (Spotify also has this type of "radio station" feature, which you can run as a cell phone app even if you don't subscribe to their paid service.) But Spotify is unique in its huge library and in the way you can pick exactly the songs and artists you want. Rdio has playlist features similar to Spotify, but as far as I can tell there are more limits on its free version than there are on Spotify's free version.

It occurred to me over the weekend that streaming music services like Spotify and Rdio are made for the Christmas season. I have built up a nice large playlist of Christmas music on Spotify, without having to buy a lot of CDs or digital downloads. I can listen to the playlist during December and then forget about it the rest of the year, and it will still be waiting for me next Christmas.

The other nice thing about Spotify is that, like some other online music services, it's extremely social. I can share my playlist with my friends. If I have a friend with their own Christmas playlist, and if they've shared it, I can either listen to their playlist, or I can look through their playlist and pick and choose songs from their playlist to add to my own playlist. Especially in a niche category like Christmas music, there are likely to be little-known gems, and this is a great place to find them.

When you're listening to Christmas music on the radio, in a TV program, or even in stores and other public places, and you hear something you like but don't recognize, You can use cell phone apps like Shazam and SoundHound to identify the title and artist. I have SoundHound on my phone and I love it. If there's a song I need to identify, I just fire up the SoundHound app, and within seconds it's told me the title and artist, and I can even read the lyrics. That makes it easy for me to go back later and add the song to a Spotify playlist.

My father used to have a number of Christmas albums on vinyl, and we'd have them playing at home during the Christmas season. Spotify has allowed me to put together an eclectic playlist that includes nostalgic cuts and albums that I remember from those days, as well as more recent albums and quirky selections that fit my own tastes. (Speaking of "quirky," if you like Zooey Deschanel you need to add the Christmas album by She & Him, the pop duo of which she's a member.) My playlist has both secular and sacred songs, everything from "The Star Carol" sung by Tennessee Ernie Ford to "Christmas At Ground Zero" by Weird Al Yankovic. If you wanted to, though, you could easily set up separate playlists for sacred and secular Christmas music, or separate lists for vocals and instrumentals, or what have you. Just as with an MP3 player, you can listen to a playlist in a specific order or have Spotify shuffle it and play it randomly.

If your computer is located in a common area of your home or office, try using it as your Christmas music command post. It might be just the thing to put or keep you in a holiday mood.

--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government.

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John I. Carney
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John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette.