Cloud music streaming: Pros and cons

Apple is poised to join the cloud music streaming fun

There is rampant speculation that Apple will soon join Amazon and Google to offer a service to store your music in the cloud and stream it to your devices. There are certainly some benefits to cloud music services, but those benefits come with some pretty serious consequences as well, so make sure you weigh the pros and cons before you invest too heavily in cloud music streaming.

ProsThere is a reason that all things tech seem to revolve around "the cloud" these days, and music is no exception. Here are some of the reasons to love cloud music streaming:

• Stream Anywhere - With your music library stored out there on the Internet somewhere, you can access your tunes from virtually anywhere and from any device. I can't tell you how many times I have wished that I could just have access to my entire music collection from anywhere. With a 16GB iPhone, a 32GB iPad, and more than 60GB of music, I inevitably don't have the song I want synced on my mobile devices when I actually want to listen to it.

• Cost - This one only applies to those who still purchase actual CDs. I haven't done that for a long, long time, but I still see CDs being sold, so somebody must be buying them. It costs more for the record label to mass produce, package, and ship those physical CDs, so they cost you -- the consumer -- more as well. Using the new Lady Gaga album that is being released Tuesday as an example, the CD costs $12.99 on Amazon, while the MP3 version of the same album is only $6.99 -- almost half off.

• Back Ups - You have a lot invested in your music collection, and you want to make sure it is backed up so that you don't lose it all in a fire, or flood, or from a simple hard drive crash. Cloud music providers like Apple, Amazon, and Google have massive data centers with redundant servers and data synced to multiple locations so you're data should be safe

ConsThe Pros notwithstanding, cloud music is not all wine and roses. Here are a few reasons to think twice about trusting your music investment to the cloud.

• No Cloud - For starters, what do you do when you don't have access to the cloud? Streaming music assumes you can connect to the Web. If the cloud service provider experiences an outage, or your ISP is down, or you just can't seem to find an Internet connection, you will live a lonely, silent existence.

• Device Caps - Some services -- notably Amazon in this case -- limit the number of devices that you can use to connect to your music collection. I assume it has something to do with the licensing agreements, because Netflix also caps the number of devices I can use to stream movies. When you have the actual CD, or at least physical possession of the MP3 file, you can play it on as many devices as you want. But, if you cross the device cap threshold at Amazon you might find your entire music collection held hostage online.

• Storage Caps - Storage space costs money and there are limits to the altruism of the cloud music service providers. They will provide you just enough gigabytes of free storage space to get you irrevocably invested in the service, then start charging you for the additional space you need to keep all your music in one place. Amazon offers 5GB for free (the 20GB plan is currently offered on a free one-year trial basis). There is a 50GB plan for $50 a year, but I have over 60GB of music which means I'd have to spend $100 a year for the 100GB plan. For $100 I can buy a 2TB external drive to store my music.

• Rules Change - This is the biggest con in my opinion. Even if the service is awesome today, rules change. The cloud music provider can bump the price, lower the storage capacity, limit the number or type of devices the music can be played on. Licensing deals could expire and content you have paid for might suddenly no longer work.

I say embrace cloud music streaming, but watch your back. You should definitely download all of your music purchases as well and maintain your own backup of the MP3 files so that you can still listen to your music even if the cloud is down, or the rules suddenly change.

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