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Music On The Go – A Review of Google Play

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I had originally created this post as a little more personal post, less concerned with dance class/performance but still somewhat related. But in the time between drafting it and posting it, a very Real-Life-Dance example occurred, which I will share below!

In recent weeks I have been reworking my Winter playlist since a friend asked me if I had one to share. It is basically my pre-Thanksgiving/early December playlist, with unconventional holiday tunes, and songs focused on snow, winter, etc. as well as some obscure Christmas tunes. So no Silver Bells on this list, but Joni Mitchell’s “River” is perfect, as is Elvis Costello’s “I Felt The Chill Before the Winter Came”.

Years ago, I used to do music swaps throughout the year with friends, and there was always a winter or holiday-themed swap where we would share our favorites to find new music to enjoy. But now CD’s are so 2010, and instead I like to use streaming services to discover new music and share playlists. It’s been fun revisiting my list and adding some new gems to love. (and if you’re interested, here is my always-a-work-in-progress Winter playlist this year)

The point of this post is to share with you Google Play Music – All Access (a mouthful!). I have been on it since pretty much when All Access was launched, and it has been phenomenal. The service is well worth the cost monthly for what it affords me. It is primarily used through your browser, though there are apps (more on that later). I can add albums to my “collection” without owning them–they just go to my library and are listed among my preferred albums. I can listen to most new music/albums the day they come out, in their entirety, without having to decide to buy it. I can make playlists just like iTunes (though I hope they implement folders soon, because I have a LOT of playlists so it’s a little unwieldy), and I can share those lists socially with friends.

I can pick a favorite artist of mine and say “Play All”, which will play all their music in the catalog; I can choose an individual album and just play that; I can add individual songs to any playlist I like; or I can start a “Radio”, which is not dissimilar to Pandora in that it will launch a suggested playlist based on the artist. But unlike Pandora and other services like them, I can go forward or back in the playlist anytime I want, add songs I like to other playlists with ease, and still thumbs it up or down to help the system learn my preferences.

They also have themed playlists created by their in-house team as well, which are cleverly done. Click on “Listen Now” in the menu and it will pop up a page which reads something like “It’s Wednesday Afternoon. Play music for…” and offer playlist categories like “Boosting Your Energy”, “Keeping Calm & Mellow”, “Eating Lunch With a Friend”, or “Exploring Cool New Sounds”. Click through and be presented with six or so playlists to choose from, such as “Glitter & Guitars: Glam Rock”, “Know Your Covers”, “Calming Indie”, and others themed to your chosen activity/mood.

They also have apps for Android and iOS which gives me access to all the same libraries and playlists on both my phone and my tablets. As you might expect from a Google product, the Android versions of these apps are better developed, but the iOS version has improved over time and I don’t have too many complaints with using it on my iPad. The app allows me to put in my Bluetooth headset and take the dog for a walk and all my music is there on the phone I carry with me everywhere–no need to pack along the iPod additionally any more. I can plug my tablet or phone in to the stereo in dance class and play not only all my songs, but if a student says, “Hey, I really like song X, can we work with that?” and if it is in the Google music library I can play it even if I don’t own it (yes, this has happened a couple times, and it was awesome).

The service typically buffers a few songs ahead, so if you lose connectivity for a minute or two, you won’t notice any interruption, as it seamlessly goes to the buffer while you’re out of reach, and then reconnects when it can reconnect. Know you will be out of range of either WiFi or your phone service provider for an extended period? Plan ahead and “pin” songs or playlists to your device, and the service will pull down the music to listen when you are offline. So if I were teaching a workshop at a studio without reliable wireless services, I could “pin” my chosen class playlists and can be confident it will play uninterrupted the entire time.

The service also offers a music importer so you can upload up to 20,000 songs from your personal library (yes, “Twenty Thousand“) to their cloud. So if you have special edits like I do as a dancer, they will be at the ready. It also gives you the option to sync over your iTunes playlists you have already built (but be aware, not the reverse). This can be done individually if you prefer–so only some playlists crossover as you like–or en masse.

REAL WORLD COMIN’ AT YOU

This past weekend, my students were at an annual winter festival we have performed at for the better part of the past decade. Upon arrival, the volunteer managing the stage informed us the CD player was broken (they had of course told us we needed to bring our music on CD). No problem, I thought! I always have my iPod on me. I whipped it out, feeling quite pleased with myself, only to discover the battery was in the red. To add insult to injury, I only keep a charger in my dance bag, which was quite inconveniently at home since I wasn’t performing that day. And no ready backup was forthcoming…

Then and there I had my “Aha!” moment, whipped out my fancy schmancy One Plus One phone to see if my music was all synced up on my Google Play All Acccess. With a bit of fiddling, we were able to create a playlist with all but one of our songs (a special edit I hadn’t synced yet), discuss the minor change that would entail on stage, and prepare to take the stage. Since we were in a thick-walled cement space, I wasn’t confident that my phone or WiFi signal would be reliable, so I simply “pinned” all the music to my phone. In less than a minute my phone had downloaded the full playlist to my phone’s app and was ready to shimmy and shake only minutes late for our start time.

In short, Google Play All Access saved the day!

Bellydancerly folks take note: their world music selections leave a lot to be desired, unfortunately. Not horrible, but not as great as Amazon or iTunes…YET! It’s Google. I have faith it will improve. I do searches now and again for more obscure world artists so their bots pick up on the search and see we’re looking for them to offer those selections. But I usually purchase the world music I want for dance performance and classes, which of course I can then upload to my personal library and have at the ready. So the only downside is discovering new world music through this service is more limited than you might find on Pandora (which I found to have some surprising variety, to be fair).

Wanna give it a try? I got a measly 30 days free back when I first tried the All Access service in early 2013, but within a week I knew I would be keeping it long-term. As of this week, you now have 90 Days! Yep, three months to vet the service if you would like to see if it suits you. So go sign up and give it a try. Let me know what you think. Who knows, it just might save the day for you someday, too.

Shay
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Shay Moore is the director and primary instructor at Deep Roots Dance in Seattle, WA. She loves writing, movies, costuming, knitting, cooking, and bellydance to the moon and back again; and loves her amazing husband and doggies even more than that.

Shay
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