"Black Cloud" by Alex Cherry, inspired by Converge, used with permission

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Cloud computing is the solution to the ultimate first-world problem:

"How can I access all my stuff in any place at any time?"

New services offered by Google and Amazon let users store their data in remote servers and access them across a bevy of devices. Prowler in the Yard will finally always be a mere button press away. Such ease of use overshadows the fine print, though, which isn't something you can just agree to and click away from this time. When you upload files to somebody else's server, you agree to their terms about access and use, which may not be in your favor. Hopefully this article will help prevent you from getting caught under the giant money-filled cloud rolling in.

The list of companies interested in offering cloud services to the average consumer is small, but growing. Wired offers an excellent guide to the current wave of cloud services, detailing Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Dropbox. Each service works slightly differently, with Google, Amazon, and Dropbox offering "cyber-lockers" and access to data through mobile apps and browsers. Apple's iCloud copies music bought through iTunes to your various Apple devices, not going with the "stream and storage" model of the other three major players. Microsoft currently doesn't offer a cloud music strategy, though keep your eyes on that cloudy horizon, for they will.

Meanwhile, in other countries: Spotify is growing in popularity, though is not yet available in the United States. For the price of about a CD a month, you can access over 13 million tracks, dragging/dropping them to your devices for offline play or streaming online anywhere. Digby Pearson of Earache Records is a fan.

Of course, streaming music isn't exactly new, and the old Internet radio standbys Pandora and Last.fm are still around, offering music based on other music you listen to. Mobile apps let you listen to them over anything.

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Criticism of the cloud ranges from reasonable to ridiculous. Most of it centers on concerns about security: who has access to your information? The rule of thumb is that when you hand over your data to anybody, they do. It's useful to think of these cloud services as banks – you use them for storage, but also expect them to use what you put in there. A service like Google will most likely keep track of what you listen to for market research purposes. Facebook does the same thing with the information you give them. Each service also has varying levels of security, and Dropbox' users were recently vulnerable for a whole four hours.

Another problem with the cloud is that you access it the way each company wants you to. Each service comes with its own terms of use and restrictions. Google reportedly doesn't let pirated music in their servers. And while Spotify offers over 13 million tracks, I wonder how many Agathocles 7"s are included in that count? [Ed. note: Too many?]

Remember that when you buy a service, you're voting with your dollars. I recommend voting for the services that grant you the most freedom and security. Committing to any particular model means committing to a philosophy on file usage and ownership, so make sure it matches yours before you buy, if you choose to do so at all.

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Finally, an appeal: I implore you to not buy services based on fancy "music recommendation" technology or supergenius playlists. I like to use Last.fm for their recommendations, but they're not the only recommendations I get. No music recommendation service is better than a human being. When you listen to music with other people, you have an experience in common and can build on that. When you rely completely on recommendation engines and Internet radio, you run the risk of being caught in a filter bubble, isolated, a slave to your tastes.

Support your community by listening to independent, college, and pirate radio. Make the extra step to check their online schedules and see what programs you might like. Chances are, there will be something that appeals to your tastes while providing something fresh at the same time. There are even apps you can use to listen to local radio stations. My favorite stations in Austin are KOOP, KAOS, and KVRX (full disclosure: I'm a programming director at KVRX). When you support your local radio stations, you support the voice and sound of your community. Having a good music scene in your community is more important and rewarding than any algorithm.

— Will Hubbell

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Will Hubbell blogs here.

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