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How Music Clouds Work

Using Music Clouds

The first step to using any music cloud service is deciding what features are most important to you. Do you want a place to store your existing music library so that you can access it from any Internet-connected device? Do you want to listen to music streaming on the go or do you prefer to store files to an MP3 player? Do you want to have absolute control over your playlists or do you prefer to use a service that allows you to discover new music?

You don't have to settle on just one answer. Many cloud music services have a free version. These services tend to have less storage space than paid tiers of service or they might insert ads between every few songs. If neither of those features bothers you, feel free to try out as many services as you can access. You might find you like one over all the others in the process.

Once you've decided on which service or services you're going to use, it's time to make a profile. Nearly every service requires you to create a profile with a login handle and password. You may also have to register an e-mail address. The service needs to be able to differentiate you from the thousands or millions of other users so that you get the right music every time you log in.

If you're accessing a Web-based service, you'll just need to navigate to the proper Web site. That's how Pandora Radio works. If you want to use a service with a desktop client like Google Music or Amazon Cloud Player, you'll need to download and install the program to all the computers you plan to use when you listen to music. For smartphones, you'll need to find, download and install the appropriate app to give you mobile access to the service.

If you're sticking to music clouds that stream music to you from their databases, you're good to go. But if you want to save your own files to the service -- like with Amazon Cloud Drive or Google Music -- you may need to follow another step. That step is uploading your music to the service. Amazon and Google have simple user interfaces that allow you to add music automatically or manually to your account. Keep in mind that uploading thousands of files can take many hours -- possibly even weeks if you have a lot of songs or a slow connection.

Apple took a different approach with iCloud. By linking iCloud with your iTunes library, you prompt Apple to add any songs purchased through iTunes to your iCloud account. But what if you bought songs through other vendors or ripped music from your CD collection? Then you can use iCloud to match the titles in your library with songs in the iTunes database. Assuming there's a match, you can have those songs added to your iCloud account. This option isn't available in the free version of iCloud -- you have to upgrade to the $24.99 per year plan. With iCloud, you can either stream music to your iOS device or download the track from iCloud directly to the device itself. That way you can listen to songs without interruptions even if you move into an area that has poor cell phone reception or no WiFi network.

With so many choices available, it's hard to say which approach is best. You might love one approach and hate another while your best friend has the opposite reaction. In the end, the best news is that with all these different methods to spreading music in the cloud, it's almost a guarantee that there's something for everyone out there.