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What are the arguments in favour and against using music streaming services such as Spotify in comparison to having music stored in a local folder and accessible offline?

Sustainability can refer to:

  • content accessibility
  • energy use of streaming
  • You can download songs from Spotify for off line use. The songs are available to you as long as you maintain your account. If your music is in cyberspace, anything can happen especially if the music provider ceases to be. I am not certain but I seem to recall reading that there were some issues with paid downloads from Apple which were deleted from their server. (Loyalties disagreement?) I would guess and say that only music downloaded to a drive or the antiquated CD/DVD is the only assurance your music is safe and secure. Lack of wifi/cell access--similar to chrome books---might be..... – JJLL Sep 27 '15 at 18:19
  • ....the deciding factor. For example, people who commute on "the subway." In terms of quality, I am almost positive streamed version and downloaded version of the same track are in the same quality. Spotify does not stream in high res like Tidal does. That is a separate issue all together – JJLL Sep 27 '15 at 18:25
  • Thank you for your perspective on sustainable use with respect to content accessibility. Do you have any information about the energy use of streaming? – orschiro Sep 28 '15 at 5:28
  • 2
    You are welcome. The following site makes reference to the energy use of Spotify. : mic.com/articles/110690/…. A web search suggested quite a few people concerned with how hot their computers were running while streaming with the service. Spotify seemed to rapidly. drain the batteries of portable devices. The negative environmental impact of streaming services in general seems to be somewhat offset by the lowered. Need to manufacture vinyl, CD's, and all that associated with it such as............ – JJLL Sep 30 '15 at 0:49
  • .........transportation, fuel, physical plant, etc. Sorry I do not have exact numbers for you. Note: Several people reinstalled Spotify and claimed that it helped efficiency. Have no idea how many watts they saved – JJLL Sep 30 '15 at 0:49
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Summary: storing music locally most likely uses a bit less energy than streaming music, but it depends on things like if you replay the same song multiple times and if the music streaming service caches data on your device for reuse. You also need to consider how much of the used energy is green and here there are big differences between music streaming services.


I'd like to focus on energy use in my answer. You can listen to music with many different devices in different ways, but for simplicity let's focus on streaming music over the Internet versus buying and downloading an mp3 online. In this case you need to compare:

  • energy consumption of the servers of the music streaming service that is attributable to you (how much that is exactly is debatable)
  • energy consumption of streaming the song data over the Internet
  • energy consumption of the device that's storing the data temporarily and playing the song

versus

  • energy consumption of the online store selling the mp3 that is attributable to you (again debatable how much that is)
  • energy consumption of downloading the song
  • energy consumption of the device that's storing the data permanently and playing the music.

You can see that if you play a song only once then both situations are very much alike and the energy consumption is likely similar. However when you play the same song 10 times, then the buying and downloading of an mp3 still is done only once, so in this case the mp3 will use less energy.

This difference may not be much, as a streaming services like Spotify will cache data on your device, but suppose you replay a song a year later then your cache probably doesn't contain the song anymore and the entire song has to be re-transferred. When the song is still in the cache or you've downloaded it for off-line usage, playing the song will still result in a small amount of data being send to the service provider (to track usage information) but the energy consumption for this may be very small.

It's very difficult to come up with numbers to quantify the scenario above. This has to do with the many varying estimates for the energy consumption of downloading data on the Internet, but also with streaming music providers not making public how much energy their data centers actually consume. What we do know is that there are big differences between music providers in terms of renewable energy usage. Greenpeace investigates regularly how much clean energy big internet service providers use and publishes this in their yearly Clicking Clean report. Here are the clean energy percentages from their 2017 report (category music):

  • iTunes/Apple Music 83%
  • Spotify 56%
  • Google Play 56%
  • Amazon 17%
  • SoundCloud 17%
  • Melon 2%
  • Naver 2%
  • Genie 2%

Let's take a closer look at Spotify as the leading music streaming service. Spotify scores relatively well because it uses Google's servers and Google is committed to making the transition to 100% renewables, just like Apple is. However the final score for Spotify from Greenpeace is a low 'D' because there is no indication whatsoever that Spotify cares about the environment.

Greenpeace Clicking Clean statistics for music apps 2017

Greenpeace Clicking Clean statistics for music apps 2017, source

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