It took me a while to realise that many people don’t seem to "get" the Zune Pass (available on Windows Phone 7, Xbox 360, PC, and US Zune players). To explain the value as I see it, I’d like to back up a bit and look at the way the vast, vast majority of people get hold of music: Either they buy it – a track or a whole album perhaps – or they steal it. I’m going to discount the stealing option because, frankly, it’s not legal and I don’t have much interest in talking about stuff that isn’t legal. Call me old-fashioned.
So for most people they either buy a CD, or pay for a download. Sure, now and then you can pick up the odd free track or even free album but most of the time if you want it you need to buy it. And people are used to that because it’s pretty much the way things work in life generally. However not for everything. For example, if you subscribe to a cable or satellite television service you’ll be used to paying a monthly subscription and watching as much or as little as you want. You don’t say "I’d love to watch the new series of [insert your favourite show] but I can’t afford to pay for it". Or, “I can only afford two TV shows this month, I hope I pick good ones”. If it’s on one of the channels you subscribe to you can just watch it. And you don’t need to feel like you’re taking a risk by watching something you don’t really know anything about, or something you’ve read about but are not sure whether you’ll like it or not. You’ve paid your subscription and you can watch whatever you want 24 hours a day if you like. Of course, if you stop paying your subscription then you won’t be able to watch any more.
A Zune Pass is pretty much just like that, except that it’s for music (actually depending on your market you can also get movies, TV shows, podcasts etc as well but I’ll just focus on music for now). As long as you pay your subscription – you can pay monthly, quarterly or annually – you can listen to just about anything you want, either streamed or downloaded. When you discover subscription services like the Zune Pass it can open you up to music in a way that you might never have experienced before. It really reawakened my love of music because a Zune Pass breaks that fundamental "law" that most people simply believe is set in stone. I’m talking about this:
More Music = More Money
With a Zune Pass, more music = no more money. It can be difficult to really grasp the implications of this at first because most people are so used to having to pay for everything they just see the Zune Pass as another way of doing what they do now. But the key is that with a Zune Pass your whole approach to music changes.
In what way? Well, imagine if all music was legally free for you to download and carry around on your portable music player. What could a music service like that offer? Well, obviously it could mean that you could search for music like you’ve been used to in the past, and simply download it without paying. But if you stop there you’re missing the real value of a pass like this. Here are some other things that can happen when you have a Zune pass:
Download the top 20 tracks every month, even if you don’t really like some of them, just to make sure you aren’t missing anything
Download a whole host of old albums that you haven’t listened to for ages, or maybe owned in the past but have lost. You might end up finding you’ve outgrown some, and others bring back great memories, but it doesn’t matter – you don’t lose anything by trying them out
Try new bands, or different music styles. A Zune Pass really shakes loose your reluctance to stray outside your "safe" music because, if you download it and don’t like it, you haven’t lost anything. It’s all free
Download an enormous range of pre-built playlists from Zune Marketplace across a massive range of music styles and tastes. These playlists often have 50 or 60 tracks on them and can be a wonderful source of old music to reminisce to, or new stuff that you never knew about
Find someone who has similar musical tastes to you and download some of their playlists. Again, it’s all about discovering music for free and again, Zune Marketplace makes this easy for you by recommending people and finding their playlists
Another great Zune Marketplace feature is to get recommendations based on the music you’ve been listening to and simply download them. No listening to a snippet and thinking "should I risk paying for this?". Just download or stream and decide whether you like it. I have discovered loads of new music this way
Use the Shazam app on your Windows Phone 7 to identify a track you hear, then click the marketplace link to download it straight away so that it’s in your library on your phone. It will sync to your PC automatically when you next connect up so you could, for example, listen to it on your Xbox, using Kinect to control it using voice commands
And so on. Plus of course Zune Marketplace makes the whole experience very painless and seamless. Downloading and streaming is as easy as clicking, syncing is virtually automatic, album art is automatic (my nephew said to me recently “how come you have got album art for every single track?”), recording quality is great, all tagging is complete, etc.
But what about if you prefer to own tracks outright forever, with permission to burn them to CD? Well you can of course do that too, it’s the equivalent to services like iTunes. And that’s another important point to make: The Zune Pass is in addition to what you would normally get with a service like iTunes. You’re not losing anything, you can still buy music if you really want to.
People are constantly saying to me "wow how come you have all this music?" and asking where I get it from which just reinforces my view that most people would really appreciate a Zune Pass if they gave it a try. To my mind the Zune Pass is a fantastic bargain is an amazing way to keep finding and enjoying music.