What’s the use of a Zune Pass?

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:

  1. 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

  1. 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

  2. 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

  3. 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

  4. 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

  5. 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

  6. 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.

Comments (10)
  1. J says:

    I agree.

    I'd add – the desktop Zune software is awesome and even beautiful.

  2. ThomMck says:

    I still find it too expensive too justify.

    I listen to all my music for free using Spotify on my desktop/laptop and get all the benefits you listed above (except the mobile use).

    Then if I want mobile use or higher quality I can by the CD. I only feel the need to do this maybe once every 2 months and the CDs are always usually £6 or less. That gives me complete ownership of the music to do with as I please. Therefore, I feel a Zune Pass doesn't really represent good value for me.

    If I was Microsoft I would open up Zune for free music streaming like Spotify and have a lower (~£5 per month) subscription for mobile access (presumably you could create an Android app as well as the existing WP7 one).

  3. Ian Moulster says:

    I like Spotify but a) I can't hack the ads and b) they don't have as many tracks. Or at least, I have been constantly frustrated by their lack of tracks and albums that I like. Your comment in brackets "except the mobile use" is a huge downside for Spotify: With a Zune Pass I can stream or download any track on my phone and listen anywhere; and of course it also means I can listen to any track in my car too because I can connect up the phone or Zune player to the car's music system. You also miss all the other benefits for being able to discover new music easily.

    One other thing: Zune is Microsoft only. You won't get it on Android on anything else. The ability to use it on my PC or laptop, on my phone, on my Zune player(s), and on my Xbox is plenty good enough for me.  I suppose the key thing is how much you listen to music and how important music is to you. I found that once I had a Zune Pass I listened to much, much more music than before because it's so easy to get and so pervasive across devices and locations.

  4. Spotify is for offline use too, but not the free version. You can take up to 3.333 tracks offline, spread on the different smartphone/PCs/devices you use. Works like a charm, but it is no MP3-format, just Spotify's own (incompatible) cache.

    Artists rich enough to say NO to Spotify and artists who hardly get a cent from them, withdraw their albums. It is a good system, but the free version is just hassle. My opinion.

    The Zune pass sounds (…) good, indeed, but I suppose I would miss the freedom of Spotify, even if not all the artists are present there.

  5. Ian Moulster says:

    Thanks for the info. Just my opinion of course but the much bigger catalogue, the beautiful slickness of the whole package the PC software, the phone and Zune software, and the Xbox is quite something to behold. The small amount extra is well worth it, you are getting a much more joined-up and effective package IMO. But each to his own, if Spotify is good for you then that's great but I'd give the free Zune Pass trial a whirl and see what you think.

  6. Ian Blackburm says:

    Hi Ian,

    We actually subscribe to both zune and Spotify in our house, with the kids sharing a Spotify account for their iOS devices, and zune being used on my wp7 phone, zune hd, the lounge Xbox and windows laptop.  Having zune on iOS would be great (but unlikely I guess).  I think the zune service is very good for all the reasons you describe, and I prefer it over Spotify.  My only complaint is the fact that in the US you get 10 tracks drm free to keep (and burn) per month; we don't get that in the Uk.  Any news when that may be coming?

    One other great feature of zune is the wireless sync.  This means I can browse and download songs on my laptop, add them to the sync list for a device (my phone or zune hd) and just forget about it – the tracks will be silently synced on the background without having to connect any wires or do anything more. Perfect!



  7. Andrew says:

    I just used the Zune pass trial now next to the songs it says "DOWNLOAD" instead of 99 Microsoft points.(to get the trial pass I put my debit card number on file). So what im gettin at is am i getting charged for the downloads? Please let me know avarn06@gmail.com.  

    p.s. Zune HD ROCKS! and is way better than ipod touch……Microsoft is better than apple altogether they shoud quit and for the love of god stop exploiting kids that don't know any better with there stupid tv spots lol

  8. Ian Moulster says:

    Ian – re the 10 free tracks: I actually had a US subscription for about a year before Zune Pass came to the UK and I found that I hardly ever used the free tracks. There just didn't seem any point so I don't miss them. Of course also the UK subscription is a bit cheaper than the US one too. And good point re the wireless sync, it's a great feature

    Andrew – as long as you have an active Zune Pass (and it sounds like you do) then pretty much all downloads will be free. If you're going to be charged for anything the Zune software should make it clear, you'll be asked to confirm the purchase and the price will be displayed. So download away, that's the joy of the Zune Pass.

  9. ajax says:

    wait im confused, with a zune pass do you get free downloads forever of do you still have to pay

  10. Ian Moulster says:

    Hi Ajax, as long as you keep paying the subscription you can keep and listen to songs you download. However if you stop paying the subscription you will no longer be able to listen to them unless you buy them outright.

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