I want to write a bit more about Rdio – a streaming music service that has really altered the way that I listen to music. Rdio allows you to browse a list of music on their site and steam as much as you like via their web interface or their free desktop application (which happens to be made using Adobe AIR, but that’s a discussion for another day) for $5 bucks a month. You can add music to your ‘collection’, basically a place where you can store a list of all of the music you like, make playlists, and queue up albums to listen to. For $10 a month, you get all of the features already listed plus the ability to stream music to a mobile application for iOS, Android, etc. For me, this is where the service becomes truly worthwhile. The mobile apps allow you to not only stream music to the devices, but also to download as much music as your device has capacity to locally store music. This means that you can essentially manage your iPhone/iPad/whatever Android you’re using phone’s music collection ‘from the cloud’, with access to a ton of music instantly.
Rdio’s track options – add to collection, sync to mobile, share song, etc
On it’s surface, Rdio is similar to other services that have come and gone, or services that are in other countries but aren’t available here (I’m looking at you, Spotify…), but of what’s available to us Americans right now, it’s hard to compete with what this service offers. I tend to buy an album or two a month at somewhere between $5 and $10 dollars a pop. With the advent of Rdio, I’ve cut that down significantly while also learning to not worry about syncing my iPhone up. If I’m ever out and about and remember there’s a song or an album I want to listen to, I can quickly perform a search on my phone and add it to my collection, a playlist, or even sync to my device right then and there.
Another place that Rdio excels is in social sharing and music discovery. They’ve managed to find the perfect balance between sharing information about what your friends are listening to without beating you over the head with it. Upon logging in, you’ll see a screen with 12 album covers that are labeled ‘Heavy Rotation’ – this is a list of the top albums listened to by you and your friends recently. No play counts, no easy way to tie an album to a specific person – just what’s popular right now. You can quickly mouse over an item and add it to your collection, play it, sync it to your mobile, and more. I’ve found dozens of new bands since using the service regularly just because folks I’m friends with are basically cooler than I am and are finding new music for me to check out.
The heavy rotation view
On top of those social and discovery features, Rdio can be set up to send your listens to Last.fm if you’re that sort of person (I am), thus enabling you to still keep track of everything you’ve listened to. This means that now I have two services that track what I’m listening to and recommending music to me based on that. Even better, the barrier to trying out these new artists is significantly reduced, so I’m checking out new stuff more often and also digging up old favorites from my high school days without worrying about wasting space on my hard drive. It’s a very frictionless service that keeps improving, and for $10 a month, is a steal.
That doesn’t mean the service is perfect. Rdio hasn’t even been around for a year so they’re still figuring things out and fleshing out their catalog – and I know that takes time. Legit excuses aside, there are places for improvement. There are areas where the iPhone application doesn’t have access to the same features as the web application (things like full access to the queue, the ability to add songs/albums to the queue, playlist creation/search and more), and that can be frustrating. Additionally, what they call a ‘desktop application’ is a bit of an stretch. I created a Fluid instance of the web page and just use that, as the AIR app doesn’t do much other than just play music. I’m hoping at some point we’ll see a true desktop application that emulates a lot of the features you’d see in iTunes – easier playlist creation, queue reordering, and collection management. Other issues that are already improving greatly are things like overall music selection, song bitrates, and the overall web app performance.
Another issue that is rare and goes to the core of ‘ownership vs. renting’ of music are things like what happens when I get hooked on an album but I want to listen to it while somewhere that’s not my computer or with my phone/headphones around? Something like an iPod nano comes to mind. Currently, your only option is to buy that album and sync it up to your device. I’d love to see some sort of DRM daemon that runs on your system that allows you to download DRM-limited songs to your computer so that you could then sync them to non-networked players. This is a pipe dream but I think it’d be something worth it to a lot of users – especially folks who run a lot and listen to a ton of music. (obviously I’m not talking about me, I don’t exercise)
When I say it’s the best ‘cloud music service (for now)’, I’m referring to the rumored entry into the US market by either (and possibly both) Spotify and Apple. Both are established in their own respective markets more than our friends at Rdio, and I think their entry would shake things up quite a bit. The positive, of course, would be that it would also speed up the conversion of holdouts to a subscription-style model. There is a trial available that will give you a chance to see if the service works for your style before they start billing you – I highly recommend it to anyone who listens to a lot of music at work or on their iPhone. (or whatever other smartphone you may use) If you do end up joining, look me up.
- Great selection of music
- Mobile application is fast, easy to use, and makes searching for songs and albums very easy
- Good music discovery tools
- Great support
- If you even buy an album or two a month this service will actually save you money
- Pandora-esque artist ‘stations’ where you can just load up an artist and hear related bands
- The desktop is basically just an album cover w/ play/pause/volume. I’d love to see something nicer on the desktop
- No iPad app yet
- Mobile apps don’t have ability to add songs to queue yet, nor can they play through the entire queue of songs
- Currently the only way to add an album to a playlist is one song at a time
- Moving songs to non-networked devices is not possible at this time
- Some songs/albums have issues with some songs only being 30 second previews due to licensing issues.