Music is the single best representation of anyone’s true inner self. You might think you know someone, but browse through their music collection and you might just change your mind. The way that we listen to music has changed drastically. We’re moving away from physical formats to digital formats. I buy all my music digital-only now, though my 2000+ CDs & records are still in the house. Aside from rare or sentimental albums, I think my physical music objects will soon be going to Amoeba Records to earn a few bucks. I have everything in digital format (backed up, of course) and listen online more than anywhere else anyway.
We’re also moving away from the ownership model of music to the subscription model. Services like Pandora, Last.fm, Rdio, and others serve as a way for people to access nearly any digital music album or song they want, any time. And no need to pay per song — it’s a monthly subscription cost. You can listen to anything you want, as often as you want, for as long as you want. I truly believe this is the future of music — no more “I own this piece of plastic which has 12 songs on it.” Instead, it will be “I subscribe to X Service and get unlimited access to all music.”
A subscription model is easier and better for the end user, and still profitable for the music producers. I dare say not profitable for the artists, though I hope with a more open subscription service you will see more independent artists earning money directly from fans instead of through useless record company middle men. The subscription model could also alleviate a lot of the music piracy that has sent record companies into a DRM tizzy and seriously damaged easy access to music files. If I pay $5 or $10 a month and can get anything I want, why bother downloading illegally or legally?
The problem is, of course, bandwidth. If all the music is online, you’re live streaming every time you want something. The U.S. is woefully behind other countries in developing a high speed network. My hope is that Google’s wired bandwidth project, as well as the development of 3G+ networks, we will see an improvement in service over the next decade. In the meantime, these services can still work — if the services do something smart.
And Rdio has done just that. Rdio is the online music streaming service I use. I love it, though it has some teensy kinks that are still being worked out as it achieved mass adoption rates at their release well beyond what they were set up to handle. It’s stabilized a lot, and is truly awesome.
There’s a website of course, and a desktop version to use, as well as apps for mobile use. You subscribe for either $4.99 or $9.99 a month to get unlimited streaming music, as well as the option to sync songs to your mobile device and even download the MP3s (for 99 cents, much like iTunes). The ability so sync your favorite songs to your device means you don’t have to download them next time — nice! Saves bandwidth in the future, and makes the service more efficient and sustainable.
The neatest feature for me is that Rdio matches up your iTunes or other collection so you can easily build your “collection” in Rdio to match what you already have–making browsing what you like really easy. I found that they have access to about 2/3 of the music I have in my iTunes collection, but I do listen to some fairly obscure stuff. They do not have access to all music by all artists. Some artists will have nothing available for them (like Dead Can Dance), but others will have everything in their catalog (like Air), while others have some weird smattering of songs or albums (e.g. Underworld). They currently are partnered with Warner, Sony, Universal, EMI, ioda, The Orchard, INgrooves, and Iris. More partners are added as time goes on, and I’m pretty confident that missing music companies will be added soon as Rdio’s popularity soars.
Of course there is a social component where you can friend folks and see what they’re listening to. I discovered a good band today using that feature. That being said, Rdio could benefit from some music recommendation offerings, much like Pandora or Last.fm offer. When I don’t know what I want to listen to, Pandora is still my first choice. But when I want a particular song or artist, then it’s off to Rdio. I’m loving it in my car, listening to my favorite songs on my commute without worrying if I synced the right album onto my phone or bringing the right CD with me. If your music tastes are wide-ranging and fickle and you’re on the go with multiple devices, then Rdio might be a good choice for you too.