Email Question: My Take on Music Services in 2013

I got this email in June from a good friend:

Google play has some kind of improved Pandora + Spotify… I remember this being a subject you were passionate about, what’s your take?

http://www.csmonitor.com/Innovation/Tech-Culture/2013/0611/Quick-guide-iTunes-Radio-vs.-Pandora-vs.-Spotify-vs.-Rdio-vs.-Google-Play-Music/iTunes-Radio

I am passionate about it. Unfortunately until today I hadn’t had time to look at Google too much. But after a long wait, here is my answer.

For the Apple/Pandora thing, I’ll just say that music services (ad-supported or otherwise) that center around “stations” are not my thing. Basically my core philosophy is that people shouldn’t listen to music just because it’s like something else they enjoy, they should be exposed to new stuff on a regular basis even if they fall back to the old favorites. I fully realize this makes me more Scrooge-like than most, but it’s just who I am. I enjoy the idea of finding people (or stations) that produce content, and tune into their broadcast as I see fit. I enjoy when I hear songs I don’t like in the middle of ones I do, and the idea of saying “not so much” until all potentially uncomfortable sounds are gone seems Orwellian. Yes, I know Rdio and Spotify have added these features, but its easy to disable.

As for the Apple Store integration proposition: no. I refuse to buy music from a service so tied to a platform, just like I am disinterested in buying music from Google. I’ll buy it from Amazon, along with almost all my content, because they have expressed little interest in creating a walled garden for purchased media.

I started subscription based services was actually the non-subscription-based Lala , which I loved until the bastards killed it (Apple). I say it started here because they introduced the concept of something being “cheaper if you don’t own it” (10cents in this case). I can buy an album for the cost of a candy bar if I don’t get to download it. But when it crashed under Apples evil hand I felt the equally hard lesson of “this is why you own stuff”. I think I lost $20-40 worth of songs when all was said and done, but when you compare that to the $200+ I’ve spent on music subscriptions (just for me) in the last two years, it’s pretty small change.

They also introduced the concept of “music matching” which is the big draw for Apple, Google, and Spotify today. Granted, I think the digital storage wars are showing us that it might truly be easier to fight with millions of copies of “You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful” than serving a single copy by fighting off the RIAA lawyers (a sad state of affairs). With that segue, I move onto Grooveshark which also had the ability to “upload” my owned music. This was a short lived love as the RIAA threatened me for uploading my owned content. I’ve never trusted it since.

Then Rdio spawned, and I fell in love. The album-centric interface changed the way I listened to new music, but the selection was a little limited with no option for music uploads. Spotify hit the states shortly thereafter and promised a much larger music selection, especially of new Euro artists. I switched for almost a year until three things got my goat:
1) I realized that any hopes for a Roku app (a small but valuable feature in my home) were never coming true.
2) Having to keep everything in a flat set of playlists was STUPID. I would scroll through for hours if wanted to save just the albums I’ve owned to my collection (this has been reported as fixed since)
3) Most importantly, they turned off the ability for anyone to sign up EXCEPT with a Facebook account. They had already limited any inter-account activity sharing to the Facebook APIs, but this was absolutely absurd. OAUTH concepts have NEVER been intended to force users into a oligarchy of identity providers that sell you a host of other services. This is another philosophical problem that I can’t get over. Rdio is starting down this path and I am against it.

So I went back to Rdio, and found some great new things. First, the activity sharing was a lot cleaner in Rdio than before, and much better than Spotify. I found really great people to follow, and in general the visible community on Rdio seems to have much more depth than I’ve seen anywhere else. On Spotify you’re really stuck with Facebook friends or invisible billions with nothing in between. Lastly, Rdio had discounts for group accounts, allowing me to also give one subscription to my brother and another to my parents for about 2.2x the cost of a single subscription. This option has worked wonders for me. Lastly, the interface continues to be the finest thing I’ve used for music subscriptions.

So where does Google fit in? Well, there is no idea of a group account, but the biggest gap in Rdio they seem to have in spades: personal music storage. 20k in the cloud included in the monthly subscription. I have to say that the interface has been far buggier on Google (slow starts, long buffering times, breaks) than on Rdio, but I haven’t tried the mobile platforms yet.

Google may be able to pull ahead of Rdio in the indy music scene if they do it right, but the ATG test* came up with about the same results for both. To be honest, and I hate to admit this, Spotify still has the newest artists covered well. Unfortunately, their library doesn’t appear well-groomed…but maybe this is the problem that comes with a lower bar for acceptance in music? I don’t want to think so.

If you’re cool with the Facebook monster and love indie Music and run in the playlist crowd, check out Spotify. If you want a sleek experience or to celebrate the glory of the Album on all your platforms for the whole family, go Rdio. If you’re poor or don’t care about the choosing the music you listen to, Pandora is for you. I won’t judge….well, I probably will. But who cares? The only important thing is never choose Apple. Apple sucks.

*The ATG is the test I made up where I take artists from my favorite fresh music blog to search both sites comparing who has the most content for new artists. Getting the artist as a recognized artist is great, albums are awesome, but just recognizing their name in ft. song titles is passable.

Now on to an email from 2 months ago.

  • Caleb Nicholson

    I’ve been using Google Play Music (“GPM”) since it was first launched, and I’ve been using the subscription service since it was released. One reason I like it is a music player is its cross platform, and I’ve found it easier for managing music for offline usage, i.e. on my cellphone when I don’t have service. The subscription service, to my surprise, actually helped me discover dozens of new artists and sub genres that I normally wouldn’t listen to. Aside from being able to access so much music, I think the discovery or “Explore” feature is the part that draws me to GPM’s All Access the most. I definitely concur that its buggy at times. I do find the interface on the android app is fairly easy to navigate.

    Just a few thoughts (and an excuse to procrastinate from writing emails).

  • Eric

    Good write up. It sounds like I’ve finally found someone who shares my exactly issues/wishes with music subscriptions.

    Right now I’m leaning to Rdio and Play Music, however I really wish they offered radio stations similar to how Slacker radio stations work. Slacker stations are pre-programmed by real DJs, not an hit or miss algorithm. Have you found anything that compares?