Hey, Rdio, Rhapsody, Google, Spotify–Add These New Features, Please

I’ve been a streaming music subscriber for years.  First with Rhapsody, now with Rdio, but I’ve also subscribed to Lala, MOG and Spotify.  Each service takes a different approach to the best way of listening to music from a gigantic online library.  All provide the basics, search on artist, album and song, play album in order, random, repeat and repeat one, and create playlists.

New reports claim that music publishers now feel they are making more money per user from subscription services than by selling songs.  This implies that subscription services are succeeding – let’s hope.  I think there are many features that subscription services could add to their product that would make them stand out from each other, and maybe completely kill off the idea of owning music.

However, there’s far more potential benefits from subscription music than just playing music from a rented library.  One recent article claims that most artists will make more money in the long run from subscription music than from selling hit records, but it involves a new paradigm of promoting songs.  The old paradigm was to promote a hit, get as many people to buy it as possible, and then move on to creating the next hit.  The new paradigm is to create a portfolio of songs that are played forever by lifelong fans.  The old paradigm is based on selling the song once, and the new one is based on getting it played the most over time, year after year, decade after decade.

This makes techniques used to find songs and albums from almost a century of music, and adding tunes to personal playlists, the most important marketing tool for bands.  Theoretically, songs from the 1940s could becoming bigger hits than songs from the 2010s, if the right discovery tools were created.

It would be great if Rdio/Spotify/Rhapsody had an AI (artificial intelligent) program that could look at a person’s playlist and then guarantee them a list of songs from the past will be much loved.  Unfortunately, such computer magic doesn’t exist yet.  If there’s a Miles Davis track out there that you’ll play for hours on end in Repeat 1 mode, you’re going to have to find it yourself.

Some recording artists might be protesting streaming music for low royalty rates, and that might be true too, but streaming music is probably the best long term solution for helping new artists be discovered.  Digital Music News reported that 90.7 percent of all artists are essentially undiscovered.

With both Spotify and Rdio now offering completely free ad-supported subscriptions there is no reason not to try them.

So what features could the subscription music services offer to help fans find more songs to love?  Here what I want.

Top 100 Songs/Album/Artists By Year

Streaming music services need to quickly add Year to their search feature.  Having the New Releases, Current Hit Album/Song pages is just too damn limiting.  I need to be able to saying, “Show me what you got 1957!”  What would be even more fun would be to ask Rdio to play me the hit songs from the week I was born.  Or if I felt like returning to the summer when I was 14, tell Spotify to play music from the summer of 1965.

Who were the hit artists for 1938?  What labels were big in 1947?

I would also like to be able to play songs by release dates, and all songs from specific hit charts from a particularly week.

We might also need a composed year field, so I can ask for the music of the 1850s.

Far More Record Charts

Right now it’s possible to know which songs and albums are popular by everyone using the service, but that’s so limiting.  What I like to see is a chart of top songs being played by 62 year old guys who were computer programmers and who love science fiction.  Or if I wanted to sample another demographic, what songs are being played by college freshmen at the moment, what classical music symphonies are being made hits at the moment from Julliard graduates playing them, or what country tunes are being played the most in Nashville versus Austin or Denver, or what songs are loved by retired DJs who worked in the 1960s, or what songs are played the most by people over 90.  See what I mean?

Search by Catalog Number and Label

Now that subscription music services are vast libraries of songs that span decades, and record collectors have probably squirreled away all the great platters, it would be fun to play music historian on the cheap, and listen to music by label, especially all those rare labels put out by extreme music aficionados.

Years ago when I bought LPs, record companies would advertise other LPs on the inner sleeves of albums.  I especially loved the ones by ATCO and Warner Music.  For example, I’d love to be able to call up ATCO albums from 1970s, and just see what Rdio has.

Here’s a screenshot from MusicMatch for a search of Verve, showing a portion of the results near Janis Ian.  As subscription services grow, they will become closer to complete libraries of music history, and searching by label and catalog number will be more important.  Instead of collecting music from the past, it will be all about playing the music of the past.

verve

Browse by Genres and Subgenres

Sometimes I want to play music by genre, especially genres I’m not familiar with, but most streaming services have very limited ways of doing this.  Rdio is pretty nice for genre browsing.  I can browse by “Stations” and pick Jazz, and then have the choice of 10 sub-genre stations, and then a 5 position control that ranges from Popular to Adventurous.  But what if I wanted smooth piano jazz from the late 1950s?  Or to hear the musical heirs of Charlie Parker?  Right now this kind of feature is one of the best ways to discover new old music on Rdio, but it could be infinitely refined.

jazz

Better Playlists and Collections

Right now I can have playlists and a collection to organize my musical favorites on Rdio.  Playlists are just lists of songs.  I’d love to have Album Playlists, to group albums I’d like to play together.  I’d also like to have multiple collections, so I can keep my jazz albums separate from my rock albums.  I was keeping my Collection on Rdio limited to albums I liked a lot, but when I downloaded the local client, it looked at the albums I owned on my computer, and added all of them to my collection, which is now one big mess.

Playlists and the Collection is how I get to remember what I liked on Rdio.  Without them I’d forget tons of music.  When using a subscription music library it’s very hard not to be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of music I can play.  20 million songs, which is probably a million albums.  I’m lucky if I could sit down and write a list of my 100 favorite albums from memory.

When playing subscription music I mainly listen to what I already love.  But I, and new artists, want me to try new stuff.  Often I go through the weekly releases of new albums and try as many of them as I can.  There’s always more than I can try.  And if I find a song I like I can at it to a playlist, or add the album to a collection.  What I’d like to have is a personal library, which has unlimited collections.  Now some collections I want to name myself, but others I want Rdio to auto-generate.  So if I add Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen to my Rock Collection, it would automatically add it to a 1975 Collection, and a Columbia Record Collection, because there will be times when I’d love just to play my favorite albums from 1975, or even December, 1975.

Collections and Playlists are the way I distinguish my music from the background library of everything.  I want more tools for organizing my music, and even browsing it visually.

Higher Fidelity

Over time, as technology changes, I want streaming music to offer better fidelity.  It’s wonderful now, but I don’t want to be tempted by any new technology to come along that would make me want to start buying individual songs and albums again, either as digital files or on physical medium.  I’m over owning music.  Renting is so much more convenient.  I’m happy to let Rdio do all the library scut work.  Nor do I want to hop from one service to the next, as new companies promise features old ones don’t.  I’m currently thinking of subscribing to another service, adding Rhapsody or Spotify, for a while, just to see if they offer more.  But I’d rather they didn’t.  I invested a lot of love into Lala, only to have Apple ruin it.  Now that I’ve spent so much time with Rdio I want it to both succeed and keep competitive.

Export and List Features

A lot of work goes into discovering new music and creating playlists and collections, so if Rdio went out of business I’d loose a lot of knowledge I’ve put into their system.  I want to be able to export that knowledge to another streaming service.  Or if I subscribed to two streaming services, I’d like to sync that knowledge.  I’d also love some database tools to just study big data views of my music, or make printouts, like for putting on this blog.

Conclusion

The phrase “You ain’t seen nothing yet!” is an apt one for music streaming technology.  I’ve lived through so much technological change in my life, even just in the music industry, that I know nothing stays the same.  If I live another ten or twenty years I expect amazing things, and since I’m running out of time, I’d rather have them now.

Music Technology News

If you’re interested in reading more about subscription music, try these sites.

JWH – 1/19/14     

8 thoughts on “Hey, Rdio, Rhapsody, Google, Spotify–Add These New Features, Please

  1. Left to themselves, capitalism and private business will never fulfill the real potential of digital media — they’re just too damn greedy.. Imagine a library of every book, song or movie ever published available to you at any time. Here’s one way to get there —

    There’s no such thing as “intellectual property” in nature, However, In order to promote creative works, Government grants copyright privileges. As a condition of copyright, copies of all works, including music, books, film, what have you, would be filed in a comprehensive public data repository, something like a vast digital Library of Congress. These works should be freely accessible and searchable by the public, with no mandated gatekeepers in between.

    Some sort of payment to rights holders would have to be worked out — perhaps micropayments, perhaps something like the the British TV tax with payment allocated from a common fund according to popularity. But eventually all works should revert to public domain and be free of copyright fees.

    Private companies could still act as publishers, editors and publicists. They could also make money by acting as virtual curators and guides — there’s your subscription services. What they couldn’t do is continue to act as unaccountable rentiers by locking up or restricting access to these works. Yes, they’d have to give up DRM, but that’s a feature, not a bug.

    1. Copyright does get in the way of having a universal library of everything. And what is the potential of such a library – it would be amazing. And imagine if every student trained on data mining for doing homework, what kind of fun and interesting reports they could write.

      Right now the streaming music services can only present music they have under contract, but what if they were allowed to carry everything, so they became libraries of all recorded music, what a historical tool that would be.

  2. While it is pleasant to see the elder generations embrace the latest tech, I can not support a system that robs me of not only the substance of, but the very concept of ownership. I may a pinko socialist, but I still want to both own things and make money on my hard work and intellectual property.

    Oh, and paintedjaguar, there is too IP in nature, if humans do something or make something, that means it does exist in nature. Unless, you have some odd belief that humans are not natural.

    1. I want artists to make as much money as possible from their intellectual property as they can, but do you really own a song, whether you created it, or bought it on a CD, or as a digital file? Ownership implies two things. First, the owner can collect money for selling or renting their property. Second, to own something means to possess something. Intellectual property is strange, because intellectual rights are to objects that don’t exist, and can be copied endlessly.

      Right now I’m playing “Good Enough” by Sarah McLachlan. I actually own a CD copy, but I’m listening to a rented copy off of Rdio. I can hold the CD. I could give it away or sell it. But I can’t hold the music I’m listening to. It doesn’t matter to me whether it comes into my headphones via the CD or over the Internet.

      Craig what you really want is unrestricted access to your favorite songs. Now you might be a record collector, and actually love the vinyl they are printed on, and that’s a different thing. What creators of music want is the right to earn money from their creation. Does it matter if they earn money on selling the disc or the play? Sarah McLachlan got paid once when I bought her CD, but she gets paid every time I play “Good Enough” now through Rdio. Theoretically if I play it enough, she will get paid more than what she got from selling me the CD.

      I have about 1,500 CDs in my collection, hundreds of them I never played more than a couple of times because I didn’t like them. I own a pile of plastic boxes with aluminum discs that just sit on the shelves. I find it far more rewarding to “rent” music where I’m paying for what I hear, rather than to pay for what I own but don’t use. Now I wish artists got more of the rent money that I’m paying, but I like this method of payment. Songs I love so much that I’ll play 30 times in a month get more money than songs I played once. That just seems like a better system.

      1. Please, James never think to tell me what I want. I have the multi-nationals to try that on me.

        I want to possess the thing, the media, the information, the image, whatever it is that I spent time and resources to obtain. I don’t live for the ephemeral and if someone wants to alter or take my info, let them come mug or burgle my crib.

        Perhaps since you seem to have made more money than I you feel more casual about your collection than I do my few hundred CDs at max, probably more like one hundred, I have more digital music than I should. The collection represents more than mere ordered sounds to me. I paid for it, now it belongs to me. The best part of that is once I own a thing, I can do pretty much as I wish with it and often without having to worry about the world peeking at it, or messing with it, or even preventing me from accessing it.

        I have no desire to live in a world where the only people who actually own things are the wealthy. We, poor folk should be able to own nice things too. And any fool who says “Information wants to be free.” is an idiot who has not thought about what that means when applied to their information. I have, I like restricted information.

      2. Sorry Craig, I don’t mean to insult you. There’s nothing wrong with owning things, collecting, valuing objects for their beauty, etc. I’m not anti-materialistic. I’m trying to be philosophical here and split hairs. I love music, and consuming music has been a lifelong passion. I just want to separate the essence of music from the mechanism of delivering the music. If you cherish the delivery mechanism, that’s fine. I’d love to collect old LPs just for their covers. I have that side to me too.

        But what I really love the most is listening to music. Not only do I want to play all the songs I love any time I want, as instantly as possible after thinking of wanting to hear them, but I also want to try out as much new music as possible in case I can find more songs to be obsessed with. To me, subscription music services are music nirvana. It’s like buying the largest record store ever just to own for my own use. For $10 a month I get access to almost a hundred years of recorded music, that covers over a thousand years of composing. If I lived a thousand years I couldn’t play it all.

        I doubt music ownership will ever go away. Publishers make too much money on it. Publishers are happy to sell music in as many formats as possible. But for subscription music to catch on, last, and pay the artists a fair royalty, it will require millions of people to buy into the concept. That’s what I’m campaigning for. I’m not against ownership, I’m for a new paradigm.

        But regarding your last paragraph, isn’t subscription music a better deal for the poor? For a mere $0-$10 a month they can enjoy a record collection bigger than any collection owned by a billionaire. As soon as I started making money back in 1965, either babysitting, paper routes or mowing lawns I started buying albums. But I was always limited to what I could listen to by the few bucks I could earn. Now I’m in hog heaven gorging myself on all kinds of music.

        By the way Craig, both Rdio (my favorite) and Spotify have free ad-supported accounts. Have you tried them? Spotify is particularly nice if you like to get your friends to play certain albums, because it’s well integrated in social media sites.

        I’m perfectly willing to accept that some people still want to own music, but I hope that desire doesn’t destroy the business model of subscription music. It’s a concept too great to die.

  3. Look, Craig, there’s no reason outside of current business models that it has to be exclusively one or the other. Anything that can be streamed or played can be copied if someone cares to take the trouble, DRM or no. Unless everyone is willing to give up general purpose computers and let corporations have lock & key control over all your devices, that’s going to be the case, like it or not. The question is, how to deal with the situation and how best to preserve and enjoy our common cultural heritage.

    You’ll note that my little What If scenario implies the right of the public to own personal copies of any copyrighted work. Of course any creator would also be free to do without governmental interference and forgo both the requirements and the protections of copyright. And good luck with enforcing your “natural” rights to IP on your own.

    For now, anything I look at or listen to more than once, I mostly prefer to keep my own copies of. Like James, I’ve even squirreled away a large number of pictures scrounged from the Net. Besides convenience, I want to ensure these thingss will still be available and accessable when I want them. I also own hundreds of books that I have no room to unbox, many of which are no longer available in most libraries. Still, unless you are insanely wealthy (and I’m quite poor myself), it’s neither possible nor desirable to keep personal copies of the vast majority of media. Even things I particularly love weigh me down and cost both trouble and money to keep around. And as James said, there’s already more stuff out there than anyone could go through in ten lifetiimes. But then that was true before digital media ever existed.

    The Great Library at Alexandria was one of the wonders of the ancient world. We’re at a point now where we could have a new wonder.

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