Rdio on Roku

I got a Roku 2 XS for Christmas and the first channel I configured after Netflix was Rdio.  Roku is a tiny box that connects to your TV and home network allowing you to watch various “Internet channels” on your TV.  Programmers create apps for the Roku that act like TV channels – some are free, others cost money, like Netflix and Rdio. 

Rdio is a streaming music service with several price levels to use, starting with free, $4.99, $9.99 and $17.99.  You need to be on the $9.99 Rdio Unlimited plan to use it with the Roku.  I love Rdio for streaming music because it has the best web page for managing music, and it has fantastic social networking features for sharing and discovering music.

rsz_rdio_logo

Rdio is also available on mobile phones and tablets if you have the Unlimited plan, so you might think, why listen to music on your television?  Well, if your television is hooked up to a surround sound system to support your home theater it can play music far better than what you can hear through computer speakers or through earbuds.  Most people have no idea how rich music sounds if they’ve always listened to it on earbuds.  Music on a home theater system is like listening to music in the car with a good car stereo system.

Now while the web interface to Rdio is rich and powerful on the computer screen, the Rdio interface on mobile devices and the Roku is severely limited.  You can play your music collection, playlists, and search for songs and albums, or go to the New Releases and listen to new albums.

BUT RDIO ON THE ROKU IS VERY LIMITED IN HOW YOU PLAY SONGS! 

First off there’s no random play.  Basically you see album covers and call them up to play.  You do not even see a list of songs on the album, or even told how many songs are on the album.  All Rdio does is show the first song and gives you three options:  play/pause, next song, previous song.  Now this is fine if you want to put on an album and listen to it, but that’s skips most of Rdio’s wonderful features.

I assume this is Rdio’s first effort and more features will show up on the Roku and mobile devices soon, but here’s a list of critical features I’d like to see much sooner than later:

  • Random play for playlists and albums
  • Show song list for albums with up and down arrows for selecting
  • Show song list for playlists with up and down arrows for selecting
  • Allow us to add album to collection
  • Allow us to add album to queue
  • Allow us to add song to playlists
  • Allow us to create a new playlist
  • Show large photo of album when playing (hey, we’re using 1080p TVs here)

After those very basic requirements are met I’d like to see:

  • All the current social networking features of the web version
  • Wikipedia like info about songs, albums and artists
  • Lyrics to songs (again, we’re combining music with a big screen.  I have a 1080p TV and computer monitor – make the most of it)
  • Allow us to create multiple collections on all devices (this isn’t even on the web version)

Many of these features are missing on my iOS version of Rdio too.  I’m hoping they will also be fixed there too.

Amarok, a music player from the Linux world and KDE, also available for the PC and Mac, has a central window for showing song lyrics and album, artist and song information.  Sitting in front of a TV listening to music sort of demands making use of the large screen don’t you think?  Of course, when I really get into a song I close my eyes.

I know we’re at the beginning of a new era for playing and distributing music.  Right now only MOG and Rdio are available for the Roku, which is the working man’s streaming device.  Rhapsody is on the Sonos, but I can’t afford that system, and besides, it doesn’t have the wonderful melding of music and TV that Rdio and MOG have with the Roku.  (Rhapsody, are you listening?)

I don’t know how many people have Rokus or other streaming music boxes.  Is Rdio available on the Apple TV box?  And I know these services are starting to be built right into TVs and Blu-ray players, but until millions of people see how cool it is to combine TV and streaming music they will not see the amazing potential.

I kid you not, this could be as big as MP3 music players.  Plopping down in front of the big screen and using the clicker to control a music library is brilliant.  I can lay my fat ass body on the couch and with one hand holding the tiny Roku remote and using just one finger, I can call up songs so easily that I went through a dozen new albums in the New Releases section in about 30 minutes.  Of course I didn’t play the whole albums but I play enough to get the feel for them, and if I had had a button to add them to my queue I would have saved three to play later, to give them my full attention.

Rdio has an amazing New Releases page.  Most other subscription services put up a screen or two of new releases each week, usually giving well known artists the promotion.  Rdio just shows what’s coming out from everybody and they have page after page of new releases.  Some of them are pretty crappy, but I often find stuff I like from groups I’ve never heard of, and that’s what its all about for me – discovering new music.  Playing subscription music on TV could be a huge way to promote new groups.

With the current software on the Roku if I want to remember a new album I need to have a pen and paper handy to write down the info so I can go to my computer and process it there.  That’s a drag.

I want Rdio to let us create multiple collections.  I also wish the Queue was a collection too.  Right now if you play an album in the queue it disappears when Rdio goes to the next album in the queue.  I’d rather the finished album stay there until I manually delete it from the queue.  I put stuff in the queue to study.  I’m trying to determine if the songs and albums are worthy of adding to my permanent collection or playlists. 

And that brings up another problem.  As my permanent collection grows it gets harder to find albums.  I want to organize my collection – so I want multiple collections and even sub-collections.  That way I could create a collection called Jazz, and then within it create sub-collections for Bebop, Cool, Big Band, Fusion, etc.

Rdio has tremendous potential, far more than I can even imagine now.  Listening to music ten years from now we’ll all look back and think how primitive these times are.  Politics might be a mess, and the economy is going down the drain, but the future of music looks very bright.

JWH – 12/27/11

Best Revenue Model for Musicians: Sell or Stream?

I’ve bought thousands of LPs and CDs in my life, and a surprising number of them I only played once.  Now I rent music from Rhapsody and Rdio – total cost $15 a month.  In my heyday of buying CDs, I’d usually spend 10x that or more per month.  I never got into stealing music.  I want the artists and record producers to make their money like they deserve.  However, it’s doubtful I’ll ever go back to buying CDs, and since I’ve acquired the streaming music habit, I have no desire to go back to buying music at all.

The question I’d like to know is:  Can the artists and producers make as much money by streaming as they do by selling?  Finding out about revenue from various music distribution sources is difficult, but there are some clues.

Problem #1 – Artists Used To Make a Lot of Money Off of Crappy Songs?

If I buy a CD for $15 and whether I play it once or a million times, the musicians and producers earn the same amount of money.  If I go to iTunes and sample an album and buy one song I like for $1.29, again it doesn’t matter how many times I play the song, they’ve gotten their money.

Now if I go to Rhapsody and play an album or song, the artist and their record company will get a tiny payment, I assume.  Now if I find one song that I love so much I play it 20 times a day for the entire month, that song should theoretically pay the creators of that song more money for my extra love.  But does it pay the music people enough?  Evidently not, according to The Black Keys, who have pulled their new album from streaming services.

I’m pretty sure selling CDs was the best way of making the most money.  Music lovers had to buy everything pretty much on faith.  The money was up front.  Money from streaming comes after fans play the songs.

Problem #2 – Can Streaming Succeed if Too Many Groups Pull Their Catalogs?

Artists and record producers want to sell albums.  But let’s be honest, how many albums in your collection are ones you like to play straight through and love all the songs?  Or even half the songs?  Or even one song?  Music lovers want to find songs push their music loving brain cells into ecstasy.  But we don’t know which songs do that until we play the album.  In the old days you bought a CD and rushed home hoping to find at least one, and hopefully several great songs on an album.   I’m through with that.  Those days are over.  I’ve been burned too many times.  Streaming music lets me try out all the albums I want, and the songs I love get added to playlists.  Life is easy, but will it last?

If music producers start pulling out of deals with the streaming music services it won’t.  Now we could see a tiered delivery service like we see for movies and DVDs.  Netflix is a cheap all you can eat service, but content comes there last.  This might work for streaming music, where albums go on sale for a period of time before they go to streaming.  I can dig that, but then I’m old and patient.

To get some idea what streaming music does offer, read “Spotify vs. Rdio: Who Has The Exclusives?” over at Wired.  I wished Rhapsody had an API to let it be compared too because I feel from just daily use Rhapsody has the best catalog.  What Wired did was look up 5,000 albums at both services to see which had the most.  Rdio was the winner to me, but Spotify had some much loved exclusives.

It also revealed the holdout groups for streaming music:  The Beatles, King Crimson, AC/DC, The Eagles, Led Zeppelin and Frank Zappa – but hell, I’ve already bought those, some more than once, some even three times.  Streaming music still has millions of albums, so for $4.99-$9.99 it’s a great deal.  But, how many groups have to pull their catalogs before people give up on streaming music?

Problem #3 – Can Artists Make Money Only On How Often a Song is Played?

To make money on streaming music services artists must create songs people want to play and play and play.   If you create an album with 10 songs and people only play one of them, then 9 songs won’t be earning revenue.  Streaming is a dog eat dog world of music competition.  Hit songs will make money.  But will they make the same kind of money as selling hit songs?  I don’t know, and I can’t find out.

Problem #4 – Can the Music Industry Convince People to Buy Music Again

Because of stealing sharing songs free on the Internet, a whole generation feel music should be free.  The convenience of streaming makes getting music for $5-10 a month far easier than stealing, so it might be a viable revenue stream, but can it compete with convincing people to buy music again?  And now that I’ve spent years using streaming music, I don’t know if I’d want to go back to buying music.  But then I’ve got 18,000+ songs I’ve already bought and I’m 60 years old, so I could coast awhile without buying.  If I did go back to buying music I’d buy single songs at Amazon and hope Amazon stays in business for the rest of my life.

Problem #5 – What Happens if Most Fans Go With Streaming?

Even though I own the Beatles, Frank Zappa, Eagles and others on CDs, I no longer play their music.  I went out and bought all the remastered Beatles CDs when they came out and then didn’t even play them.  Streaming music is too convenient and great.  I just don’t mess with my collection anymore.  I recently uploaded it to Google Music, but I don’t play it.  Spotify will call up my library when it can’t find it in theirs, and that’s cool, but I wished Rhapsody and Rdio did that.  I want all my music in one place – in one search engine, and I want it in the cloud, so my playlists work from any computer or mobile device.

Sorry Black Keys, but I’m not going to buy your new album.  Leaving Rhapsody and Rdio doesn’t make me want to go buy your album.  My world of music is now streaming.  If the song ain’t there it ain’t anywhere, at least in my musical reality.

Sources of Streaming Music News and Reviews

JWH – 12/14/11

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