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.
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.
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.
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.
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