Two weeks ago, I reviewed a number of possible Lala replacements, and on May 31st the best music site ever shut down as promised. As part of the shut down, Apple gave everyone who had purchased 10-cent Web songs an iTunes gift card. Because Apple rounded up to the nearest $5, I got a $30 refund.
It’s funny; I hadn’t thought I spent that much. But that’s part of the genius inherent in both Lala’s Web song model and Apple’s app store. All those little purchases add up. 99 cents here. 10 cents there. But you end up spending more than you planned. As I said before, I’m hoping Apple recognizes this synergy in their models and takes advantage by preserving the cheap a la carte pricing for web songs.
Speaking of Lala replacements… On Thursday, thanks to Houston Press-er Craig Hlavaty, I scored an preview invite to the newest contender: Rdio.com. I had settled on Mog, but after a 3 day trial, I’ve concluded that Rdio is the better option. Even in beta, it offers a superb set of features packaged in most attractive and usable interface I’ve ever seen.
As with other services, you get songs from all 4 major labels and a fair number of indies. Because it’s relatively new, they actually have fewer songs than Mog or Rhapsody. And some of the records that appear to be available offer only clips—not full streaming.
It’s not clear whether this is a licensing issue or simply a matter of ramping up their database / storage capabilities. For example, they didn’t have full streams for Sonic Youth’s Washing Machine, but full versions of both Goo and Dirty were both available.
But aside from the temporarily limited catalog, Rdio has lots of postives, starting the with standard features:
- On-demand streaming for records in their catalog
- Pandora-like artist radio that will build playlists of similar stuff
- Download mp3s for 99 cents
- Desktop app that streams music without having to keep your browser window open
- Imports tracks from iTunes / Windows Media Player into your Rdio catalog
- Integration with Facebook / Twitter
- Scrobbling to Last.fm
- Superb mobile application that allows for both streaming and downloading songs to your iPhone / Blackberry / Android phone.
All of that is great. But I think every music service, including offerings from Google and Apple, will include most of these features. What sets Rdio apart from other services I’ve seen is the impeccable design and thought they’ve put into their social features.
I’ll explain it this way: One of the biggest problems I’ve had with Mog is the “what do I listen to?” question. Sure I can listen to virtually any record I want, but what do I want to hear? We used to answer this question by thumbing through our records or CDs. But when you’ve got 6 million choices and a low-resolution Web browser, it’s hard to narrow and conceptualize your choices.
Rdio solves this problem by presenting you with an attractive wall of records your friends are listening to.
Even though I’m following (Twitter-style) relatively few users right now, Rdio gives me a menu of choices based on what they’re doing. In addition, you can see a Facebook-like wall of your friends’ activities:
Rdio will also offer recommendations based on the stuff you listen to. Notice, there is a refreshing focus on album artwork and very little of the design clutter I’ve experienced with other services.
Two other social features are worth mentioning. First, you can invite others to build collaborative playlists. You can also post songs simultaneously to Twitter and Facebook; their integration of these networks is simple and uncluttered.
I don’t want to make it sound like Rdio is perfect. One feature I was excited about is the ability to match songs from my iTunes library to my Rdio “Collection.” This works differently from Lala, because no songs are actually uploaded. Rdio simply matches the text file from iTunes to the songs in their catalog. Without uploading, it works a lot faster. Unfortunately, it captures a disappointing fraction of the songs that are in your library. When I tested it, it identified only a quarter of the 28,000 songs in my library.
Another disappointment was the limited functionality of Rdio’s Collection feature. You can browse and listen to songs in your Collection, and Rdio will recommend songs based on what you’ve already got, but you can’t yet build random playlists from your Collection. And you can’t just hit a shuffle button and start playing your entire library the way you could on Lala. Rdio says these features are on the way.
I’ll leave you with a link to one of the most enjoyable Web features I’ve seen in a long time: The 50 Greatest Hip-Hop Samples Of All Time. Each featured sample includes a snippet of the original and a notable track that included the sample. Plus there’s expert commentary from two dudes who seem to know their stuff. I lost a couple of hours down this rabbit hole last night, and it’s responsible for this morning’s Kool and the Gang binge.
I think this kind of thing embodies both the promise and the purpose of the internet. Google says it’s their mission to organize the world’s information, but it still takes people to put it all together. Someone to share their areas of expertise, and collect the audio tracks, album artwork, and editorial commentary into one compelling picture.
Finally, you want to know my thoughts on the iPad? I was thinking about this the other day: I’d love to see a music encyclopedia app that could do what this hip-hop sample article did: educate readers on, say, classical or jazz music or blues by weaving together text commentary, videos, sound clips into one immersive experience. Wikipedia offers some elements of this, but it could be better.
If you know of something similar, I’d love to know about it.