Essays on Technology and Culture

Rdio Isn’t a Sound Salvation (or: Streaming, Revisted)

Since writing my last piece on music streaming services, I decided give it a second chance. After trying out Spotify, and being disappointed, I switched to Rdio—[The Sweet Setup’s choice for best music streaming service][sweetsetup]. I also downloaded Beats music, but didn’t try it after discovering it lacked a desktop or iPad version. After a week of occasional use, I sprung for Rdio’s $9.99 a month [1] membership plan, largely so I could listen to an album’s worth of music uninterrupted. Rdio’s library is large vast, and I actually have discovered a couple bands worth checking out through its standard radio feature. I’ve just been too lazy to follow up and buy any albums.

Though the Rdio experience is good, some of my old complaints still are relevant, and I have new ones. Rdio’s discovery algorithms are still very hit or miss. I either hear a bunch of music that I already like and know, or new artists that are often not what I like at all. I also do most of my music listening at work, and I’m in a corner of the office with spotty wifi coverage. This means that I will lose my wifi connection on my phone at least once a day, sometimes more. Rdio, by default, switches over to my cellular data connection to keep streaming, and then I’m eating up my 3GB of data very, very fast. When it works, though, it works, and the audio quality is just fine to my damaged ears.

Because of the discovery algorithm sucks, Rdio has become little more than a source for playing music I already own, but don’t have on my iPhone. I don’t know if that’s worth $9.99 a month. This is music that I’ve largely paid for already, but lacked the presence of mind (or storage) to put on my phone ahead of time. That’s $120 a year to listen to stuff I’ve already paid for. iTunes Match would only be $30—if only I’d bought all my music from iTunes. There’s also Google Play Music, but that has a limit of 20,000 files. My music library is… significantly larger than that. (But, I am an outlier.)

As I write this, Record Store Day is fast approaching. The $9.99 I spent to join Rdio premium could be going to add something new to my library. [2] Plus, I’ll actually own the music—and the liner notes, and the sleeves, and all of it. It’s clearer to me Rdio just doesn’t work how I work, and I doubt any of the other streaming options are going to be an improvement. I might as well just use iTunes Radio. It’s built into the OS, and I can listen to NPR when I get tired of music. Streaming music is still an interesting space, and if the costs and rights issues can be sorted out with the labels, I might give it another try in the future. Or, perhaps, iTunes will lift the limit on how many non-iTunes purchased songs can go on Match. Either way, there’s a future where I can have all my music at my fingertips wherever there’s a data connection. I’ll just have to sit with my 100+GB media library and wait..

  1. A warning: if you try to sign up for a premium account for Rdio using the in-app purchase, you will be charged $14.99 a month. This is to offset Apple’s 30% cut of all in-app purchases, but it still strikes me as scummy behavior.  ↩
  2. There are three DEVO releases coming out for Record Store Day. One is a live recording from Max’s Kansas City, with audio of the band being introduced by David Bowie. There’s also a picture disc with a recording of their first reunion show at Sundance in 1996, paired with a DVD of their long out of print “The Men Who Make The Music” video. Finally, there’s a split 7" with The Flaming Lips, but the DEVO side is a previously released track, so I’m not worrying about finding a copy.  ↩