The State of Digital Music: The Rdio Conversations

K Rom I’ll play devil’s advocate for a sec here and say that I actually like how rdio erects obstacles to direct communication and doesn’t send me alerts about every little thing that happens in relation to every little thing I’ve done on the site. If people *really* want to communicate, they find a way. If you *really* want to find out what somebody said in response to something you said, you go back and check the playlist. One of the many things I hate about Facebook is how it’s always gettin’ up in my grill about every little thing that happens. The signal to noise ratio sucks. The rdio model also makes it harder for creeps and disturbed people (thankfully few of those on rdio, due in part I guess to its small size and paid subscription model) to mar your experience.

I pretty much agree with everything you wrote in your essay, Jason, but I would point out two shortcomings to services like rdio: licensing, and sound quality. There are dump trucks worth of FANTASTIC music that isn’t streaming here because the license holders are wary or it’s not on rdio’s radar. Services like 8tracks.com and turntable.fm, where users can upload and stream their purchased or ripped files, fill the breach somewhat, but in the end you only get to listen to something if somebody uploads it.

The second shortcoming is sound quality. If you have audiophile gear or just-short-of-audiophile gear the 320 kbps of mog.com–to say nothing of the 192 (or 256–I’ve clocked the former but some claim the latter) kbps of rdio–make all of that gear a wasted investment. If one has decent gear and decent ears, one CAN hear the difference. I don’t buy tracks from iTunes because 256 kbps AAC doesn’t cut it, either, but I DO buy CDs and rip lossless files from them (or download lossless files when possible) because compressed, lossy streams sound flat and lifeless on my best headphones and speakers. This is especially true for delicate acoustic music, less so for heavily compressed pop/rock/techno. It isn’t that I’m “objectifying” the music, rather that I’m fetishizing pristine sound quality. Rdio for me is about discovering the music, not savoring it. If the day comes when we all have 150 Mbps fiber-optic connections and rdio is streaming uncompressed 24-bit 96-khz masters and nobody is complaining that their connections are choking up, that objection will be rendered completely moot. At the moment, though, it’s still in play. 4 months ago

Jason Paul uh oh, it’s getting sad and I’m an eternal optimist! I did see some Rdio ads on Techcrunch the other day alongside the Spotify announcement. They are doing something! 4 months ago

Jason Paul @Gretchen…shit. I think you’re totally right and it makes me sad. I think the Rdio approach to network is much more meaningful. I love the focus. That’s really hard to find on Facebook. I suppose Twitter has it if you’re really well known and have a lot of followers, but otherwise it shouldn’t be called a social network, just call it a humanized RSS reader (which it’s very good at). 4 months ago

Turd Ferguson @ Gretchen – I am not so sure that the social aspect is completely being phased out. Turntable.FM for example. Their platform is completely social driven. 4 months ago

Jason Paul Had to look up scrobble. Guess we are a bunch of scrobblers. My impression is that Rdio hasn’t inspired enough brand loyalty to really compete with Spotify. Seems like many are ready to jump ship at the first sign of something bigger in the music subscription space (@Turd I’m generalizing, but it sounds like you’re jumping ship). I don’t know much about Rdio’s history (i know the skype connection, this shit better not be owned by microsft) but i know way more than i need to about Spotify because of all the hype. My biggest aversion to Spotify is that Sean Timberlake Parker is somehow involved and it gives Spotify the stench of thinly veiled opportunism 4 months ago

GrEtcHen @JP, I think Spotify’s launch is going to set the table, so to speak. And I truly fear their limited model of “social” will become the norm . I am going to predict they will be hugely successful this week. It really doesn’t matter who has the optimal set of features. Though I’m 100% behind a music site having a dedicated, internal, self-contained social component, I’m realistic that this is not the way things are going.

3 thoughts on “The State of Digital Music: The Rdio Conversations”

  1. Great post and comments!

    Right. So… Is Rdio the Future of Music?

    The problem with these sorts of “x is the future of y” discussions, particularly where technology is concerned, is that x always changes the nature of y. Because of this, you can never quite arrive at point y.

    I see Rdio and it’s ilk bumping into a few issues shortly that run along these lines:

    1) The closer these services get to delivering on the promise of offering “almost everything” in the world of music, the more they will underscore what isn’t offered. Put another way, how much music needs to be available to make up for the fact that what you want to hear right now isn’t?

    2) Part of the appeal of these services lies in the social aspect, which presently is built on the enthusiasm of early adopters and music nerds. The tone and quality of the social interaction will change as more users sign on. Will Rdio still be compelling?

    3) Rdio is presently a novel way of trying to monetize music in a time where monetizing music is difficult. It’s an experiment that is occurring concurrently with other experiments at trying to resuscitate the monetization of music. A verdict will be reached. Recent high profile releases by Coldplay, Black Keys, Tom Waits — to name a few — are not present on Rdio. Presumably this is because posting on streaming services is viewed as possibly undermining the success of other channels, both experimental and traditional. Is this the start of a verdict being reached? Will this assessment be shared by others?

    Just a few thoughts.

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