Several months ago I wrote an essay about how I thought Netflix could save music. Since then I’ve become a big believer in subscription music services. I chose Rdio because I liked the design, the social aspect and lack of ads. I honestly don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t use a subscription music service (MOG, Spotify, Rhapsody, Rdio) instead of paying more and listening to less with iTunes. I’ve come down pretty hard on iTunes in essays and on Twitter. I fail see why we need it and how it’s good. In this so called ‘cloud’ age owning an mp3 has become redundant. While I’m skeptical of the cloud for personal data I think distributed media (music, movies) has found a perfect and profitable future in the cloud. Apple has introduced their version of cloud music called iCloud which will be released soon. My gut response is an immediate aversion. It seems better than the totally wasteful Google and Amazon cloud music offerings. The problem I foresee in iCloud is that it continues to coddle the antiquated consumer impulse to objectify music. While iTunes can claim they are helping artists earn money off of digital music it actually amounts to an enormous scam against both consumer and artist.
I am 100% for supporting the artist. To use iTunes as an argument for artist charity is delusional. An artist can sell directly on their website and collect 100% profit instead of paying the middleman. We are talking about the world wide web damnit. I’m more likely to buy when I know my money goes direct to the artist. With regards to subscription music I do see immense value for distribution. It’s interesting Apple won’t be jumping into music subscriptions as they are the most poised to popularise this very rational approach. But they won’t cannibalise their very expensive old-school approach to selling mp3s (in my opinion worthless collections of data).
Why I think Rdio’s social model is so important is because of the access it provides. It’s not just access to any impressively large library of music but it’s also access to a network of audiophiles interacting around common music tastes. Where Rdio is all about discovery iTunes leans more on traditional promotion. Discovery is much better for artists so their work can speak for itself. Most interestingly on Rdio I’ve noticed that really good indie music tends to hold its own against pop juggernauts and in many cases does better. This could be a reflexion on the Rdio user base.
Music in a social network has other important implications. Many Twitter users seem to be aiming for and a few have actually attained a kind of social capital (influence). In a music social network gaining this kind of influence is actually more straightforward and less self-serving. The goal simply being to find great music from like-minded listeners. At least that’s why I’m hooked on Rdio. I’m always looking for my next art pop fix and the people I follow represent leads for my addiction. I love discovering new, good music. There’s way too much music but nowhere near enough good music.
My positive experience with Rdio has convinced me that the success of the music economy (and the end of what they call piracy) lies exclusively with access, cloud and social. I’m so sure of this I won’t even bother elaborating and let the immediate future convince any skeptics. What I hope you will consider is that any digital music service that isn’t based on these three attributes is DOA. That’s right, Amazon and Google, have already failed in there forays into digital music. What absolute redundancy! Having people backup/duplicate music files that could simply be accessed in the cloud?
I’ll close and go back to the future and recount a social music experiment I participated in on Rdio. Although it is a social network it is surprisingly (and deliberately) difficult to communicate with people directly to ensure the network maintains its focus on music. The desire to communicate with other users is so strong that people create playlists and use them as forums where they communicate through comments. Someone started a forum where they devised an experiment to get as many people in the network as possible to listen to the terrible 1976 comedy album by Redd Foxx “You Better Wash Your Ass.” It was an effort to get popular artists such as Fleet Foxes and Adele bumped from the Rdio heavy rotation charts. I did my part and left the album on loop all night (on mute as it is pretty terrible). The experiment worked. The next day Redd Foxx’s album was the top album in Rdio’s heavy rotation.
From the comments on the forum it seemed that a few Rdio power users who’d participated were a little disillusioned with the experiment. Perhaps they felt a little used and aesthetically compromised (I felt a little like that). What I found incredibly interesting about the experiment was how it simultaneously revealed how powerful users are and how easily the social music system can be gamed. If/when subscription music goes mainstream we undoubtably will have to deal with major labels paying off listeners to exclusively play their releases to gain rankings. The algorithm will evolve as well hopefully in favor of the real user. Perhaps there will never be a totally fair music utopia but for the moment it’s nice to be part of a network where the good stuff, even when obscure, actually gets noticed.