Sharing stuff I've learned, and things I've thought about...

Music streaming options

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve made extensive use of Rhapsody’s music streaming service for the past several years. It’s a great resource to try out an artist or an album for a while before I purchase a copy for my own, and I have a pretty extensive playlist that I listen to almost as regularly as I do my personal collection.

There is speculation in the music and tech community that personal music collections in the form of CD’s or MP3 files may go the way of the 8-track cartridge and 45-rpm records – why buy all that stuff, when you can customize a HUGE library of all your favorite stuff, and be able to access it from anywhere? Not a bad argument, but rather than digress into that discussion here I’ll circle back on that at a later date. One thing that does prevent me from relying totally on a streaming service is that a couple of my favorite artists – Robert Fripp and his constantly evolving band King Crimson are not available through ANY music streaming service. That isn’t a concern for 99.999% of music listeners, and any emerging artist is not going to avoid streaming services, so going to all streaming from a purely musical standpoint is not a horrible option.

In the meantime, I was wondering if I was missing something, or if I should look at other options. One thing that concerned me was that articles or discussions of the various streaming services very seldom ever mention Rhapsody. I don’t really understand why this should be the case, other than the tendency to dismiss any technology or business model that has been around too long (Rhapsody’s roots in the music business go back all the way to the Jurassic period, back before the turn of the century!!). Still, any business trying to exist at a nexus of pop culture and technology that fails to gain sufficient mental shelf-space among the journalists that cover those areas might not be around much longer.

My research led me to look at Spotify and to sign up for a 30-day free trial. I figured if I could find any reason to switch, I’d do so.

At first, I couldn’t see that Spotify was that much different than Rhapsody – both had enormous collections of music; Spotify claims a larger collection than Rhapsody, but I couldn’t find any shortage of any of the more obscure music I listen to on either service, so it was a wash there. The user interface of course was slightly different, but nothing that one wouldn’t get used to in time. While I have the Rhapsody app on both my iPhone and Android tablet, I’ve never used the Rhapsody desktop application (and poking about their site I wasn’t able to find it), but Spotify kinda puts the desktop app right in your face when you sign up , and I have to say it’s an improvement over both their and Rhapsody’s web interface.

Where I noticed a big difference was in two areas that are important to me. Rhapsody limits the subscriber to using their service on only ONE mobile device, which meant that every time I tried to use it on my iPhone, I had to agree to de-activate the registration from my tablet and vice-versa. Spotify has no such limitation – you just can’t stream to more than one device (computer OR mobile device) at the same time.

The second feature that I like on Spotify is an additional option for creating a “radio station”. Rhapsody allows you to create a genre-based station, or radio based on a particular artist. Spotify drops the genre-based radio, which I was a little displeased with, especially as Rhapsody’s genre classifications run pretty deep (I could stream radio based not just on Downtempo, but specifically Drum’n’Bass or Acid Jazz). However, Spotify will allow me to stream radio based on a playlist!! That’s pretty cool. I dump everything into a “Library” playlist so I can choose to shuffle-play the whole collection, and it ranges from Techno artists like Underworld or Nightmares on Wax to Doo-Wop, Blues and Duke Ellington – all of which can make for a pretty interesting radio station!!

There is one other feature of Spotify that is attractive, and corrects an irritation that I always felt with Rhapsody. When signing into Rhapsody, I was presented with all the stuff that Rhapsody was pushing because it was new stuff from hot, popular artists – Kanye West, Beyonce, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and all the other ubiquitous pop stars that are being shoved in my face at every turn. Spotify instead looks at stuff that I’d listened to recently, (which includes things that I’d heard on a radio stream as well as stuff in my library), and suggests other, similar artists. What a great way to get exposed to new stuff, and since my listening tends to be pretty eclectic, the suggestions are similarly eclectic, but consistent with my taste in music.

So, it looks like it’s going to be goodbye to Rhapsody for me in the near future. I just hope that Spotify doesn’t screw up what seems to be a pretty good service.