Value Beyond the Music

I pay for all of these music services: Rhapsody, Rdio, Spotify, SiriusXM.  The first three are more or less identical if you look at it as only paying for access to music, and Sirius is redundant if you connect your phone to your car.  So why would anyone pay for all of them?  Am I crazy?

I may be crazy, but I also listen to a lot of music.  When you listen to a lot of music, and especially a lot of new music, your primary musical challenge shifts from acquiring music to discovering music.  It’s now trivially easy to listen to just about any band or artist any time you want, but finding a continuous stream of great new music is still very hard.

To put it another way, the music itself is now a commodity.  You can find most music in a large number of places, legally and illegally, free and paid.  Services like Spotify and Rdio have tens of millions of songs, and when you add in BitTorrent it’s probably starting to approach the full collected recorded works of the human race.  The real value of a streaming music service then is helping you make sense of all of that.  The goal of every music service should be putting music you love (whether you know it yet or not) one tap/click away at any moment anywhere.  We’re not there yet, but it’s getting closer.

So, what’s the value beyond the music in the music service I pay for and use?

Rhapsody: I originally signed up for Rhapsody to use on my Sonos as they were the first music service available there.  It’s taken on the role of being the main family home jukebox.  We’ve been using it for a long time at this point and have a large library of favorites.  They also have a pretty good set of “Stations” (basically just curated playlists) that include nice ones like a variety of holiday music.  I’m considering dropping this subscription now because the stations/playlists of other services (such as Rdio) have largely caught up.

Rdio: A few years ago, when I decided I wanted a different music service for my own personal listening I tried out Spotify, Rdio, and MOG.  Rdio won me over with its approach to music discovery.  It’s asynchronous (more like Twitter, less like Facebook) and that works well for music recommendations.  Just because I’m “friends” with someone doesn’t mean I like their music choices.  Rdio is my primary personal listening tool now.

Spotify: Spotify is the clear leader in music streaming services, and is probably the closest to a music focused social network now.  They pioneered the free streaming plan and grew very quickly as a result.  I’ve always found their approach to music discovery and UI to be less appealing than Rdio so it’s not been my first choice.  Spotify’s huge reach and user base has made them into a platform that other music apps are now using as a shortcut to providing a music library.  Two new music recommendation apps (both unreleased) I’ve been testing use Spotify in this way.  Spotify has value as a general music streaming platform even if you don’t use its own player, and I expect that to continue to grow.

SiriusXM: The value of Sirius is mostly about convenience, but they do also have some unique valuable programming.  We pay for Sirius only because it’s in our cars and it’s less effort than connecting our phones.  Our 5 year old Audi doesn’t actually even make it very easy to get music streaming from an iPhone into the speakers, actually.  Sirius’s programming in genre-specific areas, such as Jazz, are pretty good too, if you’re not very well versed in those (like me).

I also additionally use some free services.

KCRW: The world’s best radio station, KCRW is an NPR college radio station out of Santa Monica.  I first started listening to it while in college in Southern California and have never stopped.  It’s listener-supported and I have donated in the past, but should donate more regularly.

Soundcloud: I have some of my own music on there for sharing with others, and this is probably the largest single repository of unreleased independent music and DJ mixes.  I don’t actually listen to soundcloud much now, but I think I should. This was once known as AudioScrobbler.  I’ve been sending data about my music listening to them since 2003, and my profile even shows what I’m listening to right now (John Tejada).  I think the music you have listened to in the past is the best indicator of what you’re likely to want to listen to in the future.  I like for finding bands similar to ones I already know, especially in less mainstream genres like punk rock.

Apple Music (and Beats 1): The launch of Apple Music is partially what got me thinking about this topic again.  They talk up their use of human curation rather than algorithms.  From what I can see on the outside, they are thinking about the music listening problem in a good way.  The service still hasn’t been super interesting to me, but the use of live DJs is an important move whether or not it is successful from a business perspective.  Apple’s family pricing of $15 for up to 6 people is also a big deal and is something I’m expecting to see other services try to copy.  The same thing would cost more like $45+ on other services today, if you actually need all 6.

Initial Thoughts on Retina Macbook

My wife’s new gold Retina Macbook was delivered today and here’s my initial thoughts from playing with it a bit.

  • It’s beautiful, but that’s expected at this point.
  • My 13″ Macbook Air looks pretty huge next to the Retina Macbook.
  • It only comes with the “wall wart” part of the typical Apple charger.  There’s no long cable included.
  • The USB-C connector is pretty small, smaller than I expected.  It’s very close in size and shape to lightning, which will probably cause some confusion.  It’s a nice looking connector for something that came out of the USB group.
  • The cable used for charging is the same connector on both ends, which is kinda neat.
  • As reviewers have pointed out, the keyboard is definitely weird.  That will take some getting used to.  I’m not a fan of the change to the arrow keys, which serves no purpose I can see but is interfering with my muscle memory.
  • The fake “click” of the trackpad generated by the internal motor is very convincing.  Regular people will not realize anything has changed.
  • It came with gold apple logo stickers in the box instead of white.  Are those new?


Archie is all grown up, and now he’s going to die.

For Archie fans, character’s death makes an impact – SFGate.

I was an Archie comics fan when I was a kid and got back into it a bit again in college.  I even stole some of it to use as content for a zine I created.  A lot has happened to Archie since those days of him being a relatively carefree teenager, though.  He’s grown up in a recent story line and is now going to be killed off.  Yikes!

Ultra-rich man’s letter: “To My Fellow Filthy Rich Americans: The Pitchforks Are Coming”

Ultra-rich man’s letter: “To My Fellow Filthy Rich Americans: The Pitchforks Are Coming”.

Good read.  Here’s a quote I like… “We rich people have been falsely persuaded by our schooling and the affirmation of society, and have convinced ourselves, that we are the main job creators. It’s simply not true. There can never be enough super-rich Americans to power a great economy. I earn about 1,000 times the median American annually, but I don’t buy thousands of times more stuff. My family purchased three cars over the past few years, not 3,000. I buy a few pairs of pants and a few shirts a year, just like most American men. I bought two pairs of the fancy wool pants I am wearing as I write, what my partner Mike calls my “manager pants.” I guess I could have bought 1,000 pairs. But why would I? Instead, I sock my extra money away in savings, where it doesn’t do the country much good.”

Bullseye from 1,000 yards: Shooting the $17,000 Linux-powered rifle | Ars Technica

Bullseye from 1,000 yards: Shooting the $17,000 Linux-powered rifle | Ars Technica.

With this computer-aided long range rifle people who have never used a rifle before can shoot small targets 1000 yards away. Things like this are a clue about what the future will look like. Computers will be augmenting human ability in almost everything we do. Modern cars are already largely computer-assisted devices with your actions not directly controlling them, but imagine when it happens to medicine (computer-assisted surgery) and sports (think bionic basketball).

Coast-to-coast solar plane flight set for May 1

Coast-to-coast solar plane flight set for May 1 | Ars Technica.

This solar plane is capable of crossing the US nonstop going just 43 miles per hour.  It would take 3 days but they’re unable to do it due to “security reasons”.  I wonder if we’ll soon start seeing solar-powered flying unmanned vehicles that never have to land.

“Download this gun”: 3D-printed semi-automatic fires over 600 rounds | Ars Technica

“Download this gun”: 3D-printed semi-automatic fires over 600 rounds | Ars Technica.

When I first heard about “3D Printing” I didn’t realize the impact it could potentially have.  When a technology is brand new it’s often hard to overlook the limitations and see the potential, but now parts of machine guns can be created at “home”.  It still takes a pretty high end printer today but it won’t for long.  It’s hard to not consider what this might mean for people in the future.