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.

Last.fm: This was once known as AudioScrobbler.  I’ve been sending data about my music listening to them since 2003, and my Last.fm 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 Last.fm 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.

QuNeo vs Akai MPD32

QuNeo was the first Kickstarter project I ever funded and I just got mine in the mail a couple of weeks ago.  I’ve only had a few hours to spend with it, but that’s been enough to get a feel for what it’s capable of and what it will do for my setup.

I play live laptop/keyboards/synths/drum machine in a rock-tronic band called Thrillouette in San Francisco.  The setup is primarily Ableton Live on a laptop with some midi controllers plugged into it for live control.  The controllers include a Softstep from Keith McMillen, the people who make the QuNeo, as well as an Akai MPD32.  The QuNeo is expected to replace the MPD32 so I’m going to do a quick comparison of the two.

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