Published Sep 26, 2011Consumers of music seem to be in two distinct camps: those who want to own the music they listen to, and those who feel like access to music they love would be enough, as long as they can listen to any song, any time, anywhere.
For those on the "access" side, finding the right platform is what's important, and there's a new streaming service that's catching on amongst Canadians in a big way. Rdio (pronounced AR-dee-oh) was launched in 2010 by Janus Friis and Niklas Zennstrom, the co-founders of Skype and Kazaa. The fully licensed, 100 percent legal service offers unlimited, ad-free access to a massive catalogue of 12 million songs, all for a monthly subscription fee of $4.99, or $9.99 for the mobile version.
There are three ways to access music through Rdio: web, app and mobile. Sign up to the regular version, and you can stream all of the songs directly from the website at Rdio.com, or through the desktop app. You can listen to full albums, create playlists, and listen to "Artist Radio," which helps you discover artists similar to ones you already know and love.
The most impressive playback option with Rdio, though, is the mobile option. With one click, you can effortlessly sync any album or song to your mobile, and then listen using the free Rdio smart phone app. There are no cables or other hassles involved with syncing. It just works, and beautifully. You can then listen to any songs in your synced collection on the go, and here's the kicker: you're listening to it locally, not streaming through wi-fi or 3G. Your iPhone and Rdio app become an iPod, perfect for listening anywhere, no connection required.
Aside from the seamless and flexible playback options, one of the best features of Rdio is how it integrates social elements into its platform. "Most of the other services are search and play," says Drew Larner, the company's CEO. "Our main focus was to build the product around social discovery, since people really discover music through friends and tastemakers."
In a Twitter-like fashion, you can easily follow other subscribers on Rdio. see what they've been listening to, who they're following, what they've added to their "Collection," and check out their playlists. Individuals have profiles on Rdio, but companies have also signed up, such as labels, blogs, and magazines like Exclaim! (www.rdio.com/#/people/Exclaim/)
When you first log in, you'll find a "Heavy Rotation" header, with three sections: "You," (the music you listen to most); "Your Network," (what the people you follow are listening to most); and "Everyone," (the most popular tracks throughout all subscribers). You'll also see a "Recent Activity" stream, much like Facebook, showing what you, your friends, and the entire subscriber base have been up to: adding new music, creating new playlists, etc.
Speaking of playlists, those are social, too. When you create a playlist, you can either keep it closed, or, open it up for collaboration. Alan Cross, an early Rdio adopter, launched "The Recommendation Project," a series of collaborative playlists with unique themes such as "Steve Jobs' Greatest Hits" (songs made famous by Apple commercials), and "Two Minutes of Heaven" (songs under 2:20, which, as he put it, "are a godsend for [DJs] timing out to news and other features).
The songs on Rdio are playable on demand, simply by searching. But what really drives the social aspect of the service is the Collection. Essentially, if you like an artist/album/song enough, you add it to your collection with one click. This helps build your social profile, as well as making it easily accessible without having to search for it.
This is where Rdio really nailed it. Even those who believe that access is enough still want to express themselves by showcasing what music they love. By creating a Collection on Rdio, you get access to everything, and still get to share your musical tastes with the world.
As mentioned, all of the content is 100 percent legal. Rdio licenses music directly from the major labels, with whom they then split the subscription revenue on a per-play basis. Labels in turn pay out to the artist based on whatever deal they have in place. For independents, Rdio also works with all of the major digital aggregators, such as IODA or the Orchard, so getting your catalogue on there is relatively easy and inexpensive.
The best part of Rdio, though, is easy to identify for Canadians. Unlike Spotify or Mog, two other popular streaming services, Rdio is actually available here. Try signing up with those others mentioned and you get an ugly "we're sorry" message.
When asked about why Rdio is unique in its availability in Canada, it's apparent that it all comes down to Larner's approach: "It was just a matter of course. U.S. and Canada are, in my view, the same market in many respects. When we were working towards launch, we thought, of course we'll launch in Canada. Why wouldn't we?"
There's still a lot of uncertainty when it comes to how music will be consumed in the future. Larner refers to a "tipping point" where streaming will start making a lot more sense for a lot more of the general public. With great services like Rdio on the market, that tipping point might be closer than ever.
Scott Honsberger is a consultant and founder of music industry blog Your Band's Best Friend.