Thursday, December 31, 2015

What the Death of Rdio Has Taught Me

Most people have never heard of Rdio, let alone  lament the fact that it no longer exists (save in the fond memories of its loyal ex-users). I briefly used Spotify years ago, until an infuriating run-around with their customer service over everyone's inability to use our American Express cards as forms of payment. Then, in the shiny Spotify forums, I saw the first mention of Rdio. And I jumped at an alternative to this terribly managed platform. And I never looked back. Until Pandora bought Rdio and shut it down almost immediately.

Why did I love Rdio over other music serivices? Because of the way I personally listen to music. I wonder if it is because I am a child of the Napster generation (and a literal child of parents who had a good vinyl collection). I collected music.

When I moved to Austin for college, I moved from dial-up, to a T1 line that ran to our dorm. I do not know how to explain to "youths" (said in my best Schmidt voice) today how big of a jump that is. I went from downloading a few songs overnight, to entire albums in minutes. And so, my music library grew.

Soon bands like Metallica started really cracking down on illegal music downloaders, iTunes came around, and I was well into my CS education. I realized I needed to pay for my music. Just because I couldn't see something (or be seen stealing it) didn't mean I shouldn't pay for it. Hard work went into music and software. People's lives went into music and software. And so, my music library *legally* grew.

By the end of college, I was accustomed to having a hefty hard drive full of music to call upon. My more ambitious friends had music servers. I carefully curated my music collection and burned new CDs to my library and imported them into iTunes. I eventually moved in with my now husband, who has turned into an Apple addict. We have an AppleTV, so I could easily stream my music to it from my laptop. He acquired a few AirPlay and Bluetooth speakers over his tenure at Apartment Therapy, so no matter where I was in our house, I could listen to *my* music.

By the 2010's music streaming was becoming the new norm. Data plans were cheap, and Spotify (which had launched in 2008) began to take over the music scene. I wanted to try it out, so I did, and was met with the experience I'd mentioned before, and quickly went to Rdio. Rdio worked okay (and let me use my AmEx card). Over the years, it got better and better, and I really loved its interface.

What I didn't realize is that Rdio also worked in the way that I was used to listening to music. I "favorited" particular albums, and they were now in my music library. I was essentially leasing them. Whenever I wanted to listen to a song, or an album, or an artist, I did just that. I could even, just as with my iTunes library shuffle everything I'd "favorited." I started favoring artists, so that any time a new album landed in Rdio, it was automatically in my favorites, and new music from my favorite artists would, much to my delight, appear in my rotation. If I didn't like an artist enough to favorite their entire body of work, I could favorite just one album. But mostly, I favorited artists.

I subscribe to satellite radio as well, so between friends, living in Austin, and my favorite XM channels (Jenny Eliscu, I love your show), I discovered new music and added it to my favorites. I could call up my music from anywhere, at any time. And from any computer I happened to be sitting at. It was pretty glorious (with a few minor pain points*).

Then, Rdio died (RIP). I tried all kinds of other things so I wouldn't have to switch to the company that had made me so angry those years ago. I begrudgingly signed up for Spotify's Premium service again (because, even though I hate giving them my money, I hate commercials more). I added all my favorites from Rdio to my Spotify account. Then I looked for the "Play library" feature, or something similar. Then I learned that with Spotify, you have to just shuffle an artist, or an album, or worse, play a playlist they've created for you. For those of you who don't know me well, I mostly loathe all new (new = post-1980) "popular" music. And what are playlists going to push? You guessed it. I want to listen to *my* music. Not just one band a time.

This may be fine for a lot of people, but I listen to music at work -- to boost my mood, to drown out the incredibly loud people around me, and to focus.  I don't want to listen to a playlist with a crappy song in it that I have to stop and skip STAT. (Yes, I like the Dixie Chicks and Willie Nelson, and one or two Taylor Swift songs, but I do NOT NOT NOT like almost all other country music.) I don't want to shuffle one artist for an hour, then think about which one I want to shuffle next. I just want to loop through all the music I already know I like and leave it on auto-pilot (aka shuffle) so that I can get some uninterrupted work done. Or jam out on my road trip when I'm just feeling like some old familiar music.

I'm now realizing that those years of paying for Rdio in which I leased music may have been better served by my buying a new album every month instead.  Since music has always played such a big part of my life, I'm feeling rather lost.

I've learned that, for the most part, the solution to my problem is to add all albums I'd like to listen to by favorite artists to my Library, then I can shuffle my library. This, in my opinion, is too much work to do something that Rdio made so simple. And it doesn't get new albums added.

I've actually cancelled my Spotify service and gone back to listening to my iTunes library. Hello Tool (and my angry adolescence)! I've missed you.

What I've learned is that streaming music is a bad investment. Not even an investment. Artists are already complaining that they don't get paid enough from it.

I've also learned that good DJs are worth more than good algorithms.

The solution seems to be buying albums on iTunes (or Google Play) and letting Apple keep them safe for me. One can see similar issues arising should Apple ever kill iTunes as we know it.

Doing a little math for logic's sake, I currently have 90 favorite artists in Spotify. If I bought one album from each at $10, I'd be looking at $900. No bad, considering that I've probably already got at least one album from one of each of my favorites between the CDs in the closet and my iTunes library.

For the past three years of Rdio usage, I spent $10/month, which comes out to $360. If I could recoup that $360, would I plop it down in the Apple Music store? Is leasing music worth the convenience?


*Pain points: No Tool, among other bands. Also, a lot of the music I had on my computer was never going to end up on any streaming music service. For a long time, the Chieftans weren't online, IIRC.


  1. Why not Pandora? It does what you're looking for.

  2. I haven't used Pandora in a long time, but doesn't it also try to play music related to what you like in "stations?"