It’s amazing to think that since Rhapsody first emerged in 2002 the music industry has only now – over 10 years later – reluctantly embraced the music streaming model as a viable alternative to customers buying music in retail stores. In the last five years we have seen the likes of Rdio, Spotify, Beats Music, and Xbox Music come onto the scene. The music industry may not have fully embraced music streaming services quite yet, but the movement in that direction is undeniable and inevitable.
For nearly three years I have been using Rdio as my music streaming service of choice. As a Canadian there really weren’t very many options, as the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) regulates services such as Rdio to ensure that it meets Canadian standards, as well as to protect Canadian markets. This tends to be an extremely lengthy process and is certainly one reason why Canadians always seem to be the last to join the party with many of these services, as it can be difficult and/or time consuming for these companies to acquire the rights to Canadian content. There are arguments for and against this type of regulation, but that is most certainly not what I intend to discuss here.
For the past three years, my affair with Rdio has been more or less satisfactory – or so I thought – as there weren’t very many alternatives available to me. However, since Google Music has finally made its way north of the 49th, I decided to give it a whirl – at least for the free 30 day trial period. Well, it took it a very short minute for me to never look back. It has been nearly two weeks since I made the move and the only time I have opened up the Rdio app has been as a reference while writing this article.
Before I go any further I should state that my comparisons are coming from the mobile perspective; however, I’m sure much of what I discuss could be applied to the desktop counterparts of the respective applications.
User Interface preferences are almost entirely subjective, but there is something about Rdio’s UI that has always left me wanting. The app takes too long to load; the recent history page only loads five songs at a time, forcing you to refresh the page only to reveal another five songs – rinse and repeat. Furthermore, for some reason the recent history is now buried under two sub menus. Over the past two years, Rdio seems to take one step forward and two steps back with each of its updates. While the UI is clean and minimal, it’s also inconsistent and confusing.
I understand they are going for a very minimalist look, but I have grown to find their UI to be more on the side of bare than minimal. Google Music, on the other hand, has gone for bold colours, large images for showing album art work, artists, and radio stations, and little touches like a moving graphic equalizer to indicate what song is playing in a list of songs. The experience is just more immersive. Even creating something as simple and common as creating a playlist seemed like a chore on Rdio, whereas on Google Music I find myself getting that excitement I used to feel when making mix tapes back in the day. Changing the order of the playlist, or removing a song, even just temporarily, is exceptionally intuitive and fun.
Have Fun and Explore
That’s just it. Google Music is fun. The first time you log in you will be asked – similar to Beats Music – to identify your favourite artists and genres. I tried not to be shy and even identified some of my guilty pleasures – and no I won’t be disclosing. Once that task is complete you are in and ready for your musical journey. On the home screen you will greeted to auto playlist suggestions for “love and romance”, “having friends over”, “driving”, and even a “sweaty dance party”. Scroll down a little further and you will be shown your recent history. Here is where you will have a hard time hiding your Katy Perry interests from your oh-so-judgmental-friends, so be careful. Perhaps my favourite feature on Google Music is the “I’m feeling lucky radio” feature. If you are like me and always seemed to forget what music you like whenever you walked into a music store you will be pressing this button a lot. Google will roll the dice and create an auto playlist based on your musical taste. If you like a song you hear just add it to your library – something I have always wished I could do on Rdio.
If you were one of the few people that were a fan of the Nexus Q, let alone even know what it is, you will appreciate the ease of adding music to the queue. I remember being at a party about a year or so ago and marveling at the music programme the host was using to queue up music. Everyone at the party could take turns and add a song to the playlist. All I knew was that Rdio could not do that. Or, if it could, it was buried far too deep in the UI for me or anyone not familiar with it to bother. Thankfully Google was paying attention. Just search for your song, hit the menu key, add your song to the party queue, and hope to god someone in the room likes Katy Perry…I mean, New Order.
It’s All About the Music
In the end, a good music streaming service should help you discover new music and help you rediscover music you had long since forgotten. On Rdio I always seemed to be scrolling through my recent history, while on Google Music I find myself constantly discovering new music – adding it to my library and playlists. In fact, it has breathed a new life into my love for music, and that is all that really matters.
The purpose of this article was not to diminish Rdio as an all access music service. As a lover of music it has served me well over the past few years and I would still rank it above much of the competition. Perhaps I just needed a fresh offering and Google Music was the one to make me look in the other direction. In any case, it is clear that the competition is getting very stiff and smaller companies are going to have to step up their game if they’re going to compete against the likes of Google, Apple, and even Microsoft.