My post on why people should consider subscription-based music services. It’s like Netflix but for music.
For the past few months I’ve been using Rdio, a monthly subscription site that offers unlimited music streaming and downloads. It’s a great bargain. Pay $5 a month, and listen to as much music on the site as time will give. Pay $10 and be able to use the mobile apps. It was a decision over picking a similar subscription-based music site called MOG due to its lackluster and underdeveloped Android app. Well, I decided to revisit MOG after a recent “major” update to the Android app and make a comparison between the two.
Why subscription music matters?
Think of the many services that people subscribe. They subscribe to their favorite newspaper, such as the New York Times for its news reporting, Netflix for its unlimited video streaming, and Hulu Plus for their favorite television shows. Why not pay a monthly fee for unlimited music streaming? As a huge music nerd, I think this is a brilliant idea. Just like Netflix, it is a gateway to discover new content that people may never have found and rediscover lost favorites. Listen to a new album and make a judgment call without going through complicated and sometimes illegal channels. There is, however, a catch. Subscribing to one of these music services mean that the user can only listen to music the record companies allow, and the user does not own any of the content. There’s no physical copy that the user can listen when their subscription runs out. In today’s world with the advance information technology, does anybody have to own everything that they listen?
Since the internet has open music discovery to new heights, everything is at their fingertips. Search for a torrent. Download. Own it. Buying physical copies become mere novelty for devoted fans. So what does the music industry have to do? Adapt. Sell $10 physical copies or offer $10 unlimited streaming and downloads? That’s, however, not the realities of the dilemma. The two choices should be to allow users to spend $0 by downloading illegal copies of CDs or give them the opportunity to listen to what they want at a reasonable cost. People like paying for legal avenues. Treat the customer with respect, and the customers will follow. Giving people unlimited streaming isn’t everything though. It’s about the execution, and that’s why I’m comparing MOG and Rdio.
In terms of numbers, MOG has about a million more songs in its collection. MOG has more niche artists, such as Nathan Fake and James Holden, though Rdio is constantly updating its library. Even though numbers don’t necessarily mean everything, especially for the modest listener, MOG also offers some pop-artist albums that Rdio does not. One example that I’ve come is Kanye West’s College Dropout. Rdio doesn’t have the license to all of the songs, just fourteen of the twenty-one tracks. Unlike Rdio, MOG carries the entire album, including one of my favorites the Mos Def and Freeway collaborative “Two Words”. I have not found an album on MOG that are only partially available for streaming, but there have been numerous times that I have experienced this on Rdio.
One added feature that Rdio carries is the Match Collection that’s included with the desktop music player. The match collection tool allows Rdio to scan the user’s iTunes/Windows Media Player library. The songs that match with Rdio’s library are instantly added into the user’s collection. I find the match collection tool really useful in creating a quick collection of favorites on the site. Though Rdio does not have everything that I own, it catches the majority of it. One flaw with the match collection tool is that it sometimes only add part of albums into the collection, and I would have to manually add the rest of the songs. MOG does not have such a tool, nor even a desktop music player.
I am not a total audiophile, but I can usually tell if the audio quality is bad. When it comes to audio streaming, MOG and Rdio have similar quality coming out of my puny laptop speakers. It’s not CD quality, but for $10 a month and ease of use it’s well worth it. The major difference in audio quality is through their mobile apps. MOG and Rdio both offer music downloads to any Android/iPhone device. For comparison, I’m using a Samsung/Google Nexus S. I never use their radio and album streaming capabilities since it drains the battery. MOG offers two options for downloading, 64 kbps AAC+ and 320 kbps MP3 “high quality downloads”. Rdio however does not offer any options, and there’s a huge difference. For most users, the audio quality may not make much of a difference, but I really prefer MOG’s high quality downloads over Rdio’s subpar offering. Plug the phone while its playing Rdio to the car stereo, and I can hear the bass blaring while the rest of the song sounds like noise.
While MOG offers more content and better audio quality, what made me initially choose Rdio over MOG was its interface and ease of use. When it comes to interface, Rdio just makes more sense. On the Rdio dashboard, the right panel takes up 3/4 of the screen displaying various information on what the user’s network is listening. The site displays large album art that can be clicked to play instantly, add to queue, sync to the mobile device, and for more information. The left panel is restricted to the media player, showcasing the album art, track information, and large play, previous track, and forward track buttons. Click the playlist button, and the right panel changes to provide the “Recently Played”, “Now Playing”, and “Queue” list. The queue list divides the song by albums.
The MOG front page, however, looks incredibly underwhelming. Instead of the welcoming blue background and large buttons like on Rdio, the MOG site contains small, plain black text on a white background. The album art images are small (200x200!). There’s no sidebar player. In fact, no user can access what they were previous playing unless they select an artist, album, or song and click play or add to queue! It’s just counterintuitive and annoying. Unlike Rdio’s queue list, MOG is similar to itunes or winamp in which it organizes by songs instead of albums.
Both sites have a radio service similar to Pandora and Last.fm where the user can choose an artist and a custom playlist will be made based on similar artists. While this sounds great, I could not get the radio to work on the Rdio site. MOG has an advantage of having a similar artist meter where the user can choose how often MOG plays the same artist. It’s really useful if the user only wants to listen to their favorite artists but don’t want to choose a specific album. Music discovery on Rdio, however, makes more sense. Click on an artist profile, and on the right sidebar there is a biography of the artist, a list of similar artists, as well as a list of artists that inspire or were inspired that artist. MOG has none of that; artist profiles are very plain with only a list of songs, albums, and a few photos.
One of the appealing features that Rdio has is the social networking aspect. A user can follow other users, magazines, and websites and see what music they recommend as well as subscribe to their playlists. MOG has a similar social network, but discovery is not onpar. Instead, it seems that the social networking is only half formulated and hardly executed. Music recommendations are not based on a user’s music preference, but instead by MOG developers’. Users are encouraged to follow others, but there are little ways in discovering people with similar tastes. MOG however has a wider variety of playlists made by musicians, professionals, magazines and other publications, but there is no way of saving these playlists on the site!
Many of the problems that MOG have are resolved in the MOG beta site (http://mog.com/chrome). There is a dedicated player at the top of the page at all times. The layout is more welcoming with its multi-shaded gray interface, but many of the key features on the main site are left out. The playlist discovery section is gone. There is still little to no social networking, and the music recommendations are unappealing. Not everyone enjoys listening to Brad Paisley and Lady Gaga.
Though MOG and Rdio have iPhone apps, this section is limited since I only really use the Android apps. The Rdio app is quite amazing. On the Rdio site, the user can choose which albums or playlists that they want to sync their mobile device. Open the Rdio app, and it will automatically download the files for offline listening. The MOG app, however, is lackluster, unpolished, unstable, and unusable. There is no sync-to-mobile button on the site to push albums or playlists to the Android app. The user must actively click download on their mobile device one by one for each album. Not only that, but the downloads are a lot slower. That can be because the MOG files are much higher in quality, but there are also frequent errors that will skip a track or stop the download queue entirely. There are many error messages and login problems that will stop the track or app entirely.
Comparatively, the Rdio app is like a godsend. It works smoothly with barely any hiccups. Click on an album, and it’ll play. Whenever there is a phone notification or phone call, the MOG app will randomly play a song. A MOG app user can search for a playlist and add it to their favorites on the phone, but it will not transfer over to the site. It’s like the website and app are not really even communicating to one another! The only communication that happens is that if a MOG user logins to the website, the app will discontinuously download the music files and stop playback because no one user can be in two places. The artificial barrier is nothing more than annoyance to the end user. Have more trust in the user. Most are not trying to take advantage of the system. To be fair, Rdio does not allow two playbacks at once either, but at least the mobile sync still works.
Both MOG and Rdio have their positives and negatives. MOG has better audio quality, while Rdio has a better user interface. In my case, I have little incentive to use Rdio’s social networking, and I don’t really care about radio features. If having a stable Android app is important, I would definitely recommend Rdio over MOG. Though MOG’s audio quality on downloads are so much better, the Rdio app is just more stable and easier to use.
Thanks to my friend Ryan, who graciously let me have his Zune, I stop using either MOG or Rdio’s android app. Music playback on the phone drains the battery too quickly. I now use MOG on my laptop mostly because the Chrome app is nice and that I cancelled my Rdio subscription before my friend gave me his Zune. Why not pay for the Zune subscription instead? Being a poor college student, I can’t justify paying $15 per month for the Zune Pass despite being a great service. Also, I really like being able to start MOG anywhere through the web browser. It’s OS neutral, which is great since I run Windows and Ubuntu. All of this monthly subscription business, however, is pointless when I’ll be overseas in a few months. If one of these subscription-based services would work in Japan, I would switch in a heartbeat. Maybe Google Music is the way to go for my case. I hope it works in Japan.