Why We Can’t Trust Subscription Music Services Like Rdio, Rhapsody, Spotify, MOG, etc.

In the post-CD world of music, the challenge is to keep our favorite songs forever even though we have nothing physical to hold and protect.  If your computer crashes or you lose your smart phone, can you recover all your favorite songs you’ve bought over the years?  (Or stolen.)

Digital music is in a total state of chaos.  I have songs in Windows Media Play, iTunes, Google Music, Amazon Cloud Player, iTunes Music Match and I have rights to listen to albums in Rdio, Rhapsody and Spotify, plus I own about 1500+ CDs.  No one site can play all the songs.

My favorite way to listen to music is via Rdio.  Rdio plays on all my computers at home and work.  It plays on my iPod touch, iPad 2, and it plays on my TV/stereo through a Roku box.  However, it doesn’t play all the albums I own, nor out-of-print albums, but it does play millions and millions of songs, so for 90% of what I want it’s excellent.  However, for those favorite songs it doesn’t have, it ruins the whole concept of subscription music.

For example, one of my favorite albums is No Guru No Method No Teacher by Van Morrison.  It’s now out-of-print, and I recently discovered that  when the song “Thanks for the Information” disappeared from my Songs Rated 10 playlist.  I thought I had it on CD, but evidently not.  I did have it on LP, but I got rid of my LPs years ago.

I probably didn’t get it on CD because it was on Rhapsody and Rdio and I got used to it being there, and thought it would always be there.  I was wrong, it’s been pulled.  I just ordered a used copy on Amazon for $10.25 + $2.98 shipping.  I’m sure I could have gone and found a stolen copy, but I’m not into that.  Once I get it I can rip it and put the songs on Amazon and Google.  I’m not renewing iTunes Music Match.

The problem is my favorite way to play my favorite songs is via playlists on Rdio.  Over time some songs disappear from subscription music services because the album goes out-of-print.  I HATE THAT!  I’ve been trusting subscription music services for years, and slowly it’s becoming obvious that if you really love a song and want to play it for the rest of your life you have to buy it.

But buying digital songs is iffy.  I’m trusting Amazon to always preserve the songs I buy from them – but what if Amazon goes out of business or gives up on Amazon Cloud Player?  How long will Amazon, iTunes and Google back up music if you buy it from them?  And what if they don’t sell the songs you want?

I should consider the CD as my master copy for life, but the CD format might not last that much longer.  Is the MP3 any kind of real archival medium?

Because music goes out-of-print and gets removed from Rdio and Rhapsody I’m going to have to change the way I listen to music.   I might need to move my playlists to Amazon Cloud Player (and maybe Google Music) and then use Rdio and Rhapsody as tools to discover music.  When I find a great song I want to listen to the rest of my life, I’m going to have to buy it and put it on Amazon Cloud Player.  I’m paying Amazon $20 a year to store the 20,000 songs I own so I can play them from all my computers and mobile devices.

Or I could stick with Rdio and just let out-of-print songs become forgotten songs.  I wish there was a way to upload out-of-print songs I own to Rdio so I could keep all my songs in one library.  Rdio is far superior to Amazon Cloud Player for managing playlists.  I can’t even find a way to delete a playlist on Amazon Cloud Player.

Why can’t I have all my music in one place where I can play it from all my devices?  Life was so much simpler when I had LPs and all the music I owned was on one bookshelf.  But back in those nostalgic times, I could only play that music in one place.  Now I can play my music anywhere, if I can keep up with all my song files.

JWH – 10/28/12

How To Pay for Music?

David Lowery, of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker wrote “Letter to Emily White at NPR All Thing Songs Consider” last week that got a lot of attention on the net.  The post currently has 533 comments, many of which try to justify stealing music with various self-serving excuses, even after Lowry carefully explained why stealing music is hurting musicians.  Emily White had written “I Never Owned Any Music To Begin With” at NPR Music, confessing how she has 11,000 songs on her iPod but never bought more than 15 CDs in her life.  Emily loves music and wants to work in the music business, but confesses she doesn’t pay for music.  There are some fascinating comments for this blog post that’s well worth reading, but basically it comes down to telling hundreds of stories about why people don’t pay for music.

If all these people had their weekly paychecks stolen I wonder if they’d be so willing to admit to stealing other people’s pay?

Is there a solution to this problem?

In another post Lowery shows how it’s quicker to find music at iTunes and Amazon than to find copies to steal, disproving that people steal because it’s convenient.  People steal music because they don’t want to pay.  Lowery also showed that more music is available for sale than to steal, but that doesn’t seem to sway people either.  Most folks just flat out just don’t want to buy music anymore.

Is there anything the record companies can do?  Is there such a thing as music that can’t be stolen?  Before the Internet LPs and cassettes could be copied, but not easily.  The net lets people distribute stolen music easily.  Unless we do away with the Internet it’s doubtful the music industry can stop piracy, even with DRM.  So is this the end of the music industry?

I’ve bought 4 CDs this past month, but that’s a fluke, and one CD, Our Version of Events by Emeli Sandé, I bought two copies, one to give as a gift.  But I primarily listen to Emeli via Rdio ($9.99/month).  I could also listen to her by Rhapsody ($9.99/month) which is my backup streaming music service.  So I’ve paid 4 times for the rights to listen to this one album.  I could also listen to Spotify on my free account.  And if I wanted to take the trouble, I’m sure I could track down a stolen copy.  My point is Rdio is the absolute easiest way to listen to music.  The only reason I bought the CD is because sometimes I want to hear the music played very loud on my big stereo at it’s best sonic version.  But it’s a pain to keep up with CD and to play it.  So I just use Rdio 99% of the time.

emili-sandi

People can pay as little as $4.99 a month to legally listen to most music via Rdio, Rhapsody, Spotify, MOG and other streaming music services on a computer.  So why do people choose to be thieves instead?  I don’t know.  Like Lowery points out, paid for music is far more convenient to use.  They aren’t too cheap to pay $80 a month for a smartphone, but they won’t pay $10 a month to play the music they love on it.

I own two copies of all the Beatles CDs, the old ones and the new re-mastered ones, but I don’t play them because they aren’t on Rdio, and Rdio is too convenient.  People who work so hard to steal music have no idea how easy it is to use legal music.

But there’s a problem with streaming subscription music – some artists don’t feel they pay enough.  And that might be true.  In the comments to Lowery’s post, one person wrote in they were paid $.0091 per stream from Rhapsody and $.0008 from Spotify.  In other words, Rhapsody pays just under a cent per play and Spotify under one tenth of a cent per play.

For Our Version of Events I paid $8.99 for the CD.  That’s just 64.21 cents for my favorite song, “River.”  But that’s the whole cost which includes Amazon’s cut, the record company’s take and Emeli’s royalty.  I don’t know how accurate these streaming play figures are, but it’s enough to give us an idea.

“River” by Emeli Sandé Cost to Buy/Play
Amazon CD 65 cents (whole cost)
Amazon MP3 99 cents (whole cost)
iTunes 129 cents (whole cost)
Rhapsody .91 cents (royalty)
Spotify .08 cents (royalty)

For Emeli to make as much money as whole cost of the CD song, I’d have to play the “River” 71.43 times on Rhapsody or   812.5 times on Spotify.  No wonder artists think Spotify is a rip-off.  If anyone can document the actual payment schemes please post a reply.

I have no idea what Rdio pays per stream, but I’ve been playing the hell out of this song.  I’m sure I’m coming close to the 71.43 figure, meaning for people who love a song it can pay as much or more than buying a CD.

The problem with pay per stream method is songs that don’t get played don’t earn money, whereas CDs buyers do pay for them, even if they don’t listen to them.  Pay per stream is actually more fair, but it’s a big cut in pay to artists used to the CD sales method.  I’ve bought hundreds of CDs I’ve only played once or twice.

I wish all the streaming services would post their stream rates so us music fans could use that knowledge in deciding on which streaming service to use.  I’m about to settle on Rdio and abandon Rhapsody, but if I learned Rdio paid so little as Spotify I’d change my mind.

I don’t know how to make everyone pay for music, but I’m more than willing to pay for subscription streaming music.  $9.99 a month is little enough to be an honest music fan.  I’d be willing to pay more if I knew the artists were getting a better deal.  Even though I still buy CDs, they are very inconvenient to use and I prefer the emerging subscription streaming services.

Other sources about earnings:

JWH – 6/24/12

Sharing Music

Yesterday WordPress informed their bloggers we could add links to Spotify and Rdio to our blog posts and they would be converted into music players.  Great!  I’ve always wanted to review music and let people play it while they read the review.  It’s very hard to describe music in words.  Last night I posted a couple test posts and discovered there’s some real limitations to the endeavor.

I’ve also started a new blog site, Streaming Music, where I will branch off my writing about music. To give you some idea what I can do there I’ve created some tests of embedded music players.

Rdio only played 30 second clips to the people I got to try it, none of which were subscribers to Rdio.  I’m going to try again here and see if I can find some subscribers and see if they hear more than 30 second clips.

You can join Rdio for free and get limited access to their music. You can also join Spotify for free and get quite a bit of free music, but you’ll need to install their software client. Rdio works with a web client.

Spotify won’t play at all unless you have the Spotify client installed.  This is free, but requires people to go off and install the client.  However, Spotify has millions of subscribers, and millions more free users.  And they have users in Europe.

The next downside to the project is people outside of U.S. and Europe can’t use either service.  All the legalities of online borders is a pain to deal with on the Internet where we’re really just one big world.

People have been sharing music on the Internet right from the beginning, but illegally.  For $5 a month you can have legal access to gigantic libraries of music, so subscription music is a new kind of sharing that’s spreading fast.  By WordPress offering linked music players should push this movement further, and hopefully one day I can put a song up to play on my blog and anyone in the world can hear it while they read my post.

If you don’t mind, leave a message and tell me if you can play music from Rdio or Spotify.  Tell me if you only hear 30 second clips or the whole songs.  Tell me if you are a subscriber of either service.  And let me know what country are browsing from.

Spotify

Rdio

Best Revenue Model for Musicians: Sell or Stream?

I’ve bought thousands of LPs and CDs in my life, and a surprising number of them I only played once.  Now I rent music from Rhapsody and Rdio – total cost $15 a month.  In my heyday of buying CDs, I’d usually spend 10x that or more per month.  I never got into stealing music.  I want the artists and record producers to make their money like they deserve.  However, it’s doubtful I’ll ever go back to buying CDs, and since I’ve acquired the streaming music habit, I have no desire to go back to buying music at all.

The question I’d like to know is:  Can the artists and producers make as much money by streaming as they do by selling?  Finding out about revenue from various music distribution sources is difficult, but there are some clues.

Problem #1 – Artists Used To Make a Lot of Money Off of Crappy Songs?

If I buy a CD for $15 and whether I play it once or a million times, the musicians and producers earn the same amount of money.  If I go to iTunes and sample an album and buy one song I like for $1.29, again it doesn’t matter how many times I play the song, they’ve gotten their money.

Now if I go to Rhapsody and play an album or song, the artist and their record company will get a tiny payment, I assume.  Now if I find one song that I love so much I play it 20 times a day for the entire month, that song should theoretically pay the creators of that song more money for my extra love.  But does it pay the music people enough?  Evidently not, according to The Black Keys, who have pulled their new album from streaming services.

I’m pretty sure selling CDs was the best way of making the most money.  Music lovers had to buy everything pretty much on faith.  The money was up front.  Money from streaming comes after fans play the songs.

Problem #2 – Can Streaming Succeed if Too Many Groups Pull Their Catalogs?

Artists and record producers want to sell albums.  But let’s be honest, how many albums in your collection are ones you like to play straight through and love all the songs?  Or even half the songs?  Or even one song?  Music lovers want to find songs push their music loving brain cells into ecstasy.  But we don’t know which songs do that until we play the album.  In the old days you bought a CD and rushed home hoping to find at least one, and hopefully several great songs on an album.   I’m through with that.  Those days are over.  I’ve been burned too many times.  Streaming music lets me try out all the albums I want, and the songs I love get added to playlists.  Life is easy, but will it last?

If music producers start pulling out of deals with the streaming music services it won’t.  Now we could see a tiered delivery service like we see for movies and DVDs.  Netflix is a cheap all you can eat service, but content comes there last.  This might work for streaming music, where albums go on sale for a period of time before they go to streaming.  I can dig that, but then I’m old and patient.

To get some idea what streaming music does offer, read “Spotify vs. Rdio: Who Has The Exclusives?” over at Wired.  I wished Rhapsody had an API to let it be compared too because I feel from just daily use Rhapsody has the best catalog.  What Wired did was look up 5,000 albums at both services to see which had the most.  Rdio was the winner to me, but Spotify had some much loved exclusives.

It also revealed the holdout groups for streaming music:  The Beatles, King Crimson, AC/DC, The Eagles, Led Zeppelin and Frank Zappa – but hell, I’ve already bought those, some more than once, some even three times.  Streaming music still has millions of albums, so for $4.99-$9.99 it’s a great deal.  But, how many groups have to pull their catalogs before people give up on streaming music?

Problem #3 – Can Artists Make Money Only On How Often a Song is Played?

To make money on streaming music services artists must create songs people want to play and play and play.   If you create an album with 10 songs and people only play one of them, then 9 songs won’t be earning revenue.  Streaming is a dog eat dog world of music competition.  Hit songs will make money.  But will they make the same kind of money as selling hit songs?  I don’t know, and I can’t find out.

Problem #4 – Can the Music Industry Convince People to Buy Music Again

Because of stealing sharing songs free on the Internet, a whole generation feel music should be free.  The convenience of streaming makes getting music for $5-10 a month far easier than stealing, so it might be a viable revenue stream, but can it compete with convincing people to buy music again?  And now that I’ve spent years using streaming music, I don’t know if I’d want to go back to buying music.  But then I’ve got 18,000+ songs I’ve already bought and I’m 60 years old, so I could coast awhile without buying.  If I did go back to buying music I’d buy single songs at Amazon and hope Amazon stays in business for the rest of my life.

Problem #5 – What Happens if Most Fans Go With Streaming?

Even though I own the Beatles, Frank Zappa, Eagles and others on CDs, I no longer play their music.  I went out and bought all the remastered Beatles CDs when they came out and then didn’t even play them.  Streaming music is too convenient and great.  I just don’t mess with my collection anymore.  I recently uploaded it to Google Music, but I don’t play it.  Spotify will call up my library when it can’t find it in theirs, and that’s cool, but I wished Rhapsody and Rdio did that.  I want all my music in one place – in one search engine, and I want it in the cloud, so my playlists work from any computer or mobile device.

Sorry Black Keys, but I’m not going to buy your new album.  Leaving Rhapsody and Rdio doesn’t make me want to go buy your album.  My world of music is now streaming.  If the song ain’t there it ain’t anywhere, at least in my musical reality.

Sources of Streaming Music News and Reviews

JWH – 12/14/11

The Significance of the Spotify Revenue Model–A New Social Promotion Paradigm

Spotify is popular European streaming music service that has come to America.  It’s not that we didn’t already have American streaming music services from Rhapsody, Rdio, MOG, Napster, Microsoft, Sony and others, but Spotify is different, it has a free, ad-supported option besides it’s two paid options.

Allowing people to listen to music for free is significant.  Lala.com, also offered a free option, but Apple bought Lala and killed it.  I wonder if Apple will buy Spotify?  Free is a threat to the status quo, but legally free means a new paradigm in promoting music.

Would-be rock stars dream of riches so how will free music help them? To become an actual star means finding a million fans – it’s all about promotion.  If your songs sucks, no amount of promotion will help, but if they are great, without listeners no one will know.  And the best way to promote a product is word of mouth.  And social networking on web pages, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, or even email, is word of mouth promotion on steroids.

It used to be radio airplay created hit songs. But who listens to radio anymore?  Now-a-days people use YouTube.  Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” is at 106,083,210 plays on YouTube.  Of course that could be 10 million fans listening 10 times each, or 1 million fans listening to the song a hundred times, or it could be me listening for 10 times before I bought the CD, and another guy out there listening to it for 106,083,200 times.  But this is the kind of promotion that payola can’t even touch.  Free is more contagious than the common cold. 

Most people I know who want to share a song with a friend checks YouTube to see if there’s a video so their friends can hear it for free.  But what if there’s no video?  Bummer.  There’s always finding a pirate copy, but that’s a pain and could be dangerous.

Spotify is the new kid in town that could replace YouTube’s as the go-to place to have friends try out songs.  But there’s a minor hitch.  You have to be a Spotify member and install the client software before you can play songs for free.  Now that’s not much more work than getting Acrobat Reader so you can read PDF files, but it is some extra work.  If Spotify gets the kind of market penetration as Flash then it will be a snap to share songs.

Spotify will replace Billboard as the definer of Hit Lists. But this depends on everyone using Spotify.  It would help if they had a web client.  It would also help if they had an embeddable player so web pages and blogs could just add a play button so when someone writes about a song they could press a button and listen while they read. 

WordPress does have a MP3 player I could embed in my writing here, but I’d have to load the song onto the WordPress server first, and since most songs are copyrighted, that’s illegal.  But Spotify, and other streaming services, could legally arrange to stream music to such embedded buttons, and they and the record companies would want such buttons if they also had a button next to the play button to return you to the album page where you’d see ads and more promotions for the artist and their albums.

Now this assumes Spotify remaining the only music streaming service with a free option.  What if that’s not the case?  What if they all offer ad-supported listening?  This will cause terrific competition for membership.  People will chose which service from a variety of features.  Price has always settled down to $5 a month for computer streaming and no ads, and $10 a month if you want to hear music on your mobile device (smartphone, MP3 player, tablet).  I would expect the Spotify competitors to come out with free ad-supported versions soon.  The ad supported version is like getting heroin for free.  Anyone who loves music will pop for the $10 deal eventually.

What the artists and record companies will want is the most efficient way to create massive audiences for songs.  I would guess royalties from subscription music is based on plays.  If no one listens to your album, you don’t make any money.  So they game switches from how many songs you can sell, to how many people can you get to play your song on the various subscription services.  Money from subscribers and ads are out of your control – everything is about getting people to listen.

And since anyone can listen for free, this should wipe our piracy – at least for songs on subscription services.

I’d love to be able to write album reviews and be able to embed a player for each song I review so people could play the songs while they read what I’m saying about them.  Right now I can do this:  “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele.  If you have Spotify you can click the link to play that song.  What I want is a graphic with CD controls and a play button so if you pressed it the song would play right in the browser where you are reading this.  WordPress offers that feature if I pay $19.95, but I couldn’t legally upload the song for you to try it.  If I could, I would gladly pay the $19.95 – but then the artist wouldn’t earned royalty credits.  It would be much easier for all concerned if streaming music services just offered embedding controls that WordPress, Facebook, etc. could incorporate like they do when I embed a YouTube video.

If such subscription music players were widely used, artists would get more play credits.

By the way, Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” gained 26,000 plays as I wrote this blog.

JWH – 8/5/11

Spotify versus Rdio, MOG, Napster and Rhapsody

[This review of Spotify is essentially part 2 of my review of MOG v. Napster v. Rdio v. Rhapsody.]

Spotify is finally here and I got my invite to use the free portion of the service, which is ad supported for streaming millions of songs through a computer.  Spotify also offers two other pricing options.  For $4.99 you can get unlimited computer streaming without commercials, and for $9.99 get unlimited computer streaming and on-the-go music for your smartphone or iPod.

Spotify requires downloading and installing a client to use, unlike all the other services that can work through the web.  Think of the client as a customized browser just for music.

My first impression is Spotify is BLAZINGLY fast!  Second, the sound quality is excellent with 320kbps streams.  Third, without me noticing it, Spotify indexed all the songs on my computer and added them to their search engine.  One of the first things I did was search for music I know that’s not on the other services, and was deceptively blown away when Spotify started playing Willis Alan Ramsey’s legendary out-of-print CD.  It wasn’t until after I searched on Nanci Griffith’s “Daddy Said” and it started playing that I realized I was playing my own songs.  I was disappointed that Spotify’s library wasn’t truly unlimited, but this is a very cool feature.  With one search engine I can play Spotify’s library of 15 million songs and my library of 18,000+ songs.

Spotify works with a client that must be installed on your computer – and for disciples of Steve Jobs, yes, there is a Mac client.  If you have an iPhone or Android smartphone, and you’re willing to pay the $9.99/month Premium fee you can sync your Spotify playlists to play offline.  If you’re online (Wi-Fi or 3G/4G) you can stream the entire site.  Users of the Free and $4.99 Unlimited plan can use the Spotify client to load your personally owned songs to your mobile phone or iPod.  What this means is Spotify wants to replace Windows Media Player or iTunes to manage your music – but it doesn’t require any conversion – Spotify just indexed my songs immediately after installing.

The client for Spotify is streamlined and basic, with a dark background – it reminds me of sleek basic version of iTunes.  Spotify is rather plain looking compared to Rdio my current favorite streaming music service, and Rhapsody, my longtime favorite.  Those sites love to show lots of album covers, but Spotify doesn’t do that.  It has two areas of the client where random visual ads pop up, but they hardly bother me, and I hate ads.  One reason why they don’t bother me is who looks at the client when they are playing music?  But on the other hand there are audio ads!!!  Now that might take some getting used to.

Having an ad support site means millions of people can try subscription music and discover why spending $4.99-$9.99 a month for subscription music is one of the most fantastic bargains on Earth right now.  I can even get my wife and other friends that refuse to pay for music hooked on Spotify.

I’m playing Colbie Caillat’s new album All of You while I write this review and so far I’ve had three commercial interruptions between songs.  The ads so far seem to be music related spots, and the audio ads have been either for Spotify Premium or other album artists – nothing as offensive as AM radio ads – so far.

Spotify does have social features but not wonderfully integrated like Rdio.  They seem to depend on Facebook or Twitter, although you can get the URL of any album, song or playlist and send it to your friends who have Spotify and they can then play what you want them to hear.  I didn’t test the Facebook feature because I hate sharing on Facebook.  I’m afraid Spotify would annoy my friends like Farmville fanatics with their sharing.

Spotify is slick in its simplicity.  Here’s what it’s Chart’s list page looks like, that show the Top 100 Songs and Albums.  [Try clicking on the images to see larger views.]

Spotify

Notice the ad on the right.  Now here’s what the album page looks like:

Spotify-Album

And here’s how Spotify shows my Bob Dylan albums.

Spotify-LocalSong

Go to http://spotify.com and request free invite.  Try out the service.  If you’ve never used a subscription music service Spotify is a great introduction.  But do yourself a favor if you like it, spend $4.99 and try out http://rdio.com for a month.  Read my review of the four other top music subscription services.  They each have unique features that make them all worthy considerations.  At the very minimum, if you love music get the free version of Spotify.  If I wasn’t so attached to Rdio right now I would buy the Unlimited version of Spotify, and I might still, it’s a very slick and FAST music player.

The reason why I’m sticking to Rdio is I have two friends at work that use it too, and the social features are addictive.  For so long music has become a solitary pursuit with people plugging in and tuning out.  Now, music is becoming social again.  I have great nostalgia for when I was growing up and me and my friends would get together and play albums.  No one seems to do that anymore.  Well, with subscription music services you can, just not together in the same room.

A third co-worker is definitely going to join Rdio, and a fourth is considering it.  That kind of momentum is sealing my allegiance to Rdio.  But subscription music is just catching on and Spotify might be the service to join, especially if you have a lot of music buddies on Facebook.

To sum up the comparisons I’d say MOG is a top consideration if you want the most efficient way to make playlists and you want to play music through your Roku.  Napster is your choice if you love playing songs from Billboard charts that go back to the 1950s.  Rhapsody might have the widest selection of songs, and it seems to have the most supplemental information and it has a great blog.  Spotify is great for two reasons.  First, there’s a free version, so everyone can use it.  Second, it’s perfect for people who have large personal collections of MP3s because Spotify integrates its collection with yours seamlessly.  Finally, I believe Rdio is best for people who like to share music with real world friends and discover new music by social networking with online friends.

I imagine all of these services will evolve quickly and develop new features and copy the best features of their competitors.  I believe streaming music is the future of music distribution and the end of owning music – except for true collectors who like to fill their houses with 78s, 45s, LPs and CDs.

JWH – 7/21/11

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