Rooting for Rdio

An open letter to the team at Rdio.

Dear Rdio Team,

This week Beats Music dropped with a shout. A 20mm plus title, hot-UX, curatorial, etc etc blah blah blah music streaming service. I wish them the best, but my loyalty, Rdio team, is with you.

About your company I don't know much. But I know a lot about your product, and I cherish it. In this letter I want to tell you about my experience using Rdio — and about how much better my life is because of your work.

I also want to urge you— whoever you are, building away in some loft or cubicled palace— to keep at it! I saw that you recently had to drop your new video service and have laid off a number of employees. Creating a company is hard shit. Keep at it! Keep at it! There are people out there — me among them—who are rooting for you.

Once upon a time, I was a reluctant paying Spotify user. Reluctant because I didn’t like all the clutter of my past music, friend feeds and this and that. It was too much. It wasn’t pure. The colors punched the life out of me. One morning, Spotify sync failed on my iPhone. So, just like that, I cancelled my subscription and gave Rdio a shot.

You did well with the sync and I liked your palette — and so, without much hemming or hawing, I went for it. I retired my iTunes 50 billion gig middle-school-hence situation and committed to you. It was a big investment — an entrusting.

I love Rdio. I use it everyday, many times a day. I wake up to Rdio playing through my Sonos. I leave my house, click your little icon, toss on my headphones, and listen to music as I take the F train to Dumbo, Brooklyn. I walk down Jay Street to the waterfront: Rdio. At work, if I have a minute where I want to just crank: headphones, Rdio. I leave work: Rdio. I get home: Rdio. Weekends — all weekend: Rdio.

You play the soundtrack to my life . And the soundtrack is getting better, thanks to you.

It’s not obvious, at first, what’s spectacular about Rdio. I don’t think your interface is soooo much better than Spotify’s (although your design team’s iterations over the last year have been good). Heavy Rotation and your stations are often a bit off-kilter. I fairly frequently search for music you don’t have. And so on. It’s not perfect.

But my love of Rdio doesn’t rest on any of these things. I don’t need my primary, go-to, heroic music listening application to be exotic or brilliant. Instead, what I need is an app that — at its root — helps me store, listen to, and discover wonderful, life-enriching, hot, sad, happy, beautiful music. And you do that job so well. In fact, it is partly because you are simple that you are wonderful.

I used to see your ‘Discover’ ad each morning as I passed into my Metro stop and nod: ‘Hell yeah. Well done Rdio branding team!’ Because at the root of your excellence is discovery.

Here’s how I use Rdio to discover music: I ask people I like what they’re listening to, add it on the fly to my collection, and listen to it. I kill the stuff I don’t dig, and get addicted to the stuff I love. Occasionally I’ll check out people’s habits on Rdio itself, but that’s rare. The whole thing is extremely human — and works because Rdio is human. The sharing happens in the real world, between two people, one of whom has been moved by a song.

I run a company (this one) and empathize, from a distance, with how uphill and overwhelming your roadmap must be. I imagine you are trying really hard to figure out how to grow faster, get bigger, go go go. I can tell that you’ve long been pushing on smart, inspiring, accessible design. You need to speed up the experience, particularly on the desktop where your fancy javascript often feels more broken than fancy. You probably need a desktop app that lets me sync my music to my computer (no I’m not always online.) You need to completely revamp the architecture of search, from what results show up to how the interface works on mobile. I bet there are some people who think you should be investing heavily in data scientists who can build better recommendation algorithms, better stations, and a better Heavy Rotation experience. I am in the midst of a disastrous situation involving trying to resync all my rdio music to my mobile device — it basically doesn’t work when you have like 6,000 songs to sync. That’s bad — I feel punished for being a super-user; you’ve gotta fix that! Maybe you need to attract teens or get the Android masses. Or maybe you’re after the boomers — who are so hard to acquire. I imagine it’s expensive to maintain access to the best music in the world, as defined by the increasingly fragmented/flat tastes of the infinitudes. Oh and social: “Make it more social!’ someone is saying, and points whimsically to Soundcloud. Ah yes, and you must master the intricacies of customer acquisition —determining attribution for in-world to see if that’s working, testing display, trying new Twitter ads (I bet this would work, btw), further optimizing your Facebook acquisition funnel, and so on. You may be quaking a bit at Spotify’s massive funding and move towards more free services. And so on and on and on and on and on and on. I empathize.

Amidst all this, I want to say : KEEP AT IT! We are rooting for you. Because you make every single day so much cooler.

What a precious human trait — this capacity to enjoy and share music. The way we hear music says so much about who we are — where we are rich inside, where we are shackled, how we hold the world in our minds, how we understand connectedness, how we give meaning to things. You are helping human beings to envelop more of their time in great music. We are better because of music. We are truer. You fuel this upwardly spiraling helix.

And so, thank you. You are my music collection and my music collection is hot and I am a better man for it. We — your many fans (among them a bunch of my closest friends) — are very grateful for your hard work. I hope that you each carry a deep sense of gratification at bringing music to the people and making us all so much fuller and brighter.


Aaron Schildkrout

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