The Great Music Streaming Decision of 2015
Since Rdio announced it’s filing for bankrupcy protection and is selling off key technology and assets to Pandora this week, many of us who used and loved Rdio are now faced with where to go for our streaming music.
For me, the only legitimate choices seem to be Spotify and Apple Music. I’ve chosen not to test other streaming services like Google Play Music (Sound Ears Noise Yes), Amazon Prime Music, and Pandora (I want to escape the radio not have a worse version of it) for various reasons. I’m sure there are many great reasons to like any of those other services (there aren’t), but I don’t want to hear about them (I recommend you write your own opinion piece about them). Below is my personal experience with both services thus far.
After spending significant time finding artists that I enjoy, learning the difference between the “+” and the “♥” icons, I find its strength lies in slightly better selection, higher quality of sound (or maybe my ears were just working better on the days I listened), and overall design. Let me be clear, the design is simple, but it is not good.
The design aesthetic is more similar to Rdio in its minimalism, simplicity, and overall visual language. Or typical Apple (Rdio was implementing the style of that is now associated with current versions of iOS while iOS was still using Skeumorphism). So in that sense, there is a familiarity. Actually learning how to find music, add artists, or make playlists, takes more time than it ought. What’s the difference between “My Music” and “For You”? Go fuck yourself, that’s the difference.
One of the best features of Rdio was the community. Finding friends and other people whose musicial tastes you shared helped you discover new artists. Apple Music has no community. You can’t add friends. You can’t share playlists. You can’t comment on songs or albums. The only playlists you can see are your own or those that have been selected for you, in the “For You” section (because they’re playlists for you based on music you’ve “♥”ed, but “♥”ing something does not add it to “My Music”, because that makes sense).
In Rdio, every Tuesday, sorry, I mean Friday, I love to scroll through the “New Releases” section, looking for albums from artists I know, and even artists I don’t know (especially if the artwork looks cool). I could sort the list by release date (This Week, Last Week, 2 Weeks Ago). Apple Music has a “New > New Music” section with a mix of albums releases this week as well as other that are much older, all limited to about 50 albums. Thus, I can’t go scrolling for awesome artwork and maybe discovering music I’d otherwise never have heard.
If you’re like me and have dozens of playlists with hundreds of songs in them, the prospect of manually adding each song is nearly enough to make you not want to use the service. Thankfully there is a tool that will transfer playlists from Rdio to Apple Music. A little app called MoveToAppleMusic. Sadly it costs $4.99, and took a little over 6 hours to transfer playlists from Rdio to Apple Music (which is just an .xml file you import), and some songs are completely wrong or unavailable (and for some reason I can’t add the correct songs to those playlists).
Since my wife*, daughter, and son all listen to music, a family plan is a must, because none of us want to be subjected to the disdainful tastes of the others. Apple Music is a very reasonable $14.99 per month for up to 6 people (which includes offline listening and expert blah blah thing).
Good Jesus I hate the design of Spotify. While Rdio and Apple Music utilize minimalism and simplicity in their interface, Spotify is like a 5 year old who won’t stop talking no matter how vigorously you ignore them, filling every moment of silence with noise. It’s the Windows 7 of music streaming design. If you like design, then Spotify will make your eyes burst with blood rage. If Spotify’s design were a taco, it would be from Taco Bell, and consuming it will give you hate shits. Where was I? Oh right, I strongly dislike the overall visual language of Spotify.
That said, actually finding what you need is better than in Apple Music. Searching for artists, adding them to your library, creating a playlist, are all much more intuitive. You have no idea how hard that is for me to say. I was able to transport all my Rdio playlists to Spotify without (almost) any issues using Soundiiz (it took nearly 2 days because the service is painfully slow, but it’s far better than the alternative).
Spotify has a large community, and you can quickly add friends, if you have Facebook. After you’ve added all your Facebook friends, there isn’t much you can do. Unlike in Rdio, there is no way to view your friends activity (despite the “Activity” section, which just shows if you’ve done something like share a playlist or song over social media), no way to listen to, comment on, or add to their playlists (unless they’ve shared it on social media). Overall the community seems an afterthought.
Finding new releases is easy, but like Apple Music, it seems very limited in what is shown (just 36 albums!), and not all albums are exactly “new” (for example it has Mutemath’s “Vitals” in the new release area, even though album came out last week). Again, for me, browsing new releases was a key to finding new music. And without a community nor a robust list of new releases, discovering new music is subject to curation that I don’t yet trust.
Spotify also has a family plan, so that I don’t have to see music recommendations based on my love of ABBA and Fall Out Boy, which costs a very fuckity $24.99 per month for 4 people (which includes your right not to have commercials), as compared to $9.99 for 1 person.
The winner is…
There is no winner. It’s just which service is less horrible, and my experience thus far is that both are equally…ungoodish. Mostly because I’ve used Rdio since 2010, have been an advocate for the service to all my friends, and am saddened (and thus acting like a jilted teenager) with the prospect of having to find something new. With either service I sacrifice something I really want, and both services are completely missing features I loved on Rdio. Spotify is pricier (for me) at $25 per month for my family, while Apple Music is cheaper at $14.99 per month for my family (the downside being it relies on the dumpster fire called iCloud Sharing to add family members).
If I have to declare a winner, it’s going to be Spotify (you have no idea how hard it is for me to say that, it’s equivalent of saying Windows is a superior OS to Apple. And I reserve the right and privilege to change my mind at any moment, but not because you’ve convinced me to, got that?). Though not executed in a way I want, overall it has the things I’m accustomed to and need. That said, I will keep Apple Music (for myself only) to slowly, painstakingly rebuild my playlists and collection (so that everything mostly matches betwen both services) just in case maybe it stops being so infuriatingly difficult. It’s a compromise and like all compromises, no one is happy.