Whatever music you want, whenever: $5 a month. (UPDATED)

I have tasted the future of music, and it’s quite delicious.

A new service from the guys who brought us the seminal Skype, Rdio (pronounced R-deo) is a subscription-based streaming music service that was released in Canada this week.

Unfortunately, like Skype, Rdio is a great idea only moderately well executed and fails to fully deliver on its own promise. Both technical and licensing problems trip it up too often to make it ready for widespread adoption.

However, again like Skype, it’s a harbinger of what’s to come.

A subscription-based music service is like an all-you-can eat smorgasbord, just with a lower calorie count.

You pay a flat monthly fee – $5 in the case of Rdio – and listen to all the music you can handle. (Tack on another $5 a month if you want to take your music with you on your iPhone, Android, or Blackberry device.)

There’s no doubt that streaming music is the next step in the evolution of music consumption.

Popular services like iTunes have successfully weaned us from the teat of physical media. The plastic CD, after all, is just a form of wasteful product packaging.

However, because of iTunes’ by-the-track retail model, we still cling to that naive notion that we own something when we spend money there.

That mentality drives us to blindly build these abstract music “collections”, as though, cumulatively, they somehow represent consumer achievement.

That’s just plain weird when you consider that with music, all we’re buying is the privilege to listen to it.

We don’t own squat.

What’s even weirder is that most people only listen to the tracks they buy a few times just after they buy them.

That last point is what makes a subscription-based service such a natural next step in our consumption of music.

Nowadays, with so much music on offer, we listen to the latest releases like we read magazines.

Music is more disposable and ephemeral than it ever was, so it doesn’t make any sense to invest long-term in an album or track until you’re absolutely certain you want it forever.

With this in mind, and because listening to music is unlimited, a subscription service will satisfy pretty much anyone’s musical interests and curiosities.

Right now, Rdio is primarily designed for desktop music listening. You can download players for both Mac and Windows.

But that’s about all the desktop client does: play music. To do anything else you have to log in to the mediocre Rdio website.

On the site you can do the standard stuff like manage playlists and set up a queue with tracks to play in immediate succession.

Rdio also offers a basic mobile client.

If you want to listen to music on-the-go, you can either stream tracks over the internet or sync them to your device for those times you venture off the grid.

Like I said, though, Rdio is far from perfect. I encountered quite a few problems.

First, while the catalogue is apparently quite broad, much of the music I wanted to listen to is infuriatingly “Not Available”.

Rdio doesn’t offer an explanation for this lack of availability, so I assume it’s due to a licensing conflict. Fair enough, but then why did Rdio even tease me with it in the first place?

My biggest gripe is with the mobile client. It stops playing music if your iPhone sleeps or if you switch to a different app. This shortcoming alone pretty much cripples the mobile aspect of Rdio.

Finally, the desktop app was built using an uncommon tool called Adobe Air, so you’ll have to download that first, before you can even get started with Rdio on your desktop computer. This is a process most people won’t even bother with.

While Rdio subscription-based music model shows promise, the service’s implementation is too flawed and complicated to use for the average person. And with hefty, user-friendly competitors like iTunes rumoured to be releasing similar services this fall, it makes me wonder how long Rdio will actually last.

All the same, if you take the time to get Rdio set up and operational, the subscription-based music service is a delicious new development. It’s an excellent taste of how we’ll all consume music in the not-too-distant future.

Playing whatever music you want, whenever and wherever you want, and for a low fee, is clearly where it’s at.

Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, August 6, 2010.

Update

August 6, 2010 11:51am
It seems that Rdio released an update to their mobile client this morning that enables background music on the iPhone. This is a huge improvement that makes the mobile aspect of the service well worth $5 a month.

August 9, 2010 10:42am
I just went on a short road trip and tried to use Rdio for my listening pleasure. Unfortunately the app sometimes works and sometimes it doesn’t. More often than not, it would stop playing synced music when I switched apps on my iPhone or my iPhone went to sleep. So for the time being, I rate the mobile aspect of Rdio as a fail.

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