USA Today: Apps for music subscription services play tunes on the spot

By Jefferson Graham, USA TODAY

Portable music is no longer just about the iPod.

New apps from online music subscription services turn smartphones and other mobile devices into “celestial jukeboxes.” They can play millions of songs, on demand, anywhere, for a monthly fee of $10.

You don’t own the music, but because everything is available to you anywhere, “The days of the need to own music are rapidly coming to an end,” says Ted Cohen, a former record company executive who runs the Los Angeles-based Tag Strategic consulting firm.

In a truly connected world, continuing to pay $1.29 a track for a music download “just doesn’t make sense anymore,” Cohen adds. “Subscriptions are a much better deal.”

Unlike the iPod, there’s no need to spend time transferring albums and/or songs to the device before you leave home. With apps from Rhapsody, MOG, Rdio and others, you can summon music to listen to on the spot.

Music subscription services have been around since 2001, when Rhapsody launched. But they’ve never taken off in a big way. Consumers didn’t like that songs were rented and weren’t iPod compatible.

“Up to this point, music subscriptions have been about playing music on your computer,” Rdio COO Carter Adamson says. “The real value is being able to move the music around and take it with you.”

The apps for mobile devices including Android phones, BlackBerrys and the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch make that happen. And while early versions allowed for playback only in areas with cell connections, the apps now allow for downloading to your device. That means you can listen to music on an airline flight or a hike in the woods.

Rhapsody, the oldest and most established of the services, says its mobile app has done wonders for its business. The company was shedding subscribers before its first app, for the iPhone, came out in 2009. Now it is adding subscribers each month.

“Sales are up about 10%,” says Rhapsody President Jon Irwin, who wouldn’t disclose specific numbers.

Rhapsody at one time reported 675,000 subscribers but stopped disclosing those figures after it was spun off as an independent company in April. It now also has an Android app and plans to launch a BlackBerry app before the end of the year.

Irwin says more folks are listening to Rhapsody with Android phones than with iPhones. He thinks that’s because iPhone owners are more accustomed to paying for song downloads at Apple‘s dominant iTunes Store.

Apple so far has resisted subscription music. In late 2009, it bought the website LaLa, which had a music subscription offering. Tech analysts expected it to experiment with subscriptions with that purchase. Instead, Apple closed the service and has said it is using engineers from LaLa to work on iTunes initiatives.

Will pricing head lower?

Newcomers MOG and Rdio are tiny, compared with Rhapsody, but equally shy about revealing numbers.

MOG founder David Hyman says sales are on track with expectations, but that subscription services won’t go mass market until prices decrease, down from the current $10 monthly.

“I think $4.99 is an easier purchase,” he says. The big music labels would need to agree to lower their prices for that to become a reality.

In September, Apple CEO Steve Jobs predicted that iTunes downloads will surpass CD sales in the coming months.

That’s both good and bad news for the music labels. They now have a strong digital business, but it’s mostly concentrated with one company, Apple.

Consultant Cohen says music subscriptions, which he believes will be even stronger next year thanks to mobile, can further energize the market.

How Rdio, Rhapsody, MOG music services compare

Rdio (pronounced R-dee-oh)

The newest service on the block comes from the creators of the once-notorious and now-defunct Kazaa file-sharing service.

Pro: Call Rdio “Rhapsody Meets Twitter and Facebook.” You get access to 7 million songs and at the same time join a social network of your friends, so you can discover new music by seeing what they are listening to. Great-looking interface and easy search tools.

Con: The social network is cool, but do you really want your friends knowing that you’ve spent the afternoon grooving to Neil Diamond and Michael Buble? With Rdio there’s no way to turn off the social guide to your listening habits. The 7 million-song library is smaller than competitors’. Couldn’t find classic rock staples such as Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen, which is available on MOG and Rhapsody.


The oldest of the music subscription services has more subscribers and songs (more than 10 million) than competitors.

Pro: Rhapsody has been around so long, it has its act together. Easy to search and find what you’re looking for, and the mobile app is a visual stunner.

Con: To save your playlist to your phone, you have to go through several clicks; MOG and Rdio have one-click saves. Rhapsody says it will fix this feature in the future.


A vast array of music (9 million songs) with a Pandora twist. If you can’t figure out what to listen to, choose an artist, adjust the slider in the MOG player to “Similar Artists” and MOG will program a station based on your tastes. Unlike online radio’s Pandora, you get more say in what you listen to. MOG has social discovery features like Rdio, but they can be turned off.

Pro: With so much music available, it’s hard figuring out what to listen to, and MOG does a nice job of creating music stations based on your tastes. Rhapsody and Rdio do that, too, but MOG does it better.

Con: That said, once you get through its suggestions, it plays the same songs by the same folks for one complete week before changing, and there’s little variety in the picks.

The bottom line: MOG has the easiest-to-use mobile app for finding new music, playing it and syncing it to your phone — and good suggestions for new music. Rhapsody has the best-looking interface and would be the top choice if its syncing-with-the-phone issues weren’t several steps behind competitors.

Courtesy USA Today

Posted by Ted • Wednesday, September 29, 2010 .