Until recently I had generally followed the Apple/iTunes/Steve Jobs party line and thought of subscription music services as dumb and useless. Apple describes it as ‘renting music’, which surely does sound bad. When I thought about it a little more, though, it started seeming more like cable television. Do you think of cable as ‘renting TV’? Do you expect to be able to keep watching it after you stop paying? You’re essentially just paying for access to content and it’s up to you to decide if its worth it to you to continue paying to maintain that access or not. You’re free to buy last season of Smallville on DVD and own it if you want, and likewise you can still buy CDs even if you also pay for a music subscription.

Rhapsody (and other music services) one up cable tv, though. They provide on-demand access to a pretty large library of all music. Wouldn’t it be great to have on-demand access to any episode of any television show from the last 20 years? That might actually be worth the extortion fees I pay for cable television now!

The Rhapsody library doesn’t have everything but I’ve been impressed with the selection. There’s only been a couple of things I’ve looked for and not found, the most notable being Metallica (of course). There’s likely other notable gaps in the offering as well but there’s enough to keep me interested for now.

They’ve done a pretty good job of organizing the catalog to make it easier to find new music you might like. They have a pretty good two level genre categorization (main genres and subgrenes) with key artists for each level giving you an overview of what’s in there. They also have charts (top tracks, top albums, top artists) for each genre and artist so you can see what other people are listening to. That’s handy for artists or genres you’re not very familiar with. There’s also ‘radio’ stations for each artist that plays you a mix of music their system considers similar to the artist. I don’t know yet if it’s only based on genre categories or if there’s something more advanced going on behind the scenes. I also don’t know if they track which songs you skip to tailor it more to your own tastes or not. It seems likely they’re at least thinking about features like that if they’re not in there now. There’s a lot of potential.

I’m just finishing up a 30 day free trial and I think I’m going to sign up. It costs about the same as Netflix and though I like watching movies, I listen to music pretty much all the time. I’ll get way more value out of this.

3 thoughts on “Rhapsody : not so bad

  1. I’ll see your “not so bad” and raise you an “is really pretty fuck’n great!”

    I, too, was off-put by the notion of “renting music,” but quickly turned my perception around to the cable model you proffer.

    If you have a small collection of music that you’re generally happy with, then the Rhapsody model might not work for you. But for me, five years ago I would spend easily $400+ a month on CDs. Then I moved to MP3s, ripping thousands of discs and adding to my library primarily through eMusic, allofMP3, or usenet. I had decided that bringing more plastic artifacts into my house just wasn’t tenable, in terms of both personal storage and in social/environmental costs of shipping and manufacturing CDs.

    eMusic offers, what is it, 90 songs a month for ~$20? Somethin’. It’s a good deal, and so I buy albums that way, and some I really dig, some I don’t dig very often, and some wear out their welcome after only a couple of listens. And I still have to spend man-hours futzing with downloading tracks, fixing ID3 tags and organizing my collection on external storage devices, and when your collection spans thousands of records, that’s a MASSIVE investment in time and space.

    With Rhapsody to Go, I have access to a library that’s got just about everything I like from eMusic (the indie stuff), plus hell of major label material, all stored securely on a central server. My $15 subscription gives me so much more music, it’s ridiculous.

    The big downsides–and they are pretty big, I’ll allow–are the inability to share music with friends not using Rhapsody (though this would be obviated by greater participation among my circle of friends, and from Rhapsody’s perspective, this provides an incentive for its users to evangelize for the service), and the ever-looming possibility that the company could either lose labels, potentially wiping out swaths of my collection, or simply go tits-up, as ‘net companies are wont to do (though, again, evangelizing helps to forfend against these eventualities). The lack of representation of some major artists–not a big Metallica fan (but have you heard Trivium?), but the Beatles are conspicuously absent, of course–is a bummer, but I already have most of the biggies on CD/MP3, so it’s not a big concern personally.

    But the HUGE upside, for me, is Rhapsody’s killer integration with the almighty SONOS system. (Cue angelic chorus and rays of light from heaven…) I got the SONOS so that I could easily access all of my MP3s through my home stereo, using an interface that wasn’t gonna make Lynn throw up her hands in disgust. Sure, I could get a Media Center PC, and do mostly the same thing, but the SONOS controller is a thousand times better to use than some remote control, and when they threw down the one-month Rhapsody trial, it took the cake. Five days into the trial, I went ahead and subscribed, and I’m awash in a world of musical goodness. At home, I listen through SONOS, at work, I use the Rhapsody client. When SONOS supports video someday, as I sincerely hope they will, the world will be that much better a place.

    Now, my next big project is selling my CD collection, before the bottom falls out after everybody starts “renting” their music!

  2. Funny you’d mention SONOS! That’s how I got my free trial, too. I was gifted with a very generous multi-room SONOS system and it’s so freakin’ cool. It’s pretty much exactly how it should be!

    The thought of paying forever for music I get used to having is still a little weird to me, but I think it’ll work out fine in the end.

  3. One web set…www.pandora.com The Music Genome rules. It’s free, it just keeps playing unless it thinks you haven’t been listening. It works with airport express and Airfoil – very well. It pops up into a smaller player. It’s just cool and free. Did I mention it’s free. So pick your fav song, singer, etc. or a couple and let it play. Later.

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