I have been a Rhapsody subscriber for several years. The service they provide is fantastic:
Think of a song. Any song. Play it.
I suspect that people who suggest “try Pandora” (and there are many of you) probably don’t get what Rhapsody is about. It’s like owning all the songs in the world and you can play any one at any time.
But their software absolutely sucks.
So when Rhapsody suspended my account (I got a new credit card and forgot to tell them), I took it as an excuse to go see what else is happening in music software in the years that I have been gone.
I tried something like twenty different players this week and they pretty much fall into two basic categories:
- Music discovery (like Last.fm and Pandora)
- Playlist management
Within category 2, there are two business models (purchase tracks or monthly subscription) but the software all has the same primary use case:
User wants to manage their playlists.
They are playlist managers with the ability to actually play the music seemingly tacked on as an afterthought.
I don’t want to edit playlists.
I hate playlists.
Playlists are very seductive at first. You think Oh yes. I’ll build me a playlist with all my favourite songs. But then, after the third time you play it. You start thinking Oh man! This again!? I’m gonna build me another playlist. Then I’ll have two.
Before you know it, you have hundreds of playlists called things like Early English Folk (I) and Early English Folk (II) and you are spending all your time managing your playlists which, by the way, is exactly what the people who make the playlist managers want you to be doing.
No. Playlists are not a good solution for anything.
Here’s what I want:
I want to listen to music that I like.
I’ll clarify that a little:
One day, I might have a hankering to play 7 different versions of My Funny Valentine (Chet Baker’s is best) or every single recording of John Barleycorn Must Die (Traffic’s).
Another day I’ll have an urgent need to listen to Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys – because there is a piratefest coming up – or to hear the latest Lily Allen album.
I might have just read that there have only ever been two songs sung in latin to make the UK Top Twenty and I’ll want to hear them both.
I might be on my way to a Gogol Bordello concert and I want to hear their albums over and over to get myself in the mood.
But most of the time,
I just want the thing to play me stuff that it thinks I’ll like.
Pandora excels at that last one but is a non-starter for the rest. iTunes will do the job if you don’t mind shelling out 99c every time you have a hankering to listen to some early Abba. If you listen to a lot of music, those 99cs will soon rack up.
So given that
a) music subscriptions rock and
b) the software for music subscription services sucks
oh, and by the way,
c) I have been meaning to learn Flex for a while now
there is only one thing for it…
..I’ll have to write my own damn software.
So that’s what I have doing the last few evenings. It’s fun. I don’t get to program much at work any more so it’s a nice change of pace. I have a prototype that will play Rhapsody or Napster tracks on my wonderful Squeezebox. I have a design all sketched out and I even have a color scheme and icons (step 3 – profit!)
So, meanwhile, in my ongoing quest to find some existing software that doesn’t suck (and to steal ideas) I keep trying out new players and services. So far, they are all – every single one of them – playlist managers until…
…this morning I discovered GrooveShark.
GrooveShark is uncannily like my sketched design (they even copied my color scheme and icons) and I have been playing it all day.
They have a passably good search screen (mine is better of course but, since it is only sketched on paper, doesn’t work as well as theirs) and it is easy to find a song and stick it in your queue. But, what makes them different from everyone else is that tantalyzing autoplay button.
If you stop adding tracks to your queue, AutoPlay will start playing stuff that it thinks you will enjoy. That was gonna be my killer feature!
I have figured out their algorithm though.
Play The Smiths.
Did the user veto it?
No – Play The Smiths all day. Over and over (and over). Throw in the occasional REM track.
Yes – Play REM all day (throw in some Smiths though in case they have changed their mind).
Try playing some rap every now and again to make sure they are paying attention and not just listening to any old crap.
Play some more Smiths.
If I had known it was this easy, I would’ve done it years ago.