Music Subscription Sites for Your Mobile Device

I’m a music junkie. While I’m adult enough to own a CD player and even ye-olde turntable, I can’t remember the last time I fired up either unit, it really has been years. As is the case for more and more of us nowadays, I listen to the majority of music via my mobile phone.

That said, using mobile device proprietary systems to clumsily rip, sync, and download music can be both frustrating and time-consuming. In a world where the tap of a fingertip can give me directions, restaurant suggestions, and Senegalese and English translations for “I’mma let you finish,” surely it’s not too much to ask that my supposedly ‘smart’ phone finds and plays any song ever recorded at my command.

A new generation of cloud-based music subscription applications certainly agrees. For a fairly small fee — I hear you groaning, but we all want to compensate musicians for their hard work, right? — these systems grant access to millions of tracks stored in the much ballyhooed tech ‘cloud.’

A game-changer in Europe, Spotify has been slow to launch in Canada. The Swedish company’s laid-back European approach ruffles stuffy North American feathers (which is to say, the big American labels just can’t hammer out a deal that protects their interest, and Spotify is not interested in modifying its service terms).

You can’t stop the future, though. While Spotify bides its time, competitors are trickling in, and this certified music junkie couldn’t be happier. Herewith, three of the best services currently available for your smart phone in Canada.

It’s pronounced Are-dee-oh, to imply a futurist twist on the word “radio” (sorry, fans of Ronny James). Rdio is the brainchild of Skype and Kazza founders Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis.

The Good
Having established strong relationships with all four major labels (EMI Music, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group) and thousands of indie labels, Rdio boasts a Canadian catalogue of over 12 million songs. For $9.99 per month, roughly the price of one album on Apples iTunes, users can stream and download unlimited tracks and entire albums to supported mobile devices. Online only (no mobile support), the service is $4.99/month.

Rdio uses social media tools to emulate the way music has always been shared: person to person, friend to friend, and (word of) mouth to (word of) mouth. Listeners are encouraged to share playlists, “follow” other users to discover new music (including artists with their own Rdio accounts), and connect with fellow subscribers around the globe.

As well, Rdio recently partnered with Facebook in the latter’s much-anticipated platform expansion into music. So, really, this start-up is about to become ubiquitous.

The Bad
Rdio allows you to download music to your device, but that music can’t be copied to an external source. Instead of owning the music, you merely rent it. If you really like an album and want to burn a disc to listen to in your car, well, you’re out of luck. Should your subscription run out, anything you downloaded will magically disappear from your phone.

Rdio Supported Devices: iPhone, Blackberry, Android

Remember Napster? After Lars Ulrich and his cronies in Metallica helped bury the popular file-sharing site, Napster sold out to the man. In 2008, Best Buy scooped in and snapped up the brand for a reported $121 million and soon after relaunched it as an above board music-subscription service.

The Good
Like Rdio, Napster deals with all the major and most independent record labels. For $9.95 per month you can stream, download, and enjoy unlimited access to Napster’s impressive 2.5 million tracks. Unlike Rdio, if you really want to burn an album to a CD or another device, it’s yours for keeps for the industry-standard 99¢ per track.

The Bad
Napster’s interface is clunky, and users complain that there hasn’t been a redesign since its relaunch. Worse, in October 2011, Best Buy sold Napster to competitor Rhapsody for an undisclosed sum and, once again, this brand’s future is uncertain.

Napster Supported Devices: iPhone, Blackberry, Android

Think of Grooveshark as a Google or YouTube for music. Punch in an artist’s name and, in seconds, the search engine pulls up hundreds of tracks. Online, the service is free; for $9.99/month, users can access playlists offline via supported handhelds.

The Good
The company’s tag line, Listen to any Song in the World for Free, might be hyperbole. Still, with a reported 35,000,000 users worldwide streaming an incredible 110 million songs per month, it’s fair to say Grooveshark has earned bragging rights.

Similar to YouTube and the P2P file-sharing services of yore, Grooveshark relies on users to upload content, and doesn’t wait for sign off from record labels. If you like unauthorized mash-ups, bootlegged live recordings, and music from purely independent artists, Grooveshark is your answer.

The Bad
You won’t find Pink Floyd or the Beatles on Grooveshark. When uploading content, users must indemnify the service from any copyright-infringement claims. Still (and not surprisingly), recent lawsuits from EMI and Universal left gaping holes in the library. This bad press prompted conservative Apple to pull Grooveshark from its App Store. Nevertheless, Grooveshark is still available on ‘jailbroken’ iPhones. Whether it proves indomitable remains to be seen.

Grooveshark Supported Devices: Android, Palm, Blackberry, ‘Jailbroken’ iPhones.

Image courtesy of James Nash.


1 thought on “Music Subscription Sites for Your Mobile Device”

  1. The problem with subscription-based music services is that they’re constantly competing with “free.” Even in the mobile device game they’re up against free streaming via YouTube. Sure, it’s less convenient and you’ll be out of luck when you’re offline, but are those good enough reasons to make you pay for what you don’t have to?

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