Choice is great – except when you have to choose. Subscription music service Rdio made it a bit easier for its users to just sit back and listen by launching personalized radio stations that deliver a never-ending stream of music Thursday. The offering clearly takes some cues from Pandora, but it’s also trying to find an answer to one of the key issues Rdio, Spotify and similar services have been facing: How do you make a catalog of 20 million plus songs less intimidating?
Rdio VP of Product Chris Becherer told me during a phone interview Wednesday that his company tried to do away with the artificial separation between online radio services like Pandora that offer a leanback experience, and full-fledged subscription offerings like Spotify or Rdio that are often perceived as places where you primarily go to listen to entire albums. “They all seem to be organized around this idea that there are two different types of music listeners,” he said, adding: “That’s not really how we see it.”
Instead, Rdio has learned through market research that its own customers very much do both. In fact, 50 percent of Rdio’s users listen to radio stations on other services as well, Becherer told me. He didn’t mention Pandora by name, but the radio service is an obvious competitor – and Rdio seems to be determined to win over Pandora users by offering them a larger catalog that Pandora’s one million songs, and the option to dive in deeper and explore entire albums at any given time.
At the center of the new offering is a station that Rdio calls You FM. “It’s a personalized station that takes into account everything Rdio knows about me,” Becherer said. This includes signals like your listening history, but also thumbs-up and -down ratings as well as the tracks you added to your library, and even the bands and albums you like on Facebook or tweet about on Twitter. The underlying recommendation engine is powered by the Echo Nest, which is using billions of data points from all over the web, including data supplied by collectors of vinyl records.
Rdio is also offering users stations based on the music popular amongst the people they follow on the service, genre and artist stations, as well as another neat feature: Users can listen to the personalized station of any of their friends. “This takes Rdio’s social discovery even further,” said Becherer.
I had a chance to play a bit with the new stations both on the web, and I liked what I saw, and more importantly heard. It felt like Rdio is on the right path to delivering an experience that you can run for hours in the background, without the need to interact at all – unless you really like something, in which case you can easily add songs to a playlist, or sync an album with your mobile device for offline playback.
And that kind of hands-off experience may just be what subscription services need to catch on. Of course, Rdio isn’t the only one to experiment with a more guided approach. The yet-to-be-launched Beats Music service will be all about playlists compiled by experts, and Spotify just introduced a new version of its mobile apps that puts a bigger emphasis on playlists as well.
Maybe it’s no accident that Rdio decided to emphasis the idea of stations instead – after all, the service is only one vowel short of being called radio. “It gives the name a more fulfilling meaning,” agreed Becherer.