The impending shutdown of Beats Music wasn’t much of a surprise to most people in the know, but it seems that Pandora’s purchase of Rdio today was a genuine shock for a lot of people, if my own Twitter stream is any indication.
Today, Pandora purchased “key assets” from Rdio for $75 million. On top of that, Rdio is going dark: the company is filing for bankruptcy, and the streaming service is going to shut down. Pandora is acquiring the technology of Rdio so that it can move into the “on demand” space and compete with Spotify and Apple Music, but what do Rdio users lose in the process? I think it’s a lot.
Personally, Rdio was my only streaming choice. I never seemed to find new music on Pandora and I find Spotify’s interface godawful. Also (though this is just an anecdotal observation on my part) Rdio seemed to have a broader selection of rock music – especially metal and indie label stuff – than either Spotify or Pandora. Rdio did formally make an effort to partner with indie labels and music blogs: earlier this year, they announced a partner station program and an indie-focused label spotlight section. In general, I always got the sense that Rdio was less about a social music experience and more about a singular music discovery experience. That was probably the reason it never quite caught on.
Pandora had the benefit of being the first music streaming service for a lot of fans, and Spotify had the omnipresence of Facebook on its side, even though as a product, it sucks. Tidal, though no one cares about it anymore, tried to appeal to people with star quality, and Apple Music basically took the best parts of Beats (the curation idea) and combined it with Tidal’s celebrity worship, only with alt-rock faves like Josh Homme and St. Vincent. What could Rdio do that was different? The indie label focus was a good one, but since Rdio really was focused on the individual listening experience and EVERYTHING is social now, there was no way to grow that potential user base.
I remember talking with my bandmate once about a playlist she had – on Spotify. I thought to myself “I could talk a big game about how much better Rdio’s selection is, but I can’t give her any reason to switch.” The social elements of these streaming services are the dealbreakers now, and Rdio didn’t have either the critical mass or the star quality to accomplish that for new fans. I also think it was trying to go really niche, appeal to the music nerd, and you can’t do that and expand to a broad enough audience to be supported by ads and subscriptions.
Of course, as someone who chose Rdio because of its catalog curation, I am pretty bummed. Soundcloud, another service that was first embraced by music nerds has changed its focus in recent years to major-labels and more popular music. Thanks to licensing headaches, I imagine it’s pretty much certain that Rdio’s catalog won’t find its way to Pandora, so Rdio’s superior product will be used to support Pandora’s lackluster (to me) catalog. It’s incredibly frustrating, because we’re losing out on a real gem of a streaming service.
Image credits: Bigstockphoto.com, Flickr/jtjdt