18 August 2012
A while back I thought I’d try an online music streaming service. I didn’t listen to much music back then and thought it might be a way to broaden my tastes.
The first service I’d heard about in the UK was Spotify. I downloaded the software and signed up for a free trial. If it was good I was going to subscribe.
The music on Spotify was great. A genuine revelation. The convenience and the sheer freedom of being able to listen to just about anything instantly converted me from the idea of buying, owning and storing a small amount of music to streaming almost anything I wanted. This feels like the future.
But Spotify’s free trial came with a few limitations. (This was a few months ago so things might be different now.)
The good news was that Spotify’s free trial lasted forever. You could listen to all that music and never pay a penny. That’s an attractive idea.
But as a free trialler on Spotify you could only listen to the same song three times or thereabouts. So while my main motivation for signing up was to discover new music, this soon became a pain in the neck. If I found a new favourite song it’d soon be taken away just as I’d started to really enjoy it.
Worse than that were the adverts. Every two or three songs or so the music would end and you’d get what sounded to me like the most grating radio ads ever recorded. (I’ve got no idea whether irritation was the aim.) The ads seemed to last for ages. You never quite knew when one was coming up, so as I was working my way through a good album I was always fearing the moment the atmosphere would be broken and I’d have my ear bent for a minute or so by some hyperactive tosser trying to sell me something I had absolutely no interest in. The ads appeared to be entirely untargeted.
The ads couldn’t be muted. If you turned the volume down they’d stop completely. You had to turn the volume back up again and listen to the whole advert before you could hear any music. Spotify was taking my ears hostage.
As the free trial progressed I grew to genuinely hate Spotify and their advertisers. While the music was great and the app adequate, the overall experience was absolutely terrible. Don’t make me think. Don’t be a killjoy. I ended up using it less and less. Eventually I just drifted away. I don’t know whether Spotify ever made any money out of me but I certainly didn’t give them a penny.
A while later I heard about Rdio, another music streaming service. I didn’t expect anything very different from Spotify but I thought I’d give it a go anyway.
Rdio’s free trial couldn’t have been more different from Spotify’s.
The apparent downside of Rdio’s free trial was that it didn’t last forever. You won’t get indefinite free music from them. You get seven days to try the service and then you’re limited to just short previews of their songs. The deal is: Try it. If you like it, buy. If you don’t, bye bye.
There aren’t any adverts on Rdio’s free trial either. You just listen to the music. Put it on all day if you like. Nothing will interrupt you and break the mood. No-one’s trying to sell you anything except the music itself. And that’s just fine, because that’s why I signed up in the first place.
Rdio lets you use their mobile app during the free trial too. No limitations. Install the app and enjoy your music on the go in the same way as the premium paying customers. (Rdio has two plans: web/desktop only, and web/desktop plus mobile.)
So for the first time I really got to enjoy all the benefits of streaming music. No worrying about whether I’d played a song too many times. No worrying about when the ads would be coming up. No having to actually listen to the foolish companies that paid good money to advertise to an audience that was presumably largely as hostile and indifferent as me. Just the music.
At the end of the week I couldn’t bear to be without Rdio so I put my hand in my pocket. They bill me every month and I couldn’t be happier. Thanks for the music, Rdio.
My Spotify trial was a while back. Things might be different there now. I hope they are.
I’ve never made any objective comparison between Spotify and Rdio. Perhaps Spotify has got more music, or better features in its apps, or something else I might prefer over Rdio. Like many people, I’m not going to read endless reviews or pore over feature comparison charts. I’m just going to sign up and give it a go.
But it wasn’t the features or the size of their library that sold me on Rdio over Spotify. It was the experience I got during my free trial. It was how it felt to be there.
Spotify’s attitude was to treat free triallists – potential long-term customers, let’s not forget – as freeloaders. You aren’t paying so you’re going to have a dreadful time. We’ll give you a glimpse of what you might enjoy if you quit your cheapskate ways and stump up the cash, but no more than that, loser. On Spotify you’re crammed into Economy and given the occasional peek through the curtain at the paying customers’ paradise as the cabin crew move up the plane. Not only did this make me feel bad, I think it actually conditioned me for a while to associate those feelings of tight-fistedness and cretinous advertising with listening to music. I suggest that this isn’t a good way to get people to buy your music service.
By contrast, Rdio gave me a free flight in First. They treated me like I was paying top dollar. They gave a great experience and showed me exactly how good it felt to fly forward of the curtain. I knew it wasn’t going to last forever so they didn’t need to beat me over the head with constant inducements to buy. I liked the honesty and straighforwardness of Rdio’s approach. I didn’t have to make any mental extrapolation from the free trial experience to the paid customer experience. It was the same. When the free trial ended I didn’t feel tricked or pressurised into buying. The offer to continue the experience as a paying customer didn’t feel impertinent. It felt like the natural thing to do.
After all, I’d probably decided to buy Rdio after just two or three days.
Adrian Short works to get people the information they need, when they need it, in a way that they can understand.