Rdio Goes Up Against iTunes and Pandora With a Free Subscription

As a longtime user and huge fan of Rdio, I was thrilled to hear about its new free service to combat iTunes Radio and Pandora (along with many other services). But I had a lot of questions about the new service, and nobody was answering them for me in a clear or concise way.

A lot of us at AppStorm are fans of the service too, so pitching the idea seemed natural. For us, Rdio is a way we find new music all the time. Understanding how it works for new users with an unpaid subscription is important to us, because we really want our friends on the service. (Say what you will, but I think its social features are top-notch.) Read on to find out what you need to know about Rdio’s free subscription tier.

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Getting Started

If you’ve never used Rdio before, I think you’re in for a treat. You’ll get a taste of the app for a couple weeks with a trial ultimate account (regularly valued at $9.99 a month) before you revert to a free subscription. This means you get all the perks a subscription could get you, but for free.

The first thing I’d recommend doing is using the web service or Mac app to match your iTunes library with the service. I’ve seen some complaints about the matching, which syncs your iTunes library with Rdio’s streaming service, but I haven’t had many problems. Out of my 10,100 songs (at the time I signed up), there were about 9,800 matches. That seems about right to me, given that my tags are either incorrect or at the very least fairly dubious with some of my songs (or nonexistent, with some classical work or school-related audio files).

The rest of my library, though, matched up very well. In all honesty, I didn’t stray too far outside of it for the first couple weeks. It was a comfort zone thing for me, and it was nice to have access to almost every single song in my collection from any device of mine — especially my 32GB iPhone.

You FM

But what you’re going to want to try is the You FM feature. This is the free service that Rdio is heavily promoting, alongside what the Verge is calling “unlimited… stations”. These stations are the stabs at the iTunes Radio and Pandora market. More on those later.

I'm in love with You FM.

I’m in love with You FM.

The real moneymaker here, at least for me, is You FM. This is the main station, one that I think can be a real winner. If I’m ever feeling bored or looking for new music, I’m guaranteed to find something I enjoy (or many new artists) within only a couple minutes.

How it works is pretty simple. Rdio’s partner, Echo Nest, analyzes the history and listening habits that Rdio gathers. (Reportedly, Rdio ensures your listening history is anonymous, which I think it should. But I don’t know how that works.) Echo Nest bases the music they’ll recommend Rdio play for you on that behaviour, along with Facebook and Twitter musical interests. As you skip or favourite songs, the service gets better at recommending what you’ll be interested in. (And as Echo Nest collects more data from more users, it gets even better. So please sign up. I would love it if Nathan FM got even better.)

The Familiar and Adventurous switches (shown here as Artist Only and Adventurous) are worth their weight in gold.

The Familiar and Adventurous switches (shown here as Artist Only and Adventurous) are worth their weight in gold.

There’s one simple setting in the service that allows you to change what you’re listening to from Familiar to Adventurous. It’s not an on/off switch, but there are five degrees of separation between them. At this point, I find I can tap the third option, right in the middle of Familiar and Adventurous, and go for a long drive in my car with my iPhone and never want to change the track — even if I haven’t heard the music before.

This is the experience that you get with the free Rdio. I’ve been enjoying it for months with my subscription, and I’m in love. I’m glad anybody can experience it now.

The Other Stations

Rdio doesn’t end the experience there, though. With a free subscription, you can listen to just about any station based on artist or song. If you hear a song that you like — maybe a new Justin Timberlake song, for example (I’m an unapologetic fan) — you can create a station of songs based on it.

Other stations allow you to choose between Artist Only and Adventurous.

Other stations allow you to choose between Artist Only and Adventurous.

You can also listen to other Rdio user’s personalized FM station. For example, one of the writers for the iPhone and iPad AppStorm sites, Jesse Virgil, is a friend of mine on Rdio. I think he’s got great taste, and if I’m in the mood, I can listen to his personalized FM station. In that case, instead of choosing between Familiar and Adventurous, I’m choosing between Jesse Only and Adventurous.

The same thing applies with artist stations or stations based on songs. You can choose to limit the station to Artist Only or Adventurous. I think it’s a very flexible system, especially at the non-existent price point.

What You Get and What You Don’t

Rdio’s free service isn’t as comprehensive as its paid subscription. You’re not getting the ability to choose any song to listen to at any time. You can’t listen to albums or create playlists, and you aren’t able to add any music to a collection.

That being said, you do get You FM. For me, I spend most of my time in You FM looking for new music. As a free service, I think it’s really impressive. What’s really nice about it is the ability to favourite tracks, which makes them readily available should you ever decide to upgrade your subscription.

Rdio’s free subscription tier is available on the web, desktop, or mobile apps and is highly recommended for music fans or people looking to try a great service with fantastic design. I can’t give Rdio enough praise.


Summary

Rdio's free service is tough to beat, but might be a tough sell for people who haven't signed up yet. To those people, I say your personalized You FM station more than makes up for it.

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