“There’s so much music around; it’s now about how you tie your music together, and how you discover new music that you don’t know.” That was the pitch thrown at me yesterday by So Saida, Senior Director of Sony Entertainment Network. “We learn your music tastes,” he said, as he walked me through the new iOS version of Music Unlimited, Sony’s subscription streaming service. “The more you play, the more you tell us what you like and what you don’t like, the more it changes.”
Sounds good, I thought, but I knew deep down that Sony would never drag me out of my Spotify. Or that’s what I thought. Thing is, here I am 24 hours later, moving my whole virtual music collection across to Sony’s service. And that’s even after Saida managed to call me “lazy”…
I’ve used Spotify religiously since day one. I’ve never been big on pirating, but at the same time I’ve never been the bloke with a million CDs or the enviable iTunes collection. I love music, but it’s rare for me to sit down and try to build a decent collection of anything. For that reason, Spotify and its playlist-focussed service appealed to me, and I was happy to pay £9.99 a month for it. Forever.
But Music Unlimited (also £9.99 per month for a Premium account) has won me over for several key reasons, none of which – funnily enough – are to do with Sony’s efforts to ease music discovery.
“The majority of consumers are quite lazy,” Saida said. “There are many services available, and the consumer’s going to ask ‘what’s the value?’ In terms of personalisation and recommendation, we’re working with various companies to improve the meta data and bring the whole package together.”
And the stuff going on inside Music Unlimited to that end is good (tell the app what you like and what you don’t and it’ll learn about you over time), but what’s great actually has little to do with that. These are the things that have, against all odds, won me over:
A better catalogue
I like to put all these music streaming services through a little acid test, which I’m going to coin ‘Trial by Arcade Fire’. Everyone’s musical tastes are different, but to my mind there are a few glaring holes in Spotify’s catalogue. Arcade Fire is one, Oasis is another. But there are several such cases. Lo and behold – both are on Music Unlimted.
I actually thought Rdio had them, too, when I tested that out, but Rdio pulls a weird trick to get you interested: it lists all these artists, but puts in quite small writing next to them that their music isn’t actually available. Sneaky.
Music Unlimited’s still got some gaps – the Beatles, for instance – but from my early searching it seems that its 15 million songs have me better catered for.
From time to time I’ve tried to ween myself off of Spotify and back into iTunes for one main reason: while Spotify’s playlist functionality is great, there’s no proper way of keeping an organised collection. Sure, you could just ‘star’ all of your favourite albums, but that’s a bit of a messy solution.
The problem is that with Spotify, your library is either your local MP3s or stuff from your playlists, without an obvious way to add music to your library from Spotify’s catalogue that isn’t in a playlist, and make that offline. Music Unlimited lets you do that.
Sure, it adds songs from your playlists to your library, but it also lets you go mental and just add everything you want to the library, alongside your MP3s which it’ll match in the cloud – just like iTunes Match, in fact. It’s a mishmash of several ideas, but it makes more sense together than any single one solution on its own. For me, this is major.
No install on desktop
“It’s available in 13 product categories,” said Saida, “but in terms of products, it’s probably hundreds. We have the most touch points.” That’s great, but Music Unlimited’s strength to my eyes is that it runs in a browser, which means I can go to a friend’s house, or my parents’, and have all my music blaring out without having to install anything.
It also means it’s available for anyone in an office that blocks them form installing anything on work machines, which will be a godsend to some.
Doesn’t share to Facebook
‘Nuff said, really.
Of course, there are some downsides to Music Unlimited. For all its good points, its newness on the iPhone scene has given it a few shortcomings that mean I’ll probably hold off from moving entirely across just yet. Chief among these is that the iPhone app doesn’t yet have the ability to move songs offline. “This is version 1.0. In the next planned releases, it’ll enable offline mode, too,” Saida promised me, while also iterating that the Android app allows for offline play.
That’s a must-have feature for the iPhone version, and one it needs soon – it’s something that the otherwise positive reviews on the App Store all seem to agree on. Also missing from this version is the ability to scrub through tracks – you know; to drag playback back to that amazing solo three quarters of the way through Europe’s The Final Countdown. Or something. And there’s also one small downside to being browser-based for desktops: it won’t respond to the pause and skip buttons on my Mac keyboard. Maybe both a browser client and a downloadable app is the answer?
Ultimately, though, these problems are either minor or soon to be ironed out, and they’re not enough to alter my decision: I’m backing out of Spotify’s driveway and moving to pastures new. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m busy replicating my Spotify playlists and my iTunes library in Music Unlimited, to form one glorious whole.
When offline playback comes to the iPhone app, I’ll be ready.
Link: Music Unlimited