Why Spotify And Rdio Aren't Ready To Replace Your Music Library

Ever since Spotify and Rdio arrived on the scene, people have been lauding them as the future of music -- that MP3s are a thing of the past, and a premium streaming account is all you need to get your music fix. Here's why they still have a long way to go.

Title image remixed from Zinchuk_Oksana, popcic, and Domofon (Shutterstock).

Like all of our rants, this post is my opinion. It obviously doesn't apply to everyone -- hell, our own Adam Pash has switched to Rdio full time -- but a lot of us are still stuck with our old-school music players. It's not for lack of trying either; it's because the services just don't have the functionality necessary to replace your library. If you have a differing opinion, be sure to discuss it with us (politely, of course) below!

Their Libraries Will Always Be Limited

The biggest complaint you hear about services like Spotify and Rdio is that their libraries aren't big enough. I'm a music junkie, so I have stacks of rare, unreleased, and obscure tracks and albums that aren't -- and probably never will be -- in a (legal) streaming database. Heck, even bands like the Beatles, AC/DC and Led Zeppelin still aren't available on most streaming services, meaning even non-junkies are likely to hit a few walls when building up their collections. You'll always have some songs or albums you won't be able to stream, which means you'll have to fall back on MP3s. This wouldn't be a problem, except...

They Don't Handle Local Files Well

Honestly, the size of the streaming library doesn't bother me much. Even with all my obscure genres and unreleased tracks, I can stream the majority of my music through Spotify and Rdio. The problem is that neither service has a very good system for integrating those extra local files that fill the gaps. Spotify lets you play your local files on the desktop, but syncing them to mobile is a bit of a chore, and it has no system for syncing just your tracks that are unavailable to stream. If it did, it would be a killer service, letting you sync just the few songs Spotify doesn't have and streaming the rest. But, as it is, if you want to sync those unavailable tracks, you have to sync all your local tracks at once -- or go through your entire library track by track, finding the unavailable ones and putting them in a playlist to sync.

Rdio, on the other hand, has no system in place for playing local tracks, which means you have to switch back and forth between players and apps in order to play the stuff Rdio doesn't have. That alone makes it a deal killer for most, making it even harder to replace your library since you're completely limited to what Rdio has available for streaming.

Less Than Stellar User Experiences

The other glaring problem with Spotify and Rdio is that their apps have major usability flaws. Spotify's mobile app, for example, only lets you browse your playlists. You have no way to browse tracks by artist or album, which is horrible. You can search their database for artists and albums, but that only works if you know exactly what you want to listen to, and it won't search your locally synced tracks. Have a few albums in MP3 format that you've synced to Spotify mobile? You have to actually put them all on a playlist and then browse that disorganised playlist to play them, which is an awful experience -- especially if you sync more than a few albums.

Rdio seems to have the opposite problem. Its desktop program has a good system for browsing your saved "collection" of artists and albums, but creating playlists seems like an afterthought. You can only add one song or one album at a time, making playlists quite a chore. Furthermore, you can't sync whole playlists to play offline on your mobile device -- you have to go song by song or album by album, which is downright absurd.

So What Are They Good For?

These issues make it nearly impossible to truly replace your library with one of these streaming services, at least for most of us. Of course, that doesn't mean they're useless. Both services are fantastic for discovering new music, whether through a radio station, social features or just trying out something before you buy. They're also great for sharing interesting music with your friends, creating awesome collaborative playlists, or just getting a quick party mix going that anyone can add to. Just don't expect them to be the next step in the evolution of music listening -- at least not yet.

All that said, some of you are probably exceptions. Many of you have probably already made the switch to Spotify or Rdio as your only source of music. But as they stand, you really have to conform to their library and listening style if you want to replace all your MP3s, and for the majority of us, that's not something we want to do. A few simple changes could make them much more viable, but they just aren't there yet. Hopefully soon, they will be. After all, I'd gladly pay $12 a month if it meant I could save hundreds of dollars on an iPhone.

Of course, these aren't the only streaming services out there, but they were the first to show true promise in legally replacing your traditional music library. As far as I'm concerned, they need some big changes before they will be able to fully convert most people.


    I use Spotify almost exclusively now, on my laptop, on my cell phone and on my HiFi in the lounge.

    Hands down, best thing to come around in a very long time.

      I second that!
      I use Spotify at home, on the bus and during work.
      Same music library and the play list follows me everywhere.

      Gone are the old mp3, individual music downloads and iTunes transfer/Sync.

        Spotify is awesome, and its the perfect answer to piracy. Making things accessible, affordable, and giving the user control. I love it, so much so that I didnt bother backing up my old local library when I recently formatted my machine. So far everything I listen to is on it it, and don't have any purpose for the old school local stuff

    I'm loving MOG! ... after having also trialled Spotify and Rdio. IMO MOG has by far the more featured and user friendly interface. Now have MOG on subscription.

      Are you crazy!!! MOG is a giant BUG!
      otherwise i'd use it

    What if you have a "less than stellar" internet experience?

    How much of your download limit are these service chewing up?

    what if your in the car, or out of internet range?

    there's too many limitations with streaming for it to be mainstream (IMO). Not everyone lives next door to a 4G tower.

      Keep in mind that Spotify was released in a... developed part of the world where internet is not limited with bogus quotas and shaping speeds. Back home, you pay for a fixed speed and download to your heart's content.

      And if you've got premium, you've got offline playlists on your phone, so if you're in the car, that's not a problem.

    "if it meant I could save hundreds of dollars on an iPhone." I assume you mean buying a 64gb iPhone as you still need a phone to get spotify.
    Difference b/w 16gb and 64gb $200 over 2yr contract = $9 vs $12 a month
    This does not even consider the higher data allowance you'll need.
    Conclusion get a bigger iPhone

      Virgin Mobile have an agreement with Spotify that allows you to stream to your phone and it doesnt count towards your data usage. Spotify is awesome.

    Compared to the features that ARE available on Spotify etc, I'd be more inclined to agree with an article titled "Why Your Music Library Is Getting Replaced By Spotify". I find local music library solutions to have way more shortcomings compared to those of Spotify (and its less awesome sibling services).

    Just like their streaming libraries will always be limited, you've still always had that problem with acquiring music in shops as well. It goes without saying that you'll never be able to find a single music shop, a single music website, a single peer-to-peer program, a single streaming service that provides you with every-single-song-ever-made. The point is, that for a small monthly fee, you get access to -most- of the music out there, including pretty much every new album released from those record labels included. That's pretty damn amazing if you ask me.

    Just like before, when there's a song/album you can't find at one source (JB Hi-Fi, Spotify, Napster, etc), you're gonna have to look somewhere else (that crazy second-hand record shop down in that alley between King St and Saint Anne Rd or whatever).

    These days, if I go on holidays and forget to prepare music for it, I don't have to worry. I just need to get on someone's wifi, logon to my spotify account on my phone, choose a few playlists that would work great and sync them. After that, the music is stored on my phone, ready for me to listen to - offline - at any time I feel like it. If I forgot music in the old days, I had to listen to whatever shit my siblings, friends or parents brought along for 2-4 weeks. Not to mention parties. End up at a party hosted by someone with shitty taste in music? No worries, get online, login to your account and the party is saved.

    This line rubbed me a tiny little bit the wrong way: "All that said, some of you are probably exceptions". I only recently moved to Australia from Norway, so I've been a member of Spotify since 2008 (Premium since 2009), and in my experience, "some" of us aren't the exception. Especially back in Scandinavia, preferring local music libraries to Spotify is about as common as being on MySpace rather than Facebook.

    Yes, music libraries were first. Yes, some of their features are - currently - better than on Spotify. Yes, Spotify needs to improve, and I'm glad that you bring up these errors. Yes, visiting music snobs who don't have Spotify annoys me, because all that's contained in their "superior iTunes" collection is acoustic rock from Ukraine in the '70s and magic mushroom inspired hymns of erotic tales sung by Indian child beggers, or whatever else specialised taste they've got that maybe 5 people in their hemisphere enjoys listening to as much as them.

    98% Spotify, 1% local files, 1% radio. Works like a charm.

      If you listen to PBS FM or RRR from Melbourne you'll hear a lot of great music that isn't on Spotify or iTunes. Spotify and iTunes have deals with the major labels, and the thousands of 'independent' labels that are owned by the majors. Believing that music not supplied by the majors is obscure or rubbish is naive, but they want you to think that.

      All I'm saying is that there's a load of great music out there that's still not available through mainstream channels. But you're not meant to know that.

        Read what you're writing: "If you listen to PBS FM or RRR from Melbourne". My point exactly, you're getting your obscure music from sources that doesn't get out there to everybody. Is it because some conspiracy is working against these youngsters trying to break through with alternative stuff, or is it because their music really isn't all that good? Probably a mix of both.

        Prior to Spotify and similar services, your obscure music that was playing on "PBS FM or RRR from Melbourne" was probably not readily available for purchase in every mainstream music outlet in the western world. I'm fairly confident every band that was played on there was not available in every JB Hi-Fi, Big W, Harvey Norman, Dick Smith and whichever other music chains that are around the country (not to mention the rest of the western world). Do correct me on that if I'm wrong.

        If it's such a problem that Spotify - initially a Swedish music service - doesn't offer all the wonderful music played on an unknown radio station in Melbourne, then so what? Do you expect them to be able to have access to all the wonderful (and otherwise unpublished) music in every single country where they market their services? That's a bit of wishful thinking, isn't it?

        My point is, the problem raised is moot as it predates Spotify's release by about as many years as humans have been able to record and share music. You're (most likely) never going to be offered a service that offers everything. Settle for the 2nd best and use whatever alternate sources makes you happy for the rest.

    I pay my spotify with glee every month.. love it to death.
    the trick with actual owned mp3s is to simply put them in a dropbox folder and point spotify to it. you then have your tracks available at any computer you use.
    Simply add the local track to a playlist and make the playlist available offline.. it automatically gets synced to your devices. The whole process is pretty painless I find.

    I know they work in different ways, but personally I prefer Pandora simply because I'm lazy.

    I have a premium US spotify account and its replaced my music library on my iphone. I just replaced my handset and haven't bothered to load any music on it. I now use the premium account to sync playlists for offline mode and I'm good to go.

    Its also now how I listen to music in my car and at home via my boxee. It's made things so much easier for me.

    Having moved to streaming music I don't think I can return to old-fashioned CDs. Streaming music is just too convenient. An easy choice.

    As an Audiophile, for me streaming is not - and likely won't be for a long time - a viable solution. My entire library of 6000+ songs is all lossless. This is over 120GB. No streaming service offers me the ability to listen to music greater than 320kb MP3's. I tried Rdio, *and* Spotify, believe me, I did. I couldn't cope, and I'd always fall back to my trusty iTunes library. Having local files will always trump streaming for me, and for a long time to come.

      Spotify allows a higher quality for downloaded albums/songs. You can also increase the quality to streaming.

      The free version only gives you the lowest quality

    Does anywhere offer 44k or 48K WAV files as a download? I refuse to pay for an inferior product than what I already have & cannot stand streaming.

      I don't care what people say, records will ALWAYS sound the best.

    Spotify has some nifty features, and some annoying issues that I think will be resolved over time. Some of those issues can be worked around, and others I can live with - Spotify has now replaced all music listening when "on the go" for me, even though large chunks of my regular music aren't in the Spotify library.

    For example, everything is "playlists", with crappy Album & Artist support, so what I do is use nested folders to organise Album-based playlists. So I have a top-level of Genre, then Artist folders, then Album playlists. I can play a single Album, or I can play an Artist (by the "Play All" option in the Album folder), or by Genre, etc...

    For syncing local files, since all my music is on a Linux server, I created a "Spotify" folder, and soft-linked just the albums I want to sync as Local to Spotify.

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