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.
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.