Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Rhapsody on Real Rhapsody

Boing Boing was showing the love for Rhapsody the other day:

Last Thursday Sonos announced a partnership with Rhapsody, the music subscription service from RealNetworks. Now I can play two million songs on any stereo system in my house, using Sonos' portable iPod-like controller. It's an incredible experience being able to call up almost any song you can think of and start playing it. I showed it to my wife, and she immediately began playing all of David Bowie's '70s songs. She's hooked. I've been teaching my 8-year-old about punk by playing Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, Ramones, Clash, and Buzzcocks. You get a free 30-day Rhapsody trial with Sonos. After that, you pay $10 a month. It's a bargain.
I have to agree. I have had it for some time now, enjoy it and would recommend it to anyone. Just like Tivo changes the way you watch TV, so to does Rhapsody change the way you listen to music.

While iTunes killed the album format and replaced it with the single, Rhapsody kills the single format and replaces it with the playlist. Since there is no additional cost to listening to a new song out of their over 2 million songs library, you tend to try out lots of new music to see what you like.

They allow everyone to share their playlists so there are all sorts of pre-made playlists that you can listen to. You can get your fix of the 80s, then move over to some classical, then try out some acid jazz and then on to the best of Frank Sinatra.

It allows you to listen to music in a way that you weren't able to before. For example, there is a playlist with all of Weird Al's parodies along with the original songs. There is no way that I would have paid for all of those songs by themselves, and no radio station would play it, but it makes for an enjoyable couple hours to listen to the original and then see how Weird Al changes it.

It also allows you to create a playlist of the same song performed by different artists. At Christmas time I had a hankering for the Carol of the Bells. I really wanted to listen to a version performed with bells. Turns out there are 245 version of the song in the Rhapsody library. It is really quite enjoyable to listen to all of the different ways artists play the same song. I am embarrassed to admit that the version by John Tesh was actually quite good. Ironically though, I could not find a single version performed with bells. There are also 80 different versions of Killing Me Softly, 35 of American Pie, and 64 of Landslide. Once again without the subscription format this wouldn't be possible to find a song and listen to all of the different interpretations.

There are also many tracks that I only want to listen to once and would never pay for them, but when they are all free they are worth a listen. Someone compiled the 69 One Hit Wonders of the 90s. You listen to songs like the Macarena once, laugh at it and realize you don't need to listen to that song again for another 10 years. I also like the comedy albums by Chris Rock, Dane Cook and Bill Cosby but you really only need to listen to them once.

I love the ability to hear about a new song and then to be able to go listen to it. There was this great song used on a Comedy Central commercial for the Daily Show. I head over to AdTunes, do a search and find that the name of the song is Mambo Gallego by Tito Puente. I do a quick search over at Rhapsody and then I am listening to it. Condi Rice's playlist was published and a moment later I am listening to her favorite song: Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor by Mozart.

There are a few minor issues with the system. While you can download it to many portable MP3 players, you can't use it with an iPod.

While they have most bands, there are a few that bands and albums of bands that aren't included. You can't get the Beatles, most Dave Matthews Band or Red Hot Chili Peppers songs. Sometimes Rhapsody will lose rights to songs. You will be listening to a song for months and then it will no longer be available. This happened with Men at Work, Gary Jules, Linkin Park, and My Sharona. Then sometimes you lose access to a song on one album but can still access it on another. They take away Thriller but you can still listen to Billie Jean through Number Ones. This seems totally pointless to me, but whatever.

There are also a couple of features I wish they would add. One is adding the lyrics to songs. This seems like it would be an easy thing to add and would be valuable. I also think they should add allow small bands to upload their songs. This would give the little guys a way to make some money and would attract the MySpace crowd to Rhapsody. I think it would be cool if they would include live performances of band like Pearl Jam and Dave Matthews Band. Hard drive space is cheap so why not put up all their live performances? Then allow the fans to find the best versions, create playlists out of them and share them with everyone.

Some lament the fact that if you ever quit the service you no longer have access to any of the songs. While this is an issue, it also means you change to any other subscription service like Napter or Yahoo Music any time you want (and this competition will keep prices low). If you buy songs at iTunes, they will only play on iPods, so you are stuck with Apples software and hardware forever. The subscription service also means I will never have to spend more than $10 a month on music to be able to listen to what ever I want.

Overall the system is great and I would highly recommend it.

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