In a recent post, we suggested that free online music had some to overcome some major hurdles in its journey from the “dark ages” of the audio cassette through the digital revolution. But we all know that online radio is more complicated than just digitized music online, and if we are going to identify the top priorities in the industry today, we have to take a serious look at some of the biggest, most complicated, and most recent online radio and music phenomena on the net.
Almost There: Pandora Online Radio and the Variability Problem
After the rise, fall, and re-emergence of Napster and the other music sharing sites, music listening online took on a whole new form as we realized more of what this medium was really capable of. With free online music, we had the option to experience fresh music without having to invest in it — legal limitations meant we had limited control over what and when we could hear, but at least on-the-go options became more feasible. Suddenly, the problem became not too few options and too little control, but the sheer breadth of the playlists that were available to us at home and online. Music lists in our personal libraries had exploded, and shuffling wasn’t enough — we needed help.
The people behind the music genome project had the bright idea of classifying and automating some of the instinctive choices that go into our music preferences. Now, we had personalized suggestions that suddenly took away the confusion of having too many options to choose from. The problem? In the end, many of us shied away from sites like Pandora except for occasional visits, because the combination of user-defined choices and user-based suggestions sometimes meant that the more time and effort we put into our playlists, the less varied and the the more predictable they became.
These sites’ automated suggestions valued technical similarities between songs, so in the process of guessing what we would or wouldn’t like to hear, they eliminated some of those gut-level “this is great” moments we experienced back when we had more randomness — or, with radio, the input of someone else’s personality and preferences in our playlists.
Suddenly, it seemed we’d progressed too far — precise control was still important, but it was not everything, and many of us started to realize that what we wanted was something we’d started to miss out on in the new online music with its “us-only” limitations. What we wanted was online radio.
The Fix: True & Enhanced Online Radio Stations
Online radio became the next big evolution for online music when sites providing Internet Radio Stations, like 977music appeared, because they gave us all the personalized control we had come to expect of digital music, plus the variability of outside suggestions. Using a combination of intelligent, user- and algorithm-driven selection and “good old fashioned” random choice, stations like ours now offer the perfect combination of reliability and surprise. But even though online radio seems to approach perfection, the needs and expectations of audiences continue to evolve. A few predictions for upcoming changes:
- Portability. 977Music already offers an iPod app to make your stations and playlists portable, but plenty of other internet radio stations still need to catch up in this respect, and over time, they will.
- Total integration. Too often, online music stations don’t offer personal playlists for members to use to add some stability and predictability to their options. Over time, more online radio stations will be adding these options, and down the line (depending on how we all work out details like usage rights with the big record companies), may even offer integration between those playlists and the ones at home.
- Enhanced social functionality. One of the big problems with auto-only suggestion sites like Pandora was the solo aspect of the suggestions — every fresh idea essentially came from you, or the computer making suggestions based on your specifications. In the social media age, playlists visible to your friends and functionality like suggesting songs to friends will become more important, as online music continues to mimic real-life music-related interactions more closely.
What’s Your Take?
Where do you think free online music is headed? Share in the comments