Pandora's on the ropes, Imeem is taking off, Grooveshark relaunched today with recommendations and a long list of cool features, Blip.fm threatens to make Muxtape look like old news - the streaming music market online is expanding and contracting faster than a stadium rocker's pupils.
What if the perfect service rose from the noise and gave you exactly the user experience you wanted? What would such a service look like?
Let's call out our dreams, in hopes that they might become real. Here's a list of things we'd really like to see come from these kinds of services.
Note: it's not clear how viable any of this is going to be if small players aren't able to compete with innovative features. If you haven't yet, read the bad news about Pandora. Justin Dorfman has a good little blog post about things you can do to save Pandora.
Assuming that the pace of innovation online in music streaming can continue, here's what we're looking for in our dream service.
Quantity and Breadth of Music
The music business fights a constant battle against homogenization and in favor of the long tail, or at least some people in it do. It's hard to judge the quantity and breadth of music on a given service, it's a "I know it when I see it" kind of phenomenon.
Obviously many people want to make sure all the big hits are included, but we'd love to see the crowd pleasers be followed up with high quality music just being discovered. The infinite distribution of the web should make this a fundamentally different content experience than commercial radio has been.
Services that allow users to upload MP3 files offer a powerful opportunity to engage the long tail of musical tastes. That's becoming an increasingly common feature.
We'd be doing our friends in the rest of the world a real disservice if we said any music service was perfect if it didn't make itself available to listeners anywhere on the planet. For all the love it gets, Pandora is limited to US users. Copyright in music rears its ugly head again.
Services like Seeqpod and Imeem require too much intervention. It's preferable to at least have the option to click play and leave your music player alone for hours. Hey Muxtape, how about letting me turn on a mode that automatically follows all the fans and "fan of" connections from any collection I start with?
DRM Free Purchases
We love Amazon MP3 for its DRM free downloads and highlighting DRM free links to buy is one of the many things we love about MP3 blog aggregator Hype Machine. Sometimes streaming just isn't enough and you want to buy tunes. There are any number of ways to get music files for free, but when you find an artist you really respect - it's nice to send them some money.
We like the GrooveShark model of P2P downloads with revenue distribution to artists. The revenue sharing among listeners seems a little silly and we'd probably prefer lower prices, but whatever.
Music recommendation is something many, many people have aimed for. Few have nailed it like Pandora and Last.fm. Grooveshark rolled out a new recommendation feature today, but after just a little bit of use we found it unsatisfactory. The service generally has too much down time and it wasn't clear what recommendations were based on.
FriendFeed connections and seeing what different people we know online like to listen to.It might sound silly, but there are two reasons that Last.fm really rocks and the social features are one of them. It's easy to discover other users and to listen to what they listen to. We've had a lot of fun going through our
Compare this to Pandora, where social features are buried in the back of the feature set and the gestures that result in populating your social profile (bookmarking songs or bands) aren't at all the most common gestures that users make (thumbs up or down). Even though there are millions of users, Pandora feels like a solitary place.
RIght: Sometimes we like to listen to what Chris Pirillo likes to listen to, just to see what makes him tick.
Atractive and Easy to Use Feedback UI
Pandora makes it easy to like or unlike songs, even if you haven't created an account. It's UI is more attractive than Last.fm's and these two services are among the only ones to really make the feedback UI simple and powerful.
Quality Ancillary Content
In addition to the social features, the second thing that makes Last.fm awesome is the additional information about artists. It's nice to be able to browse bio and background info, to see photos, etc.
It's nice to be able to view the lyrics of the song you're listening to sometime. LyricWiki is ok for this. Favtape pulls in lyrics from LyricWiki when they are available. The service plays your favorites from Pandora or Last.fm, using the Seeqpod API. It also links out to ringtone download sites. It's pretty cool.
We want to love IdioMag more than anyone for this. This little service grabs your publicly available musical taste data from other services, like Last.fm and Pandora, and then builds a "personalized music magazine" for you. For whatever genre you like, IdioMag identifies new and interesting bands, then plays them through an interface that supplements the music with photos from Flickr, videos from YouTube and text from syndicated blog posts. It even uses the dominant colors from the photos to determine the color scheme for the associated "pages." It's totally hot, in theory. In practice the writing tends to be unbearably bad and layout ends up being sloppy. We hope the service will improve because it's a great idea that we honestly tell people about weekly. Idiomag and Grooveshark are doing some cross-promotion for each other; we're happy to see that.
Playlist Publishing With Good Interface
Everyone likes to share good music with anyone who will listen. It's one way we win cool points and express ourselves. From the austere Muxtape to the super cute if unscalable casset tapes of MixWit, there's a world of interface options.
There's no reason for a service like Seeqpod, who are already being sued anyway, to offer such an awful playlist publishing widget. We're guessing that almost no one ever uses that part of the service.
Band in Town Notifications
When a band we're listening to on a service is going to be in our town any time soon, we'd love to know. It's a real lost opportunity whenever a service doesn't provide this kind of information - there are any number of ways to get it.
A Space for New Bands to be Discovered
How about a service that scans my iTunes library and my online listening history, determines my genres of interest and then never plays music from artists I've already listened to. Or makes sure to play some that I haven't.
You know how good online IM programs will sound a tone and show a message in your browser tab when a new message comes in? That way you can be using other applications but still know what's going on with your IM. Music apps should do something like that. Growl notification of artist and song title would be awesome.
MP3 Blog Discovery
Have you seen the Hype Machine? It's an MP3 blog aggregator and it's fantastic. Any music discovery system should include links to recent blog posts about the song you're listening to. It's a great way to learn about an artist and discover related music.
Oh So Much More
Friends of RWW have also told us they would like good mobile access and a clear path to revenue sharing with artists. What would your dream service for music streaming look like? Let us know in comments - maybe someone else will read this discussion and build it.
Photo at top "I Love My Music" by Flickr user shankar, shiv.