I Like Rhapsody

Yesterday some snark over at Slashdot slathered his ignorant condescension on the Rhapsody music client from Real Networks: “I can’t comment on how good Rhapsody is since I’ve never met anyone who used it. That probably says enough right there,” this fellow posted. What a wonderful argument. Apply it to, say, the Macintosh OSX (currently being used on, what? Three percent of computers?), and you would be spammed mercilessly with hate mails by the Steve Handjobbers.

I’ve been using Rhapsody for the last 18 months and I will tell you that if you put a gun to my head and forced me to choose between Rhapsody and iTunes, I’d burn my iTunes purchases onto CD and give it the boot. Don’t get me wrong — I love me the iTunes, and when I do make DRM-shackled download purchases, it’s my avenue of choice. But aside from playing the Apple DRMed music files (which is easily got around in any event), Rhapsody does everything iTunes can do, and does one absolutely critical thing that iTunes cannot: It can stream 60,000 albums and a million songs for me to listen to, any time I want.

Why is this critical? Well, because I want to hear what I’m buying before I buy. Because I’d like to be able to hear the hip new songs the kids love without, say, inviting Kelly Clarkson into my home on a permanent basis. Because most of my CD collection is in boxes, and I don’t want to take the time and/or effort to encode them onto my hard drive, and since this music client allows me to access 90% of the music in my CD without that annoying digging/ripping, I don’t have to. Because it’s fun to skip across music like you skip across the Web, following links from one place to another until you end up someplace new that you would never have gotten to otherwise. And because when I write articles about music, I now have access to the very closest thing to a universal jukebox there is.

Example: Recently I did an article for an Uncle John book about songs with the word “Detroit” in the title. If I didn’t have Rhapsody, researching an article like that would be like pulling teeth. With it, I enter the word “Detroit” into client, get a list of 70 songs, and then get to listen to any of those I choose before writing up my article. Paying $10 a month for Rhapsody ends up making me money because of its admirable utility.

Needless to say, not everyone is going to use it for that reason, but nearly anyone with disposable income $10 a month to sample albums and artists and to play with and listen to music is not unreasonable. The newest version of Rhapsody, released yesterday (I think), also offers the option to download tracks to play them offline, or (for an additional $5 a month) drop them into an MP3 player (other than an iPod, of course) to take around with you. Again, for music browsers, I think this is a pretty good deal.

No, you don’t own the music, which seems to be the whiny mantra against streaming music schemes like Rhapsody’s, but I have to say that I don’t really understand the problem here. You don’t go into Blockbuster to rent a movie and then get indignant that the rental fee doesn’t provide you a perpetual license to the film. If you want to own the film, you buy the film. As long as your brain can conceptualize the idea of renting music, this approach should be non-controversial. As I was writing this up, I was listening to the new album from the Ceasars (a band made famous, ironically, by having one of its songs featured in an iPod ad). I’m listening to the album, and can at any time, but I’m not under the impression I own it, and I don’t get all snotty when I close up Rhapsody and it goes away. If I reach that point, it’s a signal that, well, maybe I should buy it.

And, of course, having listened to the album now and having liked it, I’m more inclined to own it than I was before — either the entire album or parts of it. As I’ve hinted above, Rhapsody has increased the amount of music I buy because now I know what I’m getting before the purchase. Conversely, since I don’t end up buying music I don’t want, I don’t have much of that “I got really burned on this deal” attitude I used to get when I’d drop $14 on an album to discover it had only two tracks worth listening to. Which means my overall opinion of music as a worthwhile expenditure has gone up. So not only am I spending more on music, I’m inclined to spend more on music in the future. Everyone wins.

The only other rap against Rhapsody I can think of is that it’s owned by RealNetworks, famous for its Real media properties, which are the streaming audio and video you want to use if you really, really, really like buffering. I’m not a fan of most Real-based media — I honestly can’t remember a time when I’ve streamed anything off of RealPlayer that didn’t look and/or sound like absolute crap — but aside from the rare server disconnect, I’ve never had a problem streaming music with Rhapsody. This partly has to do with its streaming strategy, in which many of one’s favorite listens were largely cached on one’s computer, thereby needing requiring only a small download for repeat listening. But however it’s done, it’s worked for me.

The Slashdot snark bothered me because it’s part of the hallowed tradition of people talking out of their ass about technology they don’t actually get to know and also (this admittedly being somewhat reasonable on Slashdot, but endemic anywhere vaguely geeky folks hang out online) having a smug and snotty attitude toward people who don’t have the interest and/or inclination to hand code their own personal Ogg Vorbis player (to be fair to Slashdot, a number of comments that followed the initial post flambéed the initial poster for his snark). What I’m saying is I actually use Rhapsody and I find it to be a good and useful application, enough so that I’ve cheerfully paid for it on a monthly basis for a non-trivially long time, and will continue to so for some time to come.

The only thing that might change this behavior is if iTunes begins some form of streaming service in the near future, as it might reasonably do. However, in this particular case Apple’s streaming solution would have to be really elegant (and cheaper) to cause me to switch. I already stream my music with one client and buy it online with another. I don’t mind not putting all my musical eggs in a single basket, even if it’s a basket with the famous Apple aesthetic. And as I’ve noted before, right now, if push came to shove, it’s not iTunes who would be left standing. There’s no reason to automatically assume it would be the one left standing in the future, either.

30 thoughts on “I Like Rhapsody

  1. The only knock I have against “renting” music is that it’s different than I’m used to acquiring my music. I realize that isn’t a very good reason for not changing, but there you go. I’m used to buying a CD and owning the music thereupon.

    But if you think of Rhapsody (or Napster rental, or iStream (someday?)) like subscribing to a satellite radio service, except that you are the DJ, and you manage the playlist, then it begins to make a bit more sense. Someday I’ll be able to afford $10/month, and then I’ll probably go with such a service.

    K

  2. RealNetworks is also pretty widely reviled for their history of dumping spyware into a lot of their products. You can avoid most or all of it if you’re paying very close attention as you go through the installer, but it still leaves a bad taste in many mouths. Still, as long as you know what you’re getting into…

  3. Rhapsody seems to be pretty clean in this regard; at the very least I’m not aware of getting spyware from it, and I run my spyware checker every few days (and just after downloading the new Rhapsody client, in fact).

  4. I was going to say, but Brennan kinda beat me to it, a friend of mine coined a phrase, which is “Nothing is worth The Desert of the Real.” I’ve been burned by Real Player so many times in the past, be it spyware, or just owning my system preferences (which files play in which players), even after I tell it to only play Real Player files, that I’ve sworn to never ever ever touch their software again.

    You could have the most interesting internet movie in the history of the internets, and I won’t play it if it’s in the RP format. It’s that whole fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me, fool me four times and I consider myself retarded for thinking that they’ve changed their ways this time thing.

    Can’t really comment on Rhapsody, though.

  5. It does appear we are all in agreement about the massive suckageness of Real Media in general. Let’s consider that matter tabled.

  6. I can completely see renting music – what steams me is the deceptive advertising that purports to compare purchasing vs. renting as if they were the same (I believe it’s Napster that does this – not sure about Real). Yes, $10 a month to rent as much as you like is great if that’s what you want, but it’s not the same as paying $10 to own an album.

    However, I suppose the people who only look at the face-value math of the advertising get what they, ehrm, pay for.

  7. You should checkout this neet-o repository of Real content that resides at KCRW’s area for Morning Becomes Eclectic

    This is the main show pag where you can hear and see entire recorded-live sessions:
    http://www.kcrw.com/show/mb
    (search for “Click Here to Watch!”)

    If you get through all those, search their entire archive by clicking on “[more Morning Becomes Eclectic shows]” at the very bottom and putting in some search criteria.. the site has certainly entertained me many a day over the last couple years.

  8. I’ve been subscribing to Rhapsody for over a year now and I _love_ it. I’ve always wanted to just listen to whatever I wanted just to check stuff out. Now, when I buy an album, I already now for sure that I like it. There are no spyware problems, and I believe Real purchased the company that developed Rhapsody and basically left the product in tact.

    Anyway, 2 downsides. The sound quality is not good enough for serious listening and the selection has some severe empty spots (e.g. no Radiohead, no Beatles). Has anyone out there tried the very similar Napster service? Is the sound quality or selection any better?

  9. Is there some technical reason why the files you buy from Rhapsody can’t be moved over to iTunes and played on an iPod? Or am I misunderstanding, and Rhapsody *only* lets you stream and rent?

  10. The reason is that iPod intentionally does not support Windows Media, which is the format Rhapsody (and indeed, nearly every other music downloading site) uses.

  11. I very much like Rhapsody for the reasons you mentioned. I wish that when using the radio feature one could ban songs or artists like on “Launch” (I’d be all over the “never play Ludacris again” option). Occasionally I find an album Rhapsody doesn’t have, so I wish that there was a “request this album” feature as well. Other than that, for my uses it’s close to perfect.

  12. I’ve never used Rhapsody, so please forgive my ignorance, but how is paying $10/month considered renting music? Aren’t you merely paying a fixed rate for access to their music catalog?

    Traditional renting would be something more like “for $0.10, I can listen to the song as often as I want for a week, then it’s gone.”

    Also, if you can listen to it whenever you want for your $10/month, why would you ever buy a song? Is it just to be able to put it on an MP3 player and walk around with it? If so, doesn’t the new $15/month and you can download the songs mean no one will ever buy a song from them again?

    Side point:
    The “I don’t get all snotty when I close up Rhapsody and it goes away” comment struck me as odd – when I close iTunes, all of my music “goes away” too, in that the only way to listen to it would be to fire up iTunes again. If you think about it, 5 years ago, it was also true that when I shut off my CD player, all of my music “went away” in the same manner…

  13. Brian, the difference is that if you stop giving iTunes your money, the music stays there, but if you stop giving Rhapsody your money, the music goes away.

    K

  14. MAB: It’s not bad. It has a composer search, so that’s helpful. They alo have a trial period thing, so you can check to see if it has features/content you like.

    Brian — actually, that music doesn’t go away: it’s still housed on your computer, and you don’t actually need iTunes to access it (unless all you have is much you purchased off of iTunes). Rhapsody’s music set, on the other hand, either goes away or (if you’ve downloaded it) is inaccessible with a client other than Rhapsody.

  15. I can’t say I have a problem with Rhapsody, but I am baffled at the idea of paying $120/year to rent music I already own. The Rhapsody folks like to point out that “10,000 songs in your pocket” means $10,000 at a buck a song–which is true if you don’t own any music CDs or digital tracks. If you already do, then why pay a second time for them?

  16. I have the same wariness of RealNetworks products that others have stated above, but! my wife is similarly resentful of iTunes trying to own her PC.
    (She’d been using JRiver Media Center with her iPod, then got an HP laptop that had iTunes pre-installed, was sufficiently annoyed by its differences from Media Center not to want to use it for everything, and had trouble getting it to peacefully coexist with Media Center, so she wiped iTunes. By then, though, she’d tried buying a few tunes from the Music Store, and later had to go through the process of installing iTunes again to free them from DRM prison onto a CD; and the installer hijacked all her media prefs again. I use a Mac and I like iTunes fine, but I don’t see her ever using iTunes again for any reason.)

  17. I listen to music on Rhapsody as background for reading and doing stuff on the PC. Mostly jazz, folk, classical. I’ll never run out. As of today, it says it has 1,110,788 tracks by 62,560 artists on 90,669 albums. I think that’s pretty cool. But I pay another $10 a month for Virgin Digital, which has albums, artists and tracks that Rhapsody does not have (and visa versa). Virgin does have the Beatles. Well, only three compilation albums for Karaoke, but they are there. More importantly, Virgin has many more, and meatier reviews of albums than Rhapsody. Ignorant as I am about most things musical, that’s a great help.

  18. Mythago opines:

    “but I am baffled at the idea of paying $120/year to rent music I already own.”

    True enough, if all you’re going to do with the service is listen to music you already own, it doesn’t represent much value. However, while I do use it to listen to music I own, I primarily use it to listen to music I don’t. So it becomes a better value.

  19. Rhapsody Slashed

    For the life of me I can’t understand some of these posts from the anti-Rhapsody/Napster crowd. They act as if their way of life is being threatened. Next thing I expect to hear is that Rhapsody crowd is really a same-sex marriage lobby….

  20. Excellent post! I loved it. It seems so simple to me. If you really LOVE music for the music and not because you horde a collection of songs on your hard drive to prove your coolness Rhapsody is the best choce hands down. It’s like being locked in a CD warehouse. A very LARGE CD warehouse. A dream for music lovers. An annoyance for posers.

    An Real gave up the adware tactics long ago. It hurt them to be sure, but they have learned their lesson. This is the best digital music solution on the market. If you love Rhapsody like me check out http://www.musicradish.com

  21. Is there any way to browse their selection, and find out the DRM scheme and bit rate they’re using, without giving them my credit card number for a free trial?

    Because if so, I couldn’t find it on their web site. Maybe I just missed it.

  22. I’m pretty sure you can download the client for free without depsiting your credit card information. It should let you browse the site’s offerings, but you won’t be able to listen to anything more than 30-second samples.

  23. Rhapsody doesn’t appear to support the Mac, so there’s no reason for me to bother with it.

    As for knowing what you’re getting, the iTunes Music Store does give you a 30-second preview, at least.

  24. “As for knowing what you’re getting, the iTunes Music Store does give you a 30-second preview, at least.”

    30-second previews are a waste of time. Depending on which 30 seconds of “A Day in the Life” you listen to, you might get John Lennon being deep (good), Paul McCartney being sprightly (bad out of context), or 30 seconds of an orchestra fading into silence, followed by a 16KHz buzz (inexplicable).

    A song is elemental: it is in itself the smallest unit by which the song should be judged.

  25. You don’t get any of “A Day in the Life”, because the Beatles catalog isn’t available on ITMS. (Heh.)

    30 seconds per song is more than I get from the CD rack at Best Buy.

  26. Rhapsody is a great product, and I’ve only been using it for about six months, but it is far superior to any other subscription product out there right now. With Rhapsody you can subscribe to the music, but I should point out that you can also purchase music. If you find renting isn’t good enough for some of your tracks, then go ahead and purchase them!!! Also, it connects with the iPod, so your own content, and purchased content, can be transferred there as well. Not to mention iRivers, Creative Labs, RIOs, and the like.

  27. I’ve been using rhapsody for a while and love it. Has anyone experienced a long start-up? It seems to take forever to start the client.

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