Rdio’s Carter Adamson talks music in the cloud

by W. Andrew Powell
Carter Adamson, COO of Rdio

Looking into the future of music distribution offers a clear vision of the next trend that will change the face of the industry–and how we listen to music–and it’s called music in the cloud, or cloud music.

The difference between a service like iTunes and music in the cloud is that you don’t necessarily need to download the music to your computer or device to listen to it. Cloud music instead lets you browse albums and songs and stream them across the internet, all for a monthly subscription fee rather than charging based on how many songs you download.

While some companies are just starting to test the waters in this area, Rdio.com (pronounced ar-dee-o) has been offering a strong cloud-based music service since late last year, and it’s drawing rave reviews from music fans across North America.

Among some of the top features of the service, Rdio allows you to synchronize tracks or albums to your mobile device so you can listen to them offline, create playlists, and follow other music fans like a traditional social website.

Last month I had a chance to speak to Rdio COO Carter Adamson, and here’s what he had to say about their service and the changing landscape of technology and music.

Andrew: During CMW I read a quote where you mentioned that CD sales had been falling and you saw the future in audio subscription services. What do you think the draw is there?

Carter: “First of all I’ll say that I don’t think CDs are going to go away, but I do think that because there are now more and more people bringing more and more devices into their lives, whether they be smart phones, or connected televisions, or connected stereos in their cars… [there are] more and more devices that can talk to the internet and therefore bring down a stream, and it doesn’t make logical sense to me that in the future you would have multiple external hard drives to move your music and video and book collection to all your various devices.”

“What makes logical sense, to me at least, is that you would have all of your various media collections up in the cloud and in addition to access to all the music beyond just your collection, and your friend’s collections, and be able to access that from anywhere your are, regardless what device or what platform you’re on.”

“We’re already seeing the mass-adoption of smart phones and the mass-adoption of the apps on those smart phones, and that was part of the reason why we decided to get into the music streaming space in the first place. We saw that and we saw the underlying technology in the wireless networks getting to a point where you could actually viably offer a compelling music streaming service for the first time on a mobile phone. And we saw also the consumer mind set changing. There are a lot more people using Netflix to play their movies. There are a lot more people buying e-books to read on their Kindles, or their Nooks, or their iPads, and so consumers are finally getting their heads around this notion of electronic digital media and accessing it from the cloud, versus physically owning something, whether it be a download, a book, a CD or an LP.”

Andrew: What would you say to the people who might be upset with the concept that they can’t own a copy of their music, that they basically only have access to it through the service?

Carter: “Well, actually, Rdio is one of the few services that allows you to do both. So, front and centre are the subscription tiers that we offer you, which again give you unlimited access to all the music–over 8 million tracks–no ads, and no restrictions on skipping forward or skipping backward, like on Pandora. So if you’re not there yet and you want to buy DRM-free MP3s, you can still do that, you can use Rdio like iTunes if you want and buy albums and playlists and tracks at market value and they’re yours for life and you can move them where you want.” [Editor’s note: This feature is available in the U.S. but is in the works for Canada.]

Andrew: I also appreciate that you support Last.fm, which is very cool…

Carter: “Yeah, we’re big fans of Last.fm. Absolutely.”

Andrew:So, what do you think are the biggest challenges in the Canadian marketplace, as opposed to other countries, or even just in general?

Carter: “To be quite honest with you, I think they’re the same challenges as the U.S. market in that this is an amazing value. We’re talking about 16 cents or 30 cents a day for unlimited music–access to everything. When you put that in perspective to the other costs that you have in your life associated with content, like your cable television bill or your mobile data plan, 16 cents or 30 cents a day a piece compared to your [other bills] or even your Starbucks triple latte cappuccino, or whatever you get every morning. So I think the biggest hurdle is getting… people’s heads around the fact that you now don’t have to actually buy every single song. You don’t have to spend ten thousand dollars to fill up your iPod or your iPhone with music now, you can have access to everything for less than the price of an album. The value is so incredible that I don’t think people believe it, and so I think there’s a little bit of an education piece that has to happen here, and I think that’s the biggest hurdle.”

“Another hurdle is exactly what you said. The device landscape is changing so fast now. I mean, it’s completely different each year. Every time Steve Jobs decides to run up to the Moscone Center, almost every single time, we have a stepped change in the device landscape. It’s hard for consumers to catch up and decide what devices they actually need in their lives and which of those are capable of accessing these new types of services.”

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