In the last 30 days, I've easily discovered more great new music than I have in the last decade, and have listened to the iTunes equivalent of at least $US700 in music for the cost of a CD.
I'm talking about Rdio, a streaming music service that strikes me as a lot more useful than others that have been around longer. I'm not sure its the best out there in classic terms—I've heard that other services have better libraries. But I do love it for a few big reasons. Rdio's gone out of its way to put itself on more platforms than any other streaming service I've ever seen. It's on android, iphone, blackberry, the web, has a desktop client and even works with my favourite home audio multi-room system, Sonos.
That's important for the simple reason that I can use Rdio on my iPhone, in the car or aeroplane (the $US10 dollar a month service includes an offline sync mode), while I'm working at my desk or across my house using Sonos. But mostly because a few of my good friends who have astoundingly good taste in music don't necessarily use the same gadgets I do. In fact the friends I have with the best taste in music use Android phones and PCs. A minor point by itself but Rdio's social interface is immensely powerful. I can see what albums friends are adding in a stream, and I can try them all out. Pretty soon its apparent which friends of mine like the same kind of music that I do. This is basically a more streamlined version of how I would usually discover new tunes: Ask them what they're listening to, and have them send or buy the tracks. Discard if it doesn't work for me, or keep it if I think its cool.
Now, Zune was social, and Zune even had the neat ability to let you keep 10 tracks a month—but Zune was only lived in the Windows ecosystem. And Rdio again, works almost everywhere. And iTunes's ping is social, but without a flat subscription rate, it's impossible to really roam through different albums beyond the 90 second playlist.
Because I pay that $US10 up front, I'm encouraged to explore and experiment and look for new music rather than being put in the position of having to repeatedly risk paying for a new album that may suck. And even if I know I don't own most of the music I'm listening to, that's fine. If an album turns out to be an instant classic, I can always dip into Amazon or use Rdio's store and buy it. But 19 out of 20 times, I won't. I'll just be too busy listening to new stuff to worry about it. Another bonus is that, well, my computer's being crushed by photos, video, emails and, yes, music files. So having less to organize and back up is actually a great relief, especially considering that I'm adding 5-10 albums a day to my collection that I can't believe I didn't know about before. I can't really put a price on that, but Rdio only asks $US10 a month. I think the only thing I'd ask them to do is let friends sign up for group plans so that my friends—the people who make Rdio work for me—never stop using it.