Best In Tech: Rdio’s Social Music Service
Rdio CEO, Drew Larner. [Credit: www.withextravinyl.com]
The irony that the co-founders of the peer-to-peer file-sharing application Kazaa have now gone into legitimate business with record labels is not lost on Rdio’s CEO, Drew Larner.
“These guys, who were in heated litigation with all these content providers, are now licensing this music, I find [that] very funny and interesting,” says Larner over the phone from the company’s headquarters in San Francisco.
Kazaa’s founders, Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis, later went on to create Skype and in the summer of 2010 launched a slick, new music subscription platform for web and mobile called Rdio (pronounced “ar-dee-o”).
In January, Rdio announced a partnership with the global independent rights agency, Merlin, to bring a huge catalog of music from top indie labels like Rough Trade, Warp, Beggars, Merge and Domino, to the service, which adds to the already strong catalog including songs from all four major labels.
Larner says every deal has its own momentum but says the key to Zennström and Friis’s success the second time around with record labels was a level of respect gained from the earlier proceedings. “That actually helped in a weird way,” he says. “The labels knew who these guys were, they were obviously serious. They’d had big success with Skype. They wanted legitimate licenses to build a legitimate service. In an odd way, given the history, that drove the deal.”
Rdio launched in August 2010 and quickly caught on with savvy listeners, with help from a unique integration on Twitter that let Rdio members stream full songs within the social site’s recently-launched apps pane.
Larner says Rdio’s social element has played an important role in the company’s early development. Rdio members can follow other users or “influencers” like The Fader, Pitchfork, and Spin. Users can also view a friend’s listening history or play a “station,” based on an algorithmic selection of songs in another user’s library. Larner says compared with similar music services that are essentially static, Rdio offers an incredibly dynamic and changing environment to discover and listen to music in. “[The social element is] the core of what we’ve built…people want to discover new music through people,” says Larner.
But the less than one-year old Rdio knows gaining momentum in the online and mobile music space won’t be easy, especially with plans from Spotify and Sony’s Music Unlimited to enter the already-packed U.S. market soon. “It’s certainly a competitive environment. There are lots of players out there,” Larner concedes. Based on Compete scores in 2010, Rdio took only a tiny slice of an online music consumption pie that was largely occupied by YouTube and Pandora. The fact that Rdio even made the chart, though, having only logged a few months activity last year, certainly bodes well. “I think as more and more people use [Rdio], they’ll see why we’re unique in terms of social discovery and the things we’re doing with Twitter,” says Larner.
The biggest focus for Rdio now, like most startups, is in mobile. 72% of Rdio’s user base have signed up for the $9.99 a month Unlimited account that allows web and mobile access to the service. While iOS and Android have been the main focus, Larner mentions a new Rdio app for Windows 7 and says they’re looking at other platforms.
Larner says the company sees the future road map in terms of a long haul. “[It’s] a long process, but we believe we’ll be successful.”