Some time in the last few days, browser-based music tool Yottamusic went kaput. For those of you who never saw it, the site was brilliant. Like the Rhapsody music service, Yottamusic featured all-you-can-listen music for a subscription fee, all playable in a cross-platform browser. (Yes, even Firefox for Linux worked just fine, thanks to a Firefox extension.) Unlike Rhapsody, Yottamusic had an interface that was actually attractive and usable, and synced plays to the music community Last.fm. Social features let you easily discover music via what other Yottamusic listeners liked — not a new idea, but powerful when integrated with a subscription music service. At least Yottamusic died a graceful death: playlists created on the site can be exported as XML and even uploaded to Rhapsody.com. A lot of websites may not go as gently into that good night, or, um, whatever.

yottaproto

getcha.info demonstrates why Yottamusic’s Web interface was good design, and Rhapsody’s was awful.

Now, some of this makes some sense. Yottamusic itself was a creation of Rhapsody. In fact, the logical next step would be to ditch Rhapsody’s clunky, obnoxious interface with animated album covers and whatnot, and learn from Yottamusic’s cooler social features and sleeker interface. Let’s see, did th– nope. Why kill bad ideas and maintain the good ones when you can do the reverse?

It’s hard not to feel like subscription-based music in general is not long for this world. MTV’s Urge, ironically the service that had been touted for having the best interface, was folded into Rhapsody last year. With the loss of Yottamusic, choices in general are poor. Yahoo Music has poor editorial content and selection and a painfully-clunky music player. Microsoft’s Zune subscription service is tied to that player; you can’t even download the software without a Zune of your own. And even Microsoft is pushing DRM-free downloads for Zune more than subscriptions these days. Rhapsody has Web compatibility, TiVo integration, better editorial, and better selection. But its Web interface is painful and sometimes unstable, and its music player has an overdesigned UI coupled with only bare-bones features. (It’s also still unsupported on Vista.) Napster, like Rhapsody, works in a Web browser, but has some interface and selection issues of its own. I’ve used these off and on, but to be honest, Yottamusic was the only site that really gave me a reason to keep up a Rhapsody subscription, the interfaces on these tools is so bad.

At least the good news is, DRM-free music is rolling along. Amazon.com’s MP3 store now has a whopping 2.9 million tracks, and niche stores like Beatport, Dance Tracks Digital, and the new Deutsche Grammaphon store will give you still more selection within a genre. (Apple has also been adding DRM content, but I can’t recommend the iTunes Music Store because it’s so hard to find that content.)

But I have to say, I’m at least a little sad to see subscription music services in such poor shape. Yes, the native players have worked only on Windows, and yes, people have complained about the DRM portable files from these sites employ. But I think when these services worked, it was as a self-programmed “radio station”, or as a way of sampling tracks and albums before buying without having to listen to short samples or downgraded audio. In either of those cases, you don’t really care about DRM because you don’t need to move the file, or even download it at all — streaming and Web interfaces have plenty of potential. The big difference, and the reason these services require the fee, is that they offered true, on-demand music. I still buy lots of music, but supplementing that with unlimited on-demand tunes is a good thing. Yottamusic proved that it was the implementation, not the concept, that needed to be revisited. For that, I’m sorry to see it go — and I really hope someone aside from me noticed how good it was.

Must-read, as far as the history of this stuff:

Interview with Yottamusic’s Luke Matkins [Getcha Info!]

  • Anu

    As a long-time reader of the site and someone who has been deeply involved with Rhapsody for a long time, I can tell you the situation with Yotta is much more complicated than your analysis/description makes it seem.

    I was sad to see Yotta shut down as well.

    Check out MOG's Rhapsody integration if you want something else.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Anu, I believe it's complicated … I just mean the end result is the same: one less option. As I said, I'd be happy to see Rhapsody apply some of the intelligence of Yotta to the rest of the site. In fairness, yes, even my uneducated external perspective on the situation suggests that this is internal Rhapsody politics/wrangling, not the death of subscription services. But it does NOT help strengthen subscription's model by any means.

  • Keebs

    Although I think subscription music in its current form may not be a viable option, I think paying a recurring fee for music is not. What I would love to see is record labels/whatever-you'd-call-this-new-entity that charge a monthly fee, but release some number of songs per month in high-quality drm-free format. I'd pay $5/month for 10 drm-free 320 kbps mp3s, even if I only liked half of them.

    Granted, there are some problems with this idea, the largest being that the label is much less motivated to find good music that people will pay for… because they're already paying for it. *shrug*

    There's gotta be a good way to implement this or some subscription service I think.

  • AudioLemon

    I would like to see a media subscribtion attached to my ISP subscribtion. Somewhere between €10 and €20 a month. I can chose various packages like Electronic and Rock or Pop and 80's… of course you would get a number of standard channels that feature ads for free.

    The more choice you want the more you pay. I would also like to have unlimited access to that media… on any digital device I have. This includes both streaming and download formats.

    I would also like to have a better music player. One version of IPOD has 160GB storage to me this signifies something has gone wrong.

    Ideally I would like a player that streams music whenever and wherever I want. Instead of using scrolling interfaces I would prefer to hum a tune, or quote a line of lyrics and be presented with a number of probable matches.

    Also if the player could automatically identify and retrieve any music that is played in my general vicinity. Very useful for finding out more about music.

    I think we are not in the future yet.