BBM Music goes live, here’s why it sucks

After a beta period spanning a few months, RIM’s music service, BBM Music, is now live. For five bucks every month, you can fully realize the poor taste of your friends, or at least the few that still own a BlackBerry and are also willing to subscribe.

Let me walk you through how it works, because it’s just a little stupid. First off, the streaming music service is available solely on a BlackBerry smartphone – there’s no web or desktop client. Even secondary sharing is practically nonexistent, with no options to even manually share tracks to Facebook, let alone automatically update the live feed with what I’m listening to like Spotify or Rdio does. Secondly, instead of having on-demand access to the service’s entire library of tracks, you pick 50 songs for your personal collection (25 of which can be swapped out monthly) and include whatever your friends have added to theirs. Tracks that you stream are automatically cached locally, even if you don’t want them eating up space on your SD card or local storage, though you can empty the trash through the settings menu. Selection is decent, spanning all the big labels like Sony, EMI, Warner, and Universal, but I’ve had access to more than a few tracks revoked, presumably due to licensing issues. You can also have songs in your playlists removed if the contributing BBM Music contact axes it from their collection, which effectively forces you to ditch one of your own to replace it if you still want to play that song. That’s really the crux of the whole service; you don’t pick your music, your friends do.

For an app that prides itself on being social, there are an awful lot of gaps. For example, BBM Music fails to emulate a native media player function which updates your BlackBerry Messenger status with the track you’re listening to. There’s a commenting system for individual tracks, which is where most of the socializing happens, but any kind of rating or “like” system still isn’t in place, which would certainly help the discovery process. While you can add BBM contacts through BBM Music and vice versa, there are no discovery mechanisms for people (i.e. No way to find folks with similar tastes than you). BBM Music profiles don’t even show which tracks that person has selected, so you have to go through the whole friend request rigamarole before finding out if you actually want access to somebody’s music at all. What this ultimately leads to is a social network where everybody is blindly adding as many strangers to their “friends” list as possible solely to expand their collection, and then having to manually prune the noise by blocking or skipping tracks as they come up in your shuffle. Once the trial periods dry up, I suspect BBM Music contacts will become a scarce commodity you’re required to hoard in order to fully make use of a service you’re already paying for, rather than a doorway to new friendships facilitated by common musical tastes.

I’ve been using BBM Music since slightly before the open beta launched, and honestly, I can’t fathom someone willing to spend $5 every month for it, but unwilling to spend $10 for an infinitely better service, like Rdio, SpotifySlacker, or anything else in that league. These are services that let you listen to whatever you want, whenever you want, whereever you want, and have social sharing as a welcome option, not a mandatory element to make use of the service. The only way I could imagine salvaging BBM Music is if the free account would give full access to the music library of 5-10 subscribers, and you don’t get any of your own. Maybe limit the number of weekly plays, or toss in ads between songs if they really need to generate some freemium revenue. As is, free accounts give you 30-second snippets of songs.

While I’m glad to see RIM trying something new, BBM Music is conceptually flawed in that instead of making socializing a desireable by-product of the music-listening experience, they’re reducing subscribers to little more than collectible resource buckets that are arbitrarily forming connections just to get the most bang for buck. In any case, if you’ve got a BlackBerry, and you’re based in the U.S., Canada, or Austrlia, you can sign up for a 60-day trial period over here.

  • Love the title.

  • Sucks indeed

  • Sucks indeed

  • Sucks indeed

  • Peter Cebo

    Question – how many unique songs do you actually listen to each day? Each week? Month? Year? Count them, I dare you. Then tell me that 50 songs is not enough for $5/month. And as for other services giving you access “anywhere, anytime?” When’s the last time you were somewhere, at sometime, without your smartphone?

    Now, I do agree with the fact that this is going to turn into everyone just adding as many “friends” as they can. However, the point is through doing that, perhaps they will discover people with similar tastes. Even better, maybe they’ll discover people with “different” tastes… that turn out not to be so different after all. The point is that you discover music through friends.. or quasi-friends 🙂

    Most people’s BBM lists are comprised of their close friends, so it’s cool to see what your close friends are listening to and to give each other ribbings about stupid songs in each other’s playlists or commend your friends for having good taste.

    As for having to manually “sort.” I like the “ignore song” and “ignore all songs by this artist” options for sorting. Simple, easy, and it works.

    And if you’re the type of person who adds 200 people to your friends list just so that you have access to 10,000 songs, great. Again, I’d be interested to know how many unique songs you listen to.

    The service isn’t for everybody – but I really like the social aspect of it. If I want to listen to my music, I listen to my music. If I want to hear something different, I hit “shuffle all” and glance at my phone for one of two reasons – so that I know which one of my friends to laugh at (and ignore the song), or to add a song to one of my playlists so that it’s ready for when I want to listen to “my music” again. Show me another service that can do that.

    • (It’s probably worth disclosing that you work at RIM. 😉 )

      Well, I’ve got 2000 songs in my personal library. At three minutes a pop, on average, that works out to 100 hours of music. Assuming I listen to music two hours a day, that would give me 50 days of unique listening, or close to two months. I didn’t pay a dime for the music. At that rate, I’d blast through my personal 50 songs on BBM music in little over a day, after which I’d be treading the less certain waters of my contacts’ collection.

      As for location, I might have my phone with me all day, but I spend the majority of my time in front of a PC. It’s much more convenient keeping an eye on tunes in an open browser tab, or better yet, through built-in keyboard media controls. If I’m streaming from my phone, not only do I have to keep it charging, I’m also switching my headphones to PC whenever I watch a browser video. On top of that, if you’re within the U.S., you’ve got Rdio offering ad-free, on-demand, immediately sociable music without a subscription for browser users.  Maybe it’s a different story if you’re on the move all the time, but in that case you probably won’t be streaming two hours every day for battery life concerns. 

      I see how on paper the friendly ribbing would make for an interesting social network, but in practice, I barely have the inclination to skip bad songs, let alone dive in and block them or comment on them. Music is what I play in the background while I’m doing stuff, and should demand as little of my attention as possible once it’s started to roll. Even if I have the time to comment, do I really want to be the jerkface telling people their music sucks? And what about the other side of the coin – do I really want to pay $5/month for the opportunity to be publicly mocked? Incidental social music discovery is great and all, but when other peoples’ collections depend on my taste… That’s probably more pressure than building a music library should be worth. 

      • fcebook fiend

        Suffice it to say you are likely not the typical BBM user. The BBM users I know do share, share, share…. and this is a logical extension of their interconnectivity. Not only are these BBM types interested in what their friends are doing but also willing to share insights and experiences to expand their worlds… much like penpal did in days gone by when those contacts open windows to the world. I believe this BBM Music service will be at least moderately successful for just that reason. There are after all two major groups of BB users. The corporate techy types who are all business and the ones who use the BBM as a cost effective way to stay connected and communicate with friends. The latter are the  majority and because of costs concerns in the third world or among students, often the fastest growing. 
        The other issue with BBM Music is that it is cloud based and open. As the world turns toward this way of storing and retrieving information this approach will be more accepted. The other advantage is that many BB users are world travellers and will find this method of staying in touch convenient, so even the first type of user may eventually migrate to this application, or one very similar to it that does not involve music. Remember that the iPhone evolved from the music iPod player.

      • How do (did) you know Peter Cebo is a RIM employee?

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