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, Spotify, Slacker, 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.