MSpot Adds 'Radio' Music Discovery to Online Music Locker: Hands On

MSpot, a service that has until provided a storage locker for a user's music files, is entering the music discovery business by providing access to streaming music stations, curated by both in-house DJs and algorithms.

The update to mSpot Music, called Radio Spotter Beta, goes live Thursday morning as a free Web and Android application. It will allow the company to provide a challenge to both Pandora and Slacker, two popular streaming services that also create channels based upon types of music, artists, or specific songs.

According to Daren Tsui, the chief executive of mSpot, Radio Spotter Beta service will be the first to offer access to both stored content that a user uploads, as well as discovery of new music based on what the user actually listens to.
Users can still upload 5 Gbytes of music to the service for free; users can also pay $3.99 per month for 40 gigabytes of storage space. New paid tiers will be added in the coming days, Tsui said.

mSpot is competing against services like Amazon's Cloud Player, which also offers 5 Gbytes of storage for free (and a total of 20 Gbytes with the purchase of an MP3 album) and Google's Music Beta, which will store about 20,000 songs for free. MP3Tunes and ZumoDrive offer 2-Gbytes of storage for free, and MP3Tunes is offering invitations for 10 Gbytes; SugarSync also offers 5 Gbytes for free, plus paid plans.

"We are focused on bringing users more of a great listening experience, such as complete lyrics, prefetching the next song on the playlis. with the introduction of radio, this is where we're headed," Tsui said. "We don't need to compete with them on price."

mSpot will either stream the music at a reduced bitrate to minimize user bandwidth and allow more songs to be stored on the service, or allow a user to download a song directly to his or her device at the original bitrate. Users have a choice to vary the bitrate, although the options are well hidden in the Web-based uploader; mSpot transcodes the files to AAC+, and then the user can either upload them in "Good" (48kbps AAC+), "Better" (64kbps AAC+), or "Best" (96kbps AAC+).

mSpot's Radio Spotter Beta then "listens" to what a user plays, and determines which existing streaming radio stations a user should listen to, whether it be ones that already exist on the Web, several DJ-created channels, or automatically generated ones.

The company has actually had a streaming radio service since 2005, providing white-label services for carriers like AT&T, Tsui said.

Radio features

The addition of radio sucks up one of four tabs on the Android application - the one formerly occupied by "Songs," so that the only way to search for a specific song is to tap the "Search" magnifying glass. Tapping "Radio" brings up four options: suggested stations, mSpot's in-house radio, Internet radio, and Personal Radio.

Both the mSpot Radio and Internet Radio choices are similar. For the former, mSpot created 80 to 85 commercial-free stations, using in-house DJs; choices range from "The 10 Spot feat. Lady Gaga" and "College Battle of the Bands" to the standard channels devoted to different flavors of Latin, jazz, dance, and alternative. Overseas influences are represented by Bollywood, French, and Canadian channels; there apparently aren't any U.K. channels yet.

The Internet Radio choices all appear to be "powered by mSpot," and they also run the gamut of different genre choices. Don't expect to find your local radio station here in a streaming format, at least not yet.

Some channels show the album cover; a smaller number of songs includes a small "lyrics" icon that displays the song's full lyrics. all of the channels I tried didn't show the next song in the queue, as some of the other music services do.
Personal Radio is accessed one of two ways: either by tapping the icon itself, or else tapping the "radio" icon above a song in the user's library. Either method launches an algorithm-driven personal radio, either generated by the songs a user has actually listened to, Tsui said, or else by the specific song and artist. In a nod to convention, a user gets six "skips" to the next song per day. "Every time they skip, I gotta pay" the license fee, regardless, Tsui said.

"We won't say that we're never doing ads, but we have no plans right now," Tsui added.
For now, users can't cache the streaming radio music, as Slacker does, although they can cache their own music. Tsui said he'd be open to adding the caching feature as a paid feature. mSpot also precaches the next song in a playlist.
Inputting one song from 80's electronica band The Art of Noise generated a passable list of music that had some common themes. Songs authored by San Francisco mashup maestros A+D and their pals utterly baffled mSpot's algorithms, as did Meade Lux Lewis's "Honky Tonk Blues," a classic piano blues number. But Electric Light Orchestra's "Fire on High" brought up an ELO-dedicated station, as expected, and recommended two of mSpot's classic-rock channels that had recently played the song.
mSpot's library runs into the hundreds of thousands of songs, Tsui said.

May 26, 2011