MSpot Hopes to Thwart Cloud Music Titans with Unique Radio/Locker Service

As some of the biggest tech companies in the world, Amazon, Apple and Google, attempt to solve the cloud music riddle, mSpot — which has offered a cloud music locker since last year — has a new answer.

On Thursday, the company unveiled a one-of-a-kind music service called mSpot Radio Spotter, which streams customized streaming radio stations a la Pandora based on the contents of users’ music lockers and their listening habits.

For once, Android users are first in line. For now, you can only stream these stations to MSpot’s new Android app, also released today. MSpot CEO and co-founder Daren Tsui told in advance of the release that once the kinks are worked out, mSpot Radio Spotter will be available to web and iPhone users as well.

And all of this — the storage locker and the radio stations — is free, for up to 5GB of online storage. You can upgrade to 40GB for $4 per month.

“We all know that streaming radio is very popular — Pandora and — and more recently, there’s been this growing demand for cloud-based music, and consumers are trying out the Google and Amazon services,” said Tsui via phone. “We, of course, have been out for a year, but we haven’t seen anyone else combining radio with cloud music. This new version of the mSpot version is exactly that.”

MSpot Radio Spotter includes personalized radio stations for each user based on what they’ve uploaded and how often they listen to it using a homegrown algorithm. The company also created over 80 genre-based stations and also indexes hundreds of streaming version of FM stations from around the country, as well as user-created Icecast stations.

MSpot tracks what those stations are playing and matches you up with the best ones for you, based on what’s in your locker, what you’re listening to at the moment, and your play history. So in addition to the Pandora-style personalized radio, so you get a lot of other listening options — and not only do you get the storage locker feature offered by Amazon and Google, but the more you upload and stream songs, the better your radio stations and recommendations should get.

But wait, isn’t mSpot worried about the huge companies listed at the top of this article raining on its parade? Tsui parried each of their attacks (and in Apple’s case, it’s potential attack).

“The Amazon service is more about shuffling music up and down to different devices — basically, it’s a ‘dumb’ locker,” explained Tsui. “It’s all about storage. We focus more on the experience — there are lyrics for the songs you’re listening to, and this integration… with the radio feature. You’re also listening to music that you may not possess, which is a much more holistic experience.

“And we do progressive downloads of the songs so you can take your songs offline if you’re on an airplane, and we cache the next song so you have a gapless experience. You can tag entire playlists for offline playlists.”

(He means the songs you have stored in your locker, not the streaming radio songs, which are streaming-only.)

What about Music Beta by Google?

“It’s about the same [as Amazon],” said Tsui. “We’re going to be doing more features along the same lines, and it’s not clear to me whether Google and Amazon have the same intention, or whether they’re content to have a generic music locker service.”

And what about Apple’s cloud-based music service, potentially called iCloud, which many anticipate will be launched at Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference on June 6?

“The mirroring feature that you talked about — we call it ‘scan and match’ — it’s a good user experience, because if I have 1500 songs, it would take me hours to upload those,” conceded Tsui. “But it appears that Apple may charge for this particular service. I don’t know that there’s a free tier with Apple, and we feel that folks still need to be educated on the value of a music service like mSpot. If [Apple offers] a 30-day trial, [it will] end up alienating a lot of users… I think that’s a big miss by Apple, if that’s the way they’re planning to do this.”

None of this matters if music fans default to a service from a big player they’ve heard from before, but as the success of Pandora has shown, it is possible for a start-up to beat once-bigger players to the punch.

May 26, 2011