Songza Effect: Google’s streaming music service just became a whole lot more interesting

Songza ($15 million) vs Beats ($3 billion). Google continues to make smaller acquisitions. With music streaming service Songza, Google buys a company known for hand curated playlists. Customers are loyal. Will they buy-in to Google's new vision?

Songza Music Streaming
Songza: Let the service know what you’re doing (walking up, hosting a cocktail party, video gaming) and the music streaming service plays hand-curated playlists to suit the occasion.

Songza is, by far, my favorite streaming music service. Before that, it was Pandora – still decent, but stagnating somewhat thanks to a handful of innovative new services challenging its once unique algorithms. Now that Google has acquired Songza, its all-access music service ($9.95/month) all of a sudden looks far more interesting.

What separates Songza from the competition is its hand curated playlists. When I previously wrote about the service a while back, I wasn’t convinced that human touch was absolutely involved. A friendly Tweet from the company later confirmed that, yes, indeed it was (“all playlists are made by music experts, we’re algorithm free”). After spending almost two years with Songza (and several more with Pandora), it became evident over time: Songza gets it right.

There’s an Internet radio station called Radio Paradise. You can go to their web site and stream it free. The station is also available through services such as Sonos. Listen to RP, and you get that warm and fuzzy. Part of that has to do with a real, live DJ; every few songs (and sometimes not for several more) he or she smoothly intro’s the next tracks, or makes an interesting observation about an artist or music trend. After you’ve listened to a station like that, and then go to, say, a classic rock stream on Pandora, the difference between random algorithms and thoughtfully organized playlists becomes more obvious.

Word is Google may in fact fold Songza into some sort of new streaming music offering based on YouTube. I’m not sure how that might work, or why it would make sense to tie music to a video hosting service – then again, music videos are still a pretty big deal, even in 2014, so combining the two into a visual-oriented app could leapfrog others, notably Amazon, Spotify and Apple if Google has its way.

Where Songza ends up at Google is less important than the fact that it has bought a service that puts its listeners first. Search Twitter or the web in general for “Songza” and you’ll discover a very loyal customer base. Whether it becomes part of its “All Access” unlimited subscription service or a new YouTube branded offering, I’d put it number one on my list of best music services (pending hands-on when all comes to fruition in the coming weeks). Play Music is already an excellent app that does well to organize an existing (cloud or locally stored) music library while providing access to various playlists and a music store. Combining that with Songza could very well be a slam dunk.

Google, of course, has other ideas.

Yes, it wants to feed us good stuff. As we’ve learned that doesn’t come without a price, figurative and otherwise. If we’re to benefit most from its web-based services and products, we’re going to, wittingly or not, be feeding the company more (and more) personal information. As others have noted, in the case of Songza, that means letting Google know at any given moment how we feel (sad, motivated, melancholy) and what we’re doing (working out at the gym, video gaming with friends, hosting a cocktail party). That’s because each time we use Songza, we’re providing real-time feedback. The service in turns uses this information to provide relevant tunes. As I’ve discovered–I’ve been using Songza since 2012–it works remarkably well.

EMAIL FROM SONGZA 7/3/2014

Dear Clint,

Great news: today Songza is officially joining Google. We can’t think of a more inspiring company to be part of in our quest to provide the perfect soundtrack for everything you do. Read more about it on Songza Daily.

You can absolutely keep using Songza as usual (we aren’t planning any immediate changes — other than making Songza faster, smarter, and even more fun to use).

To continue providing you with the same service after we join Google, we’ll be updating our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

In the meantime, we’ll be walking on sunshine.

– Team Songza

Imagine what Google can do now with something like Songza in its arsenal.

It already knows what we’re searching for on the web (Google Search).

It often knows where we’re physically located (Google Maps).

It knows what information we need at any given moment (Google Now).

And, now, it will know how we feel, and what we’re specifically doing (beyond, say, just walking, driving, sleeping or eating).

Rocket science this is not: Google will be able to further target ads with pinpoint accuracy. That will please advertisers; which will in turn not only draw more of them to the platform, but also increase advertising rates (if, as I predict, click-through rates increase).

For many this will be another huge turn-off. Down with Google! I want my privacy!

While I understand the concern–without watchdogs where would we be as a society?–I’ve knowingly jumped in feet first.

I just spent four days in Portland on a mini, working vacation. With Google Maps, Google Now, and Yelp, it was amazing how effectively I could be steered to the best and most interesting parts of this eclectic and friendly city. Thanks to the “cloud” I was able to find a stellar sushi spot (Bamboo Sushi), James Beard communal dining (Le Pigeon), quirky/trendy sugar experiences (Voodoo Doughnut and Salt & Straw), cultural spots (Portal Museum of Art), an awesome new musical (blood-soaked Lizzie at Portland Center Stage) and a nifty little shop where I bought a Panama (The Hat Shop on 23rd). All of this from my Nexus 5 (and its woeful battery life that necessitates carrying a power brick to juice it mid-day). All of this contextual discovery was because I had given up some of my personal information. In exchange I was getting value added information. That’s a somewhat fair bargain. I say “somewhat” because I think part of the concern at large is that we don’t know what exactly companies are sniffing and ultimately lifting from our phones. There’s a distinct lack of transparency (and honesty). Over time I hope that improves.

Meanwhile, if you’re a music junkie like me (I listen to background tracks, usually stuff like Vangelis, in the office all the time, and more energetic stuff like Green Day at the gym, and rock 80s like Honeymoon Suite on the road), music streaming services are getting a whole lot more interesting. In an industry once dominated by Apple and its pay-per-track model (and now its recent Beats purchase), Spotify, Amazon (and its new Prime Music offering), and now Google with its Songza purchase, the next wave is upon us.

I’m in a coffee shop in Portland on a cloudy morning.

I’m in a relaxed mood.

I’m drinking a Latte, nursing a bagel.

This calls for some Echo & the Bunnymen.

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