Songza: So Long and Thanks for All the Lists

When Songza, a music streaming service powered by human curated playlists, was purchased by Google about 18 months ago, there was much speculation on what would become of it. Would it be left to operate as a standalone service or would it be absorbed into some limb of Google? We now have the answer.

Hold on. Back up.

Songza was a massive success in Canada with a user base of about 3 million people a month, a number equal to the number of users in all of the United States. Canadians loved Songza so much that the company set up a domestic office with a staff of half a dozen people, including me. I was the Head of Curation for Songza Canada, which meant I oversaw the creation of playlists by a team of curators. It was a helluva lot of fun.

But when the sale to Google was announced, all of us had a feeling that things were going to change–and they did. The Canadian office was closed and everyone was thanked for their service and sent on their way. Hey, it happens. Streaming music is still in its infancy, so change and disruption is inevitable.

(By the way, after I left Songza, I began to form a business relationship with Rdio which seemed to be going very well. Then they filed for bankruptcy last month. I’m trying not to take Strike Two personally.)

After the acquisition, it appeared to be business as usual for Songza. But behind the scenes, the Songza folk who went to work for Google were busy integrating Songza features and technology into the new Google Play Music. That integration is now complete.

Sign on to Google Play Music now and you’ll see some very Songza-like features. There’s the Concierge, a Songza feature that serves as an entry point into massive collection of playlists organized by activity, time of day and mood. Move a level deeper and you’ll inevitably find something that will fill your very specific and very individual need for music at that moment.

Google Play Music Web UI copyAll of Songza’s playlists–including, I assume, the dozens that my team helped create–have been ported over. They’ve been added to hundreds (thousands?) of playlists curated by Google’s humans and algorithms. Hit “play” and you’ve got the right music for the occasion. I’ve tried it out and it works as well as Songza did–which is to say very well.

Copy of GooglePlay-040-_37U6676

That’s the new “lean back” aspect of Google Play Music. The original “lean forward” version–the ability to manually dig through the service’s 35 million tracks and play songs as you see fit–is still there.

A big feature is a new ad-supported free tier. Anyone can log in and enjoy most of the features for free if they don’t mind the occasional commercial and the fact that you can’t skip a song more than six times an hour, a standard licensing condition that streamings services have to deal with, If you want access to all the features, it’s $9.99 a month, again, pretty standard.

But here’s something that’s new. What about occasions that don’t necessarily require music? Google Play Music will use Songza-like technology to recommend podcasts in the same way that it recommends songs.

For me–a heavy podcast user–this will be a very welcome feature. Frankly, I can’t be arsed to look for new podcasts beyond the five I subscribe to now. Who has time to sort through what’s available on iTunes in hopes of finding something that I might like? I certainly don’t. But if there was a Podcast Concierge to help me navigate through podcast that match my interests, I’m in.

Podcasters can start uploading content now as Google gets ready to roll out this part of the service in the first half of 2016.

GPM Podcast Uploads

So what does this mean for Songza? It’s time to ride off into the digital sunset.

As of January 31, Songza will cease to be. The website will go dark and the app will stop working. The challenge betwee now and then is to convince the millions of Canadian users (and an equal number of American fans) to convert to the new platform. Despite the similarities, it’s always tough to get consumers to change their habits and to learn how to navigate a new system. Google sources tell me that they’ll be thrilled if they manage to convince 50% of existing Songza customers to make the move.

But once you step back from the situation, you’ll see that this is not a big deal. Songza was available in exactly two countries: Canada and the US. Google Play Music is available in 60 with more on the way. Replacing the users lost through conversion attrition should be easy.

As sad as I am to see Songza go, this is a good thing. There are far, far too many players in the streaming music space and some consolidation is desperately needed. As long as the best features of Songza live on, there’s no need for it to be a standalone.

I just hope they find a good home for Sharkey.

Songza 3

 

 

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

3 thoughts on “Songza: So Long and Thanks for All the Lists

  • December 3, 2015 at 9:13 am
    Permalink

    Songza was so good to me – it actually lulls me to sleep each night. Right from day 1, when I typed in an obscure band and got a collection of incredible trip-hoppy playlists, I could tell it was thoughtfully curated by pros. To borrow a phrase from ABBA, Thank you for the music, Songza. Now, to re-create my collection of playlists through the Google Monster. (sigh)

    Reply
  • December 3, 2015 at 10:48 am
    Permalink

    thanks for making
    the Canadian
    Songza story so
    exciting Alan!
    the Canadian-curated
    playlists are fantastic.
    I’m happy to see
    Songza live on,
    and will give it
    a try on Google Play!
    thanks!!!!
    r

    Reply
  • December 3, 2015 at 12:35 pm
    Permalink

    This is a bit sad; my wife & I were huge fans of Songza… it just worked well. I didn’t use any other streaming apps, and I’ve tried a bunch. A lot of what I’m listening to now can be credited to Songza discoveries.

    It was cool you were a part of it too, Alan – which I knew – but I did not realize that the Canadian office had been closed as of Google’s acquisition. That’s unfortunate!

    But like you say, this is a good thing overall and I’m glad to see the best features rolled into Google play. I did want to see an ad-free premium version of Songza, so that will be a plus with Google, but still with the option to go free. Good stuff.

    We’ll have to make the transition at some point, but we’ll be Songza users right ’till the end!

    Reply

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