Mog is one of the more promising of the new breed of music streaming services poised to change the music industry. But has it achieved that elusive mix of ingredients that will enable it to be the first true breakthrough service of its type, and one that satisfies both consumers and labels alike? TMV’s Chris McLellan and Cassandra Callais take a look….
US Streaming Services – Clouds Gathering?
These are interesting times for US music subscription services. Spotify, Europe’s big streaming success story, has continued to grow, and at quite a pace. It now has over 7m users, mostly on its free ad-funded version, and is now set to repeat that success Stateside. However, at just 320K users, the uptake of its premium (£10/$16 per month) service has been quite slow, and increasingly we’re hearing mutterings from different corners of the music business that the foundations of the freemium-to-premium business model are starting to show cracks. Just recently, Edgar Bronfman Jr., CEO of Warner Music (who are one of Spotify’s investors, incedentally) remarked:
“Free streaming services are clearly not net positive for the industry and as far as Warner Music is concerned will not be licensed. The ‘get all your music you want for free, and then maybe with a few bells and whistles we can move you to a premium price’ strategy is not the kind of approach to business that we will be supporting in the future.”
So, where do comments like that leave the future of free, ad-based streaming in the US? Frankly, who the Hell knows, but it may indicate that the US market might not be the swish for Spotify that some were predicting, and it may mean that other, lesser-known brands will be able to exploit the gap and be first to discover streaming music’s financial (and popular) sweet spot.
Berkeley, California based Mog is the love child of West Coast digital music veteran David Hyman (formerly of Gracenote, MTV) and includes the likes of Rick Rubin among its board members. Mog recently raised $5 million, led by the venture capital firm Menlo Ventures, and now joins the likes of Rdio, Pandora and Rhapsody as part of the American contingent lined up to give Spotify a serious run for its money.
But does Mog have what it takes to be a serious, long-term contender in the world’s biggest music market?
Main Site & Navigation
Right away, Mog strikes one as a music lover’s service more than most others in its class, and it has a wealth of features that certainly make it stand out from the pack. Whether this level of complexity will be embraced by the silent majority of more casual music consumers remains to be seen to some extent, but there’s no question that this is a very well-designed site which has resulted from of a lot of hard thinking about music on the web. The core site navigation is done by 4 categories: Music; News & Reviews; Playlists and Username (houses Account, Inbox, profile etc). There is also a pop-out music player, but more on that later.
The homepage itself includes a substantial amount of music “Top 10” style lists, as well as copious editorial content, which is also broken down by genre, and this is definitely going to appeal to more serious music fans. The content (news, reviews etc) is generally laid out blog-style, some of which seems to be driven in partnership with Music Review, which, when fully-expanded to read full articles, can get slightly confusing since it offers its own navigation, essentially within an iframe of Mog. There are also lyrics available for over 3m songs, and blog posts about tracks from Mog users.
Overall, this is a feature-rich, well-designed site with a clear main navigation that offers a great deal to the serious music fan, and places Mog in clear contrast to the relative simplicity of services such as Spotify and Pandora.
Mog Music Player
The Mog Music Player itself (which, to balance the above comments regarding complexity, can be viewed as a pop-out from the main site) is exceptionally straight-forward and informative. Not only will you get album art and information on the song currently being played, but also options to view lyrics to the track (provided by Gracenote) and to purchase via Amazon.com. Mog also presents here its famous slide bar, which allows users to insert related artists to their queue. There are also buttons to add what you are listening to on Twitter and Facebook, and ‘thumbs up’ and ‘thumbs down’ buttons to ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ tracks – however, it’s a little unclear as to where all these thumbs actually end up or what they do.
If you happen upon a song that you like and you want to listen to the album, there is a link to do so next to the track name, making it easier to discover artists more in-depth. There is also a button to ‘save’ individual tracks or albums to your “library”, as well as the ability to save your current playlist for future use. Finally, there is a search button up top to add new tracks within the Music Player, creating a feeling of autonomy as you don’t even need the main website if you already know what you want to hear.
The search facility itself is extremely thorough and practical. The ‘FastSearch’ technology for the search bar makes the browser similar to that on your hard-drive or iTunes, only much faster. When a query is entered, options for artists, songs, albums and playlists are displayed. Within this box, hovering over a track presents the option to play it immediately, or queue it in your playlist, without even going to another page. It also expands options if you can’t find a particular artist or song, and there are a vast variety of ways to discover new music, if you want to go exploring.
The library of tracks, it has to be said, is remarkable, already at 6.5 million songs, and so there are very few things you won’t find. Also, the quality of the tracks is 320kbps, the highest quality available from any service.
The main feature that separates MOG from the rest of the pack is its unique radio feature. For those that don’t trust other users’ playlists, MOG creates unique lists for you with the radio option. In the pop-up player, above the queue of tracks you’ve selected, there is a slider that helps you determine what content to add to your playlist. At the left is ‘artist only’, which, if selected, makes a playlist based only on the artist you’re listening to, which is quite useful.
To the right is ‘similar artists’ which creates a Pandora-like station of similar artists. However, you don’t have to pick one or the other; gliding the button across the slider creates a different mix of tracks as you go along, making it more or less diverse between the selected artist and recommended artists. Mog are rightly very proud of such features which are indicative of true user- experience know-how.
Another effective feature is Mog’s ability to display the queue ahead for the radio and actually offer, it you’d like, to alter the order of play or remove tracks. That, combined with ‘no limit’ on the number of skips you can have, makes Mog extremely attractiv. Mmost services, such as Pandora, have limitations on skipping or don’t let you see the queue. It would be great to see an option for entering a few artists and generate a radio station that way, but still Mog’s is still a very dynamic radio player that can be manipulated in many ways to the user’s benefit.
There does not look to be any integration with live music listings, but no doubt this is something Mog is working on. It’s a great feature of sites such as Song Kick and Last.FM and surely this has been recognized. For now, blog-posts by other Moggers appear to be the best source for this sort of live music information.
Social Music Features
In this area we feel Mog might have a little way to go. Not that Spotify or Pandora are leaps ahead of them, by any means. There are, that being said, a few decent features such as sharing tracks via Facebook and Twitter, and the ability to add ‘Trusted Moggers’ (people whose playlists or comments you like).
There could be an argument that Mog should make it easier to find and add friends. For example, there’s nothing in the main nav for ‘community’ (or ‘My Moggers’, as it were), indicating there might be a lower priority for social features.
Also, we could not discover a Facebook app for Mog, but this does not make them unique in that respect. None of the big musicc streaming brands have done this well, if at all. When it’s only Microsoft Messenger that allows your friends to see what you’re listening to (on any given media player) then it’s definitely a sign that it’s time for the streaming services (Last.FM notwithstanding) to take social a little more seriously.
The Mog monthly premium service allows users to access their tracks on their mobile device. We were unable to review the mobile version at this time, but suffice it to say this is one feature that Spotify’s premium service does very well, with the ability to cache a couple hundred tracks to a PC or mobile for the times when you are offline. Mog would do well to take note here, as it is largely Spotify’s iPhone App that is driving the few premium subscriptions it has managed to recruit.
To Mog It Up, Or Not Mog It Up. Is That The Question?
There’s no doubt Mog and thier combo of music industry vets and enlightened developers are in the streaming music game to win. It’s a slick, sophisticated service with lot’s going for it. And we’ve saved the best for last: Mog’s unlimited web service costs just $5 per month compared to the $17-$20 charged by most other music services for unlimited streaming.
Adding Mog to your mobile device costs an additional $5 per month, so fans and critics need to take care to ensure they are comparing apples to apples when looking at Mog’s competitors . Spotify’s premium service in the UK, for example, gives users web+mobile+off-line caching for £10/$16, whereas Mog’s equivalent web+mobile proposition comes in at just $10 total price.
And this price-point is telling, as in our view, Mog’s very attractive $5 (web-only) premium service, along with the structuring of its deals with the majors and indie groups such as The Orchard and IODA will probably have a lot more to do with their eventual success or failure than any of the admirable features we’ve reviewed above.
Should be an interesting year in Berkeley.