I’ve been a paying customer of Rhapsody for so many years I can’t remember how long it’s been. I was a Yahoo Music customer when Real Networks bought them out. Yeah that long.
So as a heavy user of it, I have some things I super love and some complaints. It’s complaint day as Rhapsody is trying to push their ‘beta’ desktop design on users.
Here is the current look of Rhapsody on the desktop (click to enlarge):
It’s a fixed width, centred layout. It’s a bit cluttered, but the meat of what I’m doing is pretty easy to use. That’s the “mixer” on the right. It might be playing a playlist or just some songs you queued up.
Most importantly the controls are in a good spot. That’s a place my mouse is likely to have been left and can easily go. Compare that to their new beta design (click to enlarge):
It’s taking up 100% of my 32″ HDTV that’s my computer monitor. And the controls? Bottom right. That’s not a place my mouse is very often.
My mouse WILL head to the bottom right to engage in Google Chats (aka Hangouts). But guess what. Hangouts rules the z axis, and when I have a chat open, it’s on TOP of the controls. So every time I want to adjust my music, I have to hide or close my chats, then deal with Rhapsody, then open the chat back up.
Even without considering chatting, the far bottom corner of any screen seems like a tough spot to put oft-used controls.
I wish I could return to the old design. Since writing this post just before Christmas, they sent the new design live. Nobody can switch back.
Today we step briefly away from UX to talk music. Why? I have a degree in music, I’m a musician, and sometimes, I like to talk about music. Join me!
I remember the Joan Baez song, “Diamonds and Rust,” from my childhood. Our family owned that album, and it was a great song. I think it more than inspired Sarah McLachlan’s, “Ice.”
What I don’t understand are the cover songs, which seem to fall into two categories. Heavy Metal covers of this hit folk-style song (whaaaaa?) and folk covers of it.
Neither should exist and here’s why.
Lots of songs make great cover songs… but not this one.
Lots of songs make great cover songs. All those general songs about love, loss, feelings, I gotta get you babe, etc… They are universal feelings and experiences, and they are written so generally that lots of people can identify. Songs by The Smiths made sense to me because I felt like that… even if I weren’t a British dude of ambiguous sexuality. Universal themes.
Diamonds and Rust is an incredibly specific song. It’s one person’s story about a very specific incident. It’s Joan Baez writing about the time her ex-boyfriend, Bob Dylan, called her and she ended up reminiscing somewhat bitterly about their years together. When Beyonce says you shouldn’t think you’re irreplaceable, and you can move out now, we can all say yeah, we’ve felt like that. But the story in Diamonds and Rust is detailed.
And EXTREMELY specific. Not that universal. I can’t identify with dating Bob Dylan. And before you think, “Well, couldn’t it just be a song about anybody being pissed off that an ex called them?” My answer is, not in this case. This song is really darn specific, which makes it less universal. She describes Bob Dylan in some detail. She walks through specific memories about him. It’s not written to be a general, “I dated this guy, it ended, and one day, he called me,” type of song.
Which is why hearing Rob Halford shout it is so odd
I am not sure why Judas Priest metal-fied this slow, acoustic guitar song. I don’t think Rob Halford dated Bob Dylan, and I don’t think Bob Dylan called Rob Halford one day to create bittersweet memories. Priest also took out the whole bridge where she walks through some good (and very specific) memories. Why?
This caused other metal acts to then cover the song. Double ugh. Has anybody read the words to this? Do you understand the story you’re telling? Based on my understanding of metal, this is not a metal song.
This song should be left in the original form. It’s perfect as one woman’s very specific set of feelings and memories about very specific real occurrences. It’s not the type of song people will hear and be like, “Yeah! I’ve felt that way,” unless they are thinking, “Yeah! I’ve felt that way… when the guy I dated was a famous disheveled-looking dude who thought I was a bad poet and bought me unmemorable gifts but I remember a time when snow was falling on us in New York City and I was so in love.”
I love Rhapsody. I swear by it. I’ve been paying for it so long, I was paying for it when it was Yahoo Music. Years and years. I think everything pales in comparison. iTunes and Spotify can suck it compared to my Rhapsody.
I like the phone app. It’s easy to search, work with my playlists, and grab songs I feel like hearing in the moment. When I’m playing a song, it looks like this (click to enlarge):
If I want to get back to my playlist, I hit the bottom right icon of horizontal lines. The album art flips around to reveal my playlist, which I can scroll (click to enlarge):
But their tablet app needs a serious redo.
I would LOVE it if the Rhapsody tablet app were just a giant version of their phone app. Really. It’s that good. I don’t need a special “tablet experience” here. But someone decided I did. Here is what it looks like if I’m playing the same playlist, and happen to search for artist Midge Ure (click to enlarge):
The table app forces landscape mode. I use my tablet nearly 100% in portrait mode. So the whole thing swivels just for Rhapsody. I’d like to be able to use it in the portrait orientation.
My playlist is a tiny bacon strip down the side. Tiny bacon strip!
In the phone app, when I’m looking at a play list, I can long press on a song to get a “right click menu” style menu of options about that song. Add to library, add to a playlist, remove from the play queue, more from this album, more from this artist, and share. Very useful! When I long press on a song in the Bacon Strip in the tablet, NOTHING. No menu. Nothing happens. That’s inconsistent with the phone experience, and it’s removing features I use all the time.
Did you notice something else missing? The timeline or whatever you call the module that shows I’m 12 seconds into a 3:09 song. That slider lets me jump to any point in the song. It’s in the phone app. Not in the tablet app. I can’t jump to a specific point in a track on the tablet.
Once upon a time, a guy who worked for Real was considering having me work on the Rhapsody app. That would have been WONDERFUL. I welcome the challenge. But weeks later, Rhapsody was bought by MTV Networks, and I never heard from the guy again. I would LOVE to work on this tablet app and make it better. It should at least be as good as the phone app, and with the extra real estate, why can’t it be remarkable… especially with competition from Spotify and other music apps.
When you get to a Starbucks, you have to agree to terms to log into the free wifi. You’re then dumped on a screen that I’ve never cared about until one day when I screen shot this screen I got after logging in (click to enlarge):
I suddenly noticed it was telling me where I was and what song was playing there. Yes, that’s true. “I Believe” by Stevie Wonder was playing. I have no idea if each Starbucks has different music or the same music at the same time. But I thought that was cool, especially for people wondering what they are hearing.
I like making my own coffee at home. 🙂 But I like that Starbucks is anticipating that you might wonder what you are listening to. And when you hit this page again to answer that, they have a shot at getting your attention for some of their other content.
Duran Duran’s “Rio” album is a classic, and not just because it was profiled by the TV show, “Classic Albums.” It produced a pile of hits and changed what people did with music videos. If you actually listen to the good mixes of the songs, they are fun and catchy. Each instrument stands out, and you’ll notice things you may not have before, like what an amazing bass player John Taylor is.
Sure, you thought John Taylor was pretty back in the 80s, but did you know he can really play. If you’re not sure if he can play, just YouTube all the people trying and failing at playing his basslines. OK, this guy does a good job explaining it, but start the video 1:36 in. And if you’re really bored, you can get into researching the bass players I think influenced Taylor the most, Mick Karn of the British band “Japan” and Bernard Edwards of the funk/disco band, “Chic.”
Why is it a UX case study? To me, UX is about delivering people the experience they want without them having to think or try. Music can do the same, especially when it’s released by a big record label who wants to convince lots of people to buy it.
The Rio album was released in the UK in May 1982, and eventually hit #2 on the charts there. The songs you might know from that album are, “Rio,” “Hungry Like The Wolf,” “Save A Prayer,” and “My Own Way.” Some will also know, “The Chauffeur,” especially if you were curious about videos that got banned on MTV back in the day.
But when Rio was released in the US, it didn’t do well at first.
This was back in the day when bands also put out 12″ singles of dance mixes both for fans and dance clubs. In September 1982, the record company compiled these new mixes, and released them on an EP called, “Carnival.” This did well in the clubs, so the record company started wondering how they could get Rio to do better in North America.
They asked the producer who did the dance mixes to remix the songs with the North American audience and dance club scene in mind. The result was some very different sounding songs. Compare them yourself if you want; the 2-disc “Collector’s Edition” of Rio contains both sets of mixes. Love them or hate them, you’ll agree the mixes are rather different.
Long story short, the North American re-releases of the remixed Rio eventually took the album to #6 on the US charts in 1983. In the US, the new mixes produced hit singles. “Hungry Like The Wolf” hit #3. Rio hit #14.
The amazing thing to me is that this is basically not done in music anymore. Nobody is putting out multiple versions of albums or singles to try to appeal to audiences in different countries. Yet it makes so much sense. You might create a website or app differently based on how you define the user personas, and those personas may be different by region or country.
So I say that the Rio album is an interesting study in the UX of Music. And it’s worth another listen. No matter what music you’re into. Nobody has to know what’s feeding into your headphones. 🙂
With all the work I do from home, I decided to re-subscribe to the SiriusXM web-based player. You can grab any channel from the web player, even channels not available on the radio I have in my car. OK, that sounds cool. Hundreds and hundreds of channels.
I don’t have a screen shot of the old UI, but it was very vertical. As you scrolled down through channels, it showed you what was on those channels. You could mark some as favourites, or just click to tune in. I used to be able to flip back to that window, eyeball what was on my fave channels, and tune into what I felt like hearing.
The new UI is painful. Every channel is represented by a small vertical bar about 1cm high and maybe 2mm wide. You have to slide your mouse on there, and stop on the channel that might interest you. You can’t see channel names, numbers, or what’s playing until you run your mouse over it. No idea what’s on my fave channels, though they are marked pink so I can find them in an endless sea of lines. Click to enlarge:
The black box around my cursor doesn’t show up in reality. That’s some weird screen shot artifact. But you can see how big the lines are compared to my cursor. They only grow and pop out once the mouse is on them.
Ow. Not easy to use. Doesn’t help me see what’s on my fave channels. If I want to tune into another channel, I have to go find the tiny bar and click it. I often accidentally click on the bar next to it since they’re so small. Enough said. Super ugh.
Part of the user experience is customer support, and part of that is your hold music. Last week, I was on hold for Quickbooks for about a half hour. That’s a lot of time to listen to hold music and have a certain experience.
This was the most depressing music I’ve ever heard. Minor-keyed, slow-moving symphonic movements. Depressing bass clarinets. Old standards done in electric pianos. Horrible. I would hang up if Quickbooks worked as promised, and I didn’t need to use it right now.
In the 1990s, I used a long distance phone company called Working Assets. Their whole angle was that a percentage of your monthly bill was given to green charities. That sounded good to me at a liberal, liberal arts college. Whenever I used to call them for support or issues, the ONLY song their on-hold played was Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.” You’d know that song as the musical vehicle that reminds you over and over that everybody must get stoned.
But back to Quickbooks. Why am I on hold for 25 minutes on the last mailing day for when quarterly payroll has to be mailed (I’m writing this on 30 October 2010)? Didn’t anybody think there may be more action today, and put more staff on? It’s an instant gratification world, and I don’t know why I’m on hold for a half hour.
My estimated hold time of 25 minutes was 35 minutes, and then the agent told me that the payroll department is off for the weekend. Again, today is the last day to mail in quarterly payroll reports and be on time. You’d think someone might being in some payroll support guys today.
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