Rara.com Offers Little to Cheer For

Don’t expect the deluge of streaming music services to stop anytime soon -- entrepreneurs, investors and music execs are still looking for the next big thing despite a healthy range of quality options already on the market. Entrepreneur Rob Lewis, who most recently launched the mobile technology firm Omnifone, is launching rara.com this week, with his eyes on conquering the mass market of music fans. It's a huge difference from services like Spotify that consider hardcore, digitally savvy audiophiles their primary consumers. Instead of gradually spreading from one small country to another like Spotify did, Rara is launching in 18 big-money markets this week, including the U.S., U.K. and China, backed by the four major labels and touting a relatively cheaper pricing scheme than its main competitors, with no free option, for a limited time. But you get what you pay for. After spending time with it, you get the sense that Rara is a watered down, unimaginative and straight-up tacky way to listen to music.

First off, the interface for Rara is inspired by Windows Media Player circa ’95. You can change the background image “visualizer” very easily, but every option seems more painful than the last. More importantly, the music discovery options are limited and vague. Users can pick stations based on “Best of” lists, overarching genre categories like “Pop” and “Rock,” and moody ones like “Vibin’” or “Manic Monday.” You can create custom playlists and “heart” songs, and although it’s not tightly integrated with Facebook like Spotify, you can manually share what you are listening too. It’s all been done better before.

Despite launching with over ten million songs, indie labels are left out, which reflects the mass-versus-niche market dichotomy Rara is banking on. Merlin CEO Charles Cadas, whose label roster includes Domino and Cooking Vinyl (representing Adele and other big-named artists), slammed the service for considering the indie market (one-third of all music) an afterthought. “I am truly astounded that any company could still be so absurdly arrogant and short sighted as to ask consumers to spend good money on what is an incomplete and inherently inferior product to many that are already in the market,” he said to Music Week. But perhaps their market is consumers unaware of the market: Rara will be soon be bundled with new HP computers, meaning many people inexperienced with digital music services may actually hop on board. But a quick Google search from anyone curious in doing some market research will quickly be pointed to a better product. Tag 'beta' on this thing fast, and start over guys.