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MOG looks and sounds good, but has big gaps

New subscription service offers on-demand streaming of more than six million songs for $5 a month. It's got some great features, but gaps in song selection are too big to ignore.

MOG offered me a free trial to its subscription-based streaming music service, MOG All Access, which launched on Tuesday. The service costs five bucks a month, and gives you unlimited on-demand streams of more than six million songs from all four major labels and plenty of indies. The site is trying to differentiate itself from competitors like Rhapsody and Napster with high-quality streams--all songs are 320kbps MP3s--and some fairly sophisticated music discovery features, like playlists posted by musicians (David Byrne got the featured spot on the day of launch) and other fans with similar tastes to yours ("Moggers like me").


I've been sampling the service for about an hour, and I do appreciate the sound quality (although better volume-leveling between songs would be nice) and recommendation services. And I'd like to thank the designers personally for the ability to add any song to the already-playing queue--a feature I love on Grooveshark and my Zune HD and that I always miss whenever I use one of my iPods. But there's one big problem: song selection.

Because MOG is licensing content directly from copyright owners, there are big gaps from artists who simply don't want to participate in online music. The usual suspects like AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, and the Beatles are mostly missing in action. There are also strange gaps elsewhere. For instance, half the songs on the Pixies' "Surfer Rosa" are unplayable. Compared with Grooveshark, which relies on user-posted content, MOG has too many holes. And of course, Grooveshark remains free (although a $3/month subscription gets you a version without advertisements).

Song selection could improve over time as MOG signs more licensing deals, but I found some other related glitches as well. For instance, '70s folk artist Roy Harper, whom I often use as a test case to see how well an online service does with relatively obscure old content, has almost no playable content, but does offer a nice list of albums with links to Amazon. The only problem: when you follow the Amazon link on unplayable songs, it takes you to the Amazon Music front door--most of his songs aren't available for download there, either.

In its demonstration video, MOG touts its online radio service as a unique feature. When you're playing a particular artist, a slider lets you control how much variety you want, from "play only songs by this artist" all the way up to "play mostly songs from similar artists." It could use some fine-tuning, however. When I started a queue with a Modest Mouse song, it used Modest Mouse as the basis for its selection. Fair enough, but when I added songs by Talking Heads and Public Image Limited, the radio algorithm didn't account for those artists. It simply switched my radio playlist completely when the new songs started playing, showing all Talking Heads songs, all PIL songs, and so on. Pandora and Slacker do a much better job of creating custom stations based on multiple artists. (Although, of course, those services don't let you play individual songs on demand.)

Finally, as I wrote last week, I still think MOG's lack of mobile support is a fatal flaw, but one that could be easily remedied: Apple's approved iPhone clients for subscription services Rhapsody and Spotify, so why not MOG?

All of these flaws can be fixed, although licensing content takes time and convincing. I'm a big fan of competition, though, and MOG takes many of the best features of a lot of other services, combines them in one place, and improves on some of them. For that, the company should be commended.