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Rhapsody's CMJ kickoff party: Indie rock and insider schmoozing

The ambitious iTunes rival, still struggling with the whole market share problem, throws a pre-CMJ party in New York. The shocker: people are impressed.

The National plays the 'Rhapsody Rocks NYC' concert on Monday night at the Highline Ballroom in Chelsea.
Caroline McCarthy/CNET Networks

NEW YORK--You've got to hand it to RealNetworks' Rhapsody. The subscription music service is pulling out all the stops to increase its market share--partnering with TiVo, entering a lofty deal with MTV Networks--and even if it hasn't been able to dent Apple's iTunes, Rhapsody hasn't been making itself look stupid in the process.

In fact, if the company's "Rhapsody Rocks NYC" concert here Monday night was any indicator, music aficionados are taking the company seriously.


Monday night was the eve of this year's CMJ Music Marathon, which runs from Tuesday through Saturday. While the Rhapsody concert wasn't actually affiliated with the festival, the timing was perfect for a company that's trying to reach out to influential music lovers--just about all of them were in New York for CMJ.

The show, held at the Highline Ballroom in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood, featured the Brooklyn-based indie rock act The National--one of those bands that tends to get extolled by indie guru blogs like Pitchfork Media and Stereogum--with openers American Babies, The Little Ones and Pela.

The Highline, coincidentally, is so close to the New York Googleplex that you could practically see Googlers' colorful lava lamps in the building's fourth-floor windows a block away.

The venue was packed, but the people there weren't the sorts who were looking to be seen, pick up dates or start a fight with some hipsters. It also wasn't a geekfest like the Rhapsody-TiVo party earlier this month; as a tech reporter who doesn't normally cover the music industry, I saw very few familiar faces, and there was no cadre of gossiping gadget bloggers clustered by the bar.

Rather, the people who showed up to Rhapsody's pre-CMJ event were the kinds of fans who would be talking about the "really decent" acoustics of the new venue, introduce you to some guy who'd been a bass player for a dozen years and was now creating a cool new digital-music start-up, or debate the merits of pay-per-song versus subscription-based download business models. (There's a lot you can say about that.)

And while there were undoubtedly plenty of concertgoers who doubted Rhapsody's chances as an iTunes competitor, they would still have to admit that the company is building up some street cred.

Rhapsody has an impressive roster of industry veterans on its executive team, knows how to assemble a lineup of bands that even the average "Pitchfork snob" wouldn't sneer at, and can bring in a fun crowd of people to a show in the process. Even if RealPlayer still sucks, that's saying something.

The music sounded pretty good, too.