In 2013, Bop.fm quietly launched a Web service that promised “free legit music you can share with anyone.” Now it’s taking that model to the mobile space.
On Tuesday, the company announced the launch of its first iOS app, allowing fans on either the iPhone or the iPad to listen to virtually song they wish, for free.
So how can the company pull this off without licensing fees? For now, through a loophoole with YouTube, which has struck deals with Vevo for licensed music. (Because of this loophole, Bop.fm became a breeding ground for bootlegs, like Soundcloud and Grooveshark.) But Bop.fm is much more than just a YouTube portal—it aggregates every streaming service you belong to, so that if Spotify has a song that Rdio doesn’t, you can listen to it without switching apps. Users can connect their YouTube, Soundcloud, Spotify, Rdio, Beats Music, Deezer, Xbox Music, and Rhapsody accounts, and play back a song from any of those services.
Shehzad Daredia, the co-founder of Bop.fm, wants his service to be the “canonical home on the Internet” for a particular song or artist, so that if you send a link to a song on bop.fm, it will simply play it—without asking you to sign up or subscribe. According to Daredia, users need Bop.fm more than they need a single service, both for the variety the aggregated services offer as well as a fallback in case your friend sends you a YouTube link and the video is down.
If you visit Bop.fm on the Web, you can get a sense for how it all works. There’s a list of the top hits, which the service will alter if you sign up and start listening to music. If you search for an artist like The Who, the service shows you an artist page and a list of the most popular tracks. By default, Bop.fm uses YouTube as the music source, with one interesting caveat: on the Web, videos like Pink’s “God is a DJ” will pop up ads for related videos on Vevo, the music service that supplies the video. On Bop.fm, those ads don’t appear.
“Bop.fm will not strip out any ads that were passed to us,” Daredia said in an emailed statement. “Sometimes YouTube passes us banner ads for a given video, sometimes they don’t. They take a lot of factors into account, such as the country, device, user logged in state, etc.”
Why this matters: On the Web, competing streaming audio services have made music essentially free, with occasional ads. Not so in the mobile space, where users usually pay about $10 or so per month. We’re not convinced that Bop.fm won’t somehow incur the wrath of the record labels, but for now they’re apparently providing a competitive music service for free.
A free mobile experience
Bop.fm’s mobile app will work in much the same way as it does on the Web, Daredia said. Users can choose from a list of hits, and then play them back from their subscribed services. As with the desktop app, the default player will be YouTube. Bop.fm won’t charge for the service, and says it doesn’t have any plans to “monetize” the app, either, he said.
That’s somewhat important, given that YouTube will stream the audio and video when doing so, sucking up more of your data allotment than an audio-only stream from say, Spotify. Daredia said that the company won’t strip out the audio from the track, and will play any ads that YouTube ties to the video itself. Right now, he added, YouTube doesn’t pass any pre-roll ads, so mobile users won’t experience them.
“If YouTube does decide to pass pre-roll ads, we’ll let them show up; we won’t block them,” Daredia said. But users can stream the song from Soundcloud or other service to save bandwidth and avoid ads, he added.
What’s interesting, of course, is that Bop.fm simply plays the same game YouTube does: there’s no guarantee that The Who’s “Pictures of Lily” is an authorized video, as it was posted by user “oi oi”. But Bop.fm archives it, and plays it back, and none’s the wiser. Bop.fm doesn’t even identify the source.
We asked YouTube for comment on how Bop.fm handles YouTube’s ads, and have yet to hear any official word on the matter. (Services like Rhapsody will continue to play intermittent ads if you stream songs from that service, Daredia added.) But for now, Bop.fm appears to be a relatively simple, free mobile app for those who don’t want to pay streaming audio subscription fees.
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As PCWorld's senior editor, Mark focuses on Microsoft news and chip technology, among other beats. He has formerly written for PCMag, BYTE, Slashdot, eWEEK, and ReadWrite.