Nokia introduced a free, mobile-optimized music-streaming service in America last week, which it is celebrating with a Green Day concert in New York this weekend. The service, Nokia Music, is available on the company's Lumia devices and it offers the same sort of standard features as most phone music players (a loadable music library and an MP3 store), as well as an interesting new way to stream music.
Without having to give over credit-card information, forking over an email address or enduring time- and bandwidth-sucking ads, Nokia Music will start playing quality-sounding music – including custom playlists programmed by the likes of Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Pearl Jam – with one or two clicks. It also offers a GPS-enabled "Gig Finder," which will tell users which bands are playing concerts from any location. It's all part of a concerted effort that Nokia made to simplify the process of accessing music.
"We really focused on getting all of the clutter out of the way between the user and the music," Nokia Vice President of Entertainment Jyrki Rosenberg tells Rolling Stone from his Helsinki office. "Most music services require you to first find the app in an app store, then download it and install it. Then you have to register and, in the worst case, you have to pay and after that, then you can download tracks and manage a catalog. We felt that with fewer clicks, the better." As for the reasoning behind making the Nokia Music service free – as in, Nokia is paying the licensing costs and not inundating listeners with the equivalent of the free version of Spotify's audio ads – Rosenberg says, "We see this as adding value to the Lumia branch of devices. It just makes a lot of sense."
The company launched Nokia Music in the UK and some European countries in November 2011, and the company has since made it available in dozens of countries including China, India and its native Finland. To make the service work for the United States, the company hired a team of American music specialists to tweak the specialized genres and playlists. "For example, in Finland, there are a lot of people who like heavy metal," Rosenberg says. "So we have a category here called Viking Metal. That probably wouldn't work as well in the U.S." Instead, the American version offers pop, hip-hop, country and even a fitness channel, as well as many other options that the company refreshes weekly, including one that covers rock and metal (so stateside headbangers still have an option). The service also offers what Rosenberg calls a "Pandora-like feature" in which users can select up to three artists and it will build an automatic playlist based on them. Nokia also allows music fans to download up to four channels – also for free – to the device for use offline, such as when flying or riding a subway.
"I have learned to appreciate a lot of good bands more through using this service," Rosenberg says. "I'm listening to the Green Day and Snow Patrol channels all the time. I have also heard some really great American artists in Finland over the summer as well because of it. I just went to see the Black Keys recently here in Helsinki."
The app also features custom-programmed playlists by celebrities. Lady Gaga's list features songs by some artists you'd expect (Madonna's "Hung Up," Pink's "Funhouse") as well as some surprises (Judas Priest's "A Touch of Evil," Saxon's "Power and the Glory"). Some of the other artists stick to the sorts of music you might expect them to listen to (Rihanna's list features TLC, Drake and Katy Perry, among others, while Lana Del Rey's offers Brenda Lee, the Beach Boys and Springsteen). AT&T users can access a carrier-specific playlist programmed by Green Day, which features a mix of songs like Chuck Berry's "Come On," Iggy and the Stooges' "Shake Appeal" and Operation Ivy's "Take Warning" that the band says inspired them while creating their forthcoming album trio ¡Uno!,¡Dos!, ¡Tre!
The company's collaboration with Green Day is one that means a lot to Rosenberg. "I'm a huge Green Day fan and I have been for 17 years now. The fact that this opportunity came up and they were interested in launching it together with us was just wonderful," he says. "But besides the fact that I love their music…I couldn't think of a better partner."
Much like with Rosenberg's love of Green Day, personalization is another key feature Nokia has emphasized with Nokia Music. In its current configuration, users may skip six songs per hour, and Nokia Music's team will analyze which songs are skipped the most. It also offers a "personalize" feature that scans users' music libraries and come up with a music profile (e.g. 24 percent rock, 12 percent indie, 10 percent metal, etc.) and create a custom playlist. It all ties into where Rosenberg sees Nokia Music and Nokia Entertainment going in the future. "Without going into anything we haven't announced, context is very important to us," he says. "We are using your location, time of day and music taste as inputs, so we hope to enhance our service using that contextual information. That is one of the future directions we're planning on taking."