We once found ourselves intrigued by a unique desktop app called budtobud, which let anyone turn their computer into a listening room. Switch it on, start listening to some music, and invite your friends — just like a desktop version of Turntable.fm, except you could play whatever you wanted.
Budtobud was complicated. First, who downloads a program these days? Isn’t everything in the cloud? More seriously, even once you downloaded it, the program was hampered by its features, if that makes any sense. It wasn’t always clear who was broadcasting and who was listening. And from a business point of view — as Turntable.fm found out — a service that lets people play whatever they want is going to run against licensing issues.
We’ve been testing the next version of budtobud, which is currently available as a beta, and it solves most of these problems, although it’s still a (Mac-only) program that you have to download and install on your computer.
First, budtobud no longer requires you to play music locally. Instead, the whole thing is hooked into Rdio (with support coming for for Spotify and iTunes “with other music services to follow”), so as of today, you and your listening buddies all need to have Rdio subscriptions in order for budtobud to work.
However, you and your Rdio buds will find plenty of reason to use budtobud instead of Rdio’s own social features, if you’re into the idea of listening to music with people, instead of just seeing what they are playing. Rdio lets you see what your online friends are playing, it’s true, and you can easily play any of that stuff on your own. But check out how budtobud shows your friends (we left the “Getting Started” thing in there, because it helps explain):
See what they did there? They’ve turned the entire focus into what your friends are listening to right now. And while Rdio shows you that someone is listening to something, budtobud shows you how many seconds into the song they are, so you can join them. At that point, one of two things will happen:
1) If they are not using budtobud — and because this program hasn’t officially launched yet, this will be just about everyone at this point — you can listen along with them, just not in real time. As they switch from one song or album to another, you will follow them. So even if your Rdio friends don’t have budtobud, your use of it still gets you something. But…
2) If your friends, too, are listening to Rdio via budtobud, you’ll be able to listen to the exact part of the song that they are listening to and chat with them about the song as you listen, all through a single interface.
That first point is crucial, because you can’t count on everyone to install a listening add-on — so even if they don’t, you can still join them via BudToBud, and follow along with whatever listening choices they make.
As for the second, well, it’s up to you to convince your friends who have both Macs and Rdio to install budtobud, so you can all hang out listening together. The other option for building up budtobud friends to enable the beefier group-listening feature: use the program’s mechanism for inviting all of your Facebook or Twitter friends to join it, or inviting people via email.
However you do it, if digital music listening sometimes feels a bit lonely, budtobud — which is free, for now anyway — can make it less so. And even if you have no interest in listening to music with your friends at the same time and chatting with each other, we are finding that BudToBud provides a new way to discovery music: by stalking someone’s listening, as the author is doing right now with Merge Records. If you find something you like, you can’t add it to your Rdio collection from within budtobud, but you can collect it into a special Song Crush list on budtobud, which is almost as good.