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.
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