smallfamily-lineup-2.0.0Big changes are afoot at streaming service Rdio, although as yet they don’t involve ditching the company’s policy of not publishing figures on how many users it has.

Instead, Rdio is getting a slick redesign, launching its free, ad-supported personal radio tier in 20 countries, and shifting its emphasis towards a “stations-first” approach to music discovery. Or as CEO Anthony Bay put it in an interview with the New York Times: “What we’ve learned collectively over the last few years is that the most successful models are freemium models.”

Music Ally has been exploring the new design, which is rolling out today across Rdio’s website and iOS and Android apps. There’s still lots of white space, but the main change is the focus on a ‘Home’ feed which puts ‘stories’ in front of Rdio users – stories being recommendations for personal radio stations, albums and artists that are currently trending, recent comments from friends and so on. It’s a Facebook-style news feed applied to streaming music, basically.

Also new for Rdio: a bolstered team of human curators, who are creating themed stations – the familiar-from-rivals mix of rolling playlists for specific moods and activities – which besides popping up in the Home feed will also be gathered in a new Browse section on Rdio, matching those of rivals like Spotify and Beats Music.

While paying subscribers will still be able to search for music on-demand and create their own playlists, Rdio’s new design makes its stations much more prominent: a bet on personal radio as the most accessible way to navigate a now 30m-strong catalogue of songs.

“We’re restructuring the apps to be stations-first,” Rdio’s SVP of product Chris Becherer told Music Ally – we’ll have the full interview online later today. “We don’t think any service out there is doing a good job of pairing those lean-back and lean-forward experiences.”

It’s the ambitious expansion of Rdio’s free offering that’s the big news today, though. In the 20 countries where it’s available, the free stations will be monetised with audio ads, although Becherer confirmed that the new Home feed does offer potential for other kinds of ads – branded stations was the first that came to our mind.

But going free will first and foremost expand Rdio’s reach: “We believe that to really understand a new app and user interface, their needs to be a way to do that for free. One of the primary goals here is to be more mass-market,” said Becherer. “A lot of our users are very fanatical and passionate: they love Rdio, love the design and the UI. But we need to go wider with our reach, and free is a way to do that.”