Apple’s major announcement—and Taylor Swift’s ensuing hissy fit—that it’s jumping into the streaming music game has many people wondering what streaming music is all about. After all, Apple already has the iTunes mega empire. What more could streaming add?
Streaming music services basically offer you the ability to rent music on an as-needed basis. There are free services, paid services, and every combo in between, but the concept is that you can create your own radio station and listen to anything you want without actually purchasing the music.
There are a few things to consider when choosing a streaming music service: ease of use, variety, cost and level of personalization. Whether you are new to streaming music or looking to expand your horizons, we’ve got you covered.
8tracks is a free sharing platform workable for the novice techie or music app user. It operates on, what’s essentially, a recommend playlist platform. All user compiled content, the home screen has a search bar and content bubbles asking you what you’re looking for, the next screen has the same, and whatever combo you finish with (ex. summer nights + oldies) will bring up all related playlists. They’re listed in order of user popularity as seen by a small heart next to the playlist. Like, add, and share buttons are all easily accessible and premium is available.
On the free version, ads are reasonable from an annoyance standpoint. My biggest pet peeve is the inability to play songs back. Everything is in large text on a white wash or blue background, very easy to read, hard to lose track of what you’re doing on this platform. You can save your favorite playlists or make your own all very easily.
I think this platform takes the cake in continuity between songs because standard radio on other platforms has the potential to break up a flow of songs with something your ears aren’t ready for. This can be cumbersome in a car with sleeping babies or sugared-up twelve-year-olds. With 8tracks, the jazz stays smooth.
Pandora is the grandfather of the mobile streaming industry. This service is purely a streamer operating on a radio-only platform as opposed to industry competitors allowing for customized playlists.
You simply type in an artist or song into the search bar and the algorithm makes a station accordingly. The album art is showcased as a square with lyrics and relevant information located just below.
There are also “buy” and “share” icons for MP3 purchase or social media updating. The Facebook integration is intuitive and lets you see your friends (also integrated) recent activity. If you click a song they’ve listened to, it will open your Pandora page and create a station.
The knock on Pandora has been hour limits on streaming per month, ads and song skips. The hour limit has been bumped from 40 to 320, and while the two major complaints still exist on the free version, a Premium service is now offered for $36/year. The paid option allows you to go ad-free and has unlimited skips per day (limited to six per hour). The radio method, here, is one of the best because it’s the main focus. In my experience Pandora has been the best service to discover new tunes. There is even an “add variety” button that allows the algorithm to pull in more artists to the mix. The biggest risk to be run is the possibility of a station pulling from a wide range of sound breaking up a listening rhythm, but it’s your party.
The most practical of the bunch, Spotify offers a wide range of streaming and personalization options. Premium comes at a higher price ($10/mo), but for good reason. Spotify has had, from an administrative standpoint, huge names attached to it for a long time. This has lead to phenomenal branding and a massive library that’s been both unrivaled and envied across the industry.
While there are several services at current that have close to the same breadth of songs available (20 million or so) Spotify still appears to have the biggest reach and thus incentivizes would be anti-digital artists to sign on. Recent updates to Spotify have allowed you to make more than just a playlist in the ability to save songs or entire albums. This lets you create your own library based on what you’re looking for (listed alphabetically) shown by album art.
“Now playing” is showcased on the right panel (also with album art) with song progression in neon green, sharing, add, etc. icons just below. The best feature is ability to sync music to your phone. This puts them onto the phone’s data and lets you listen when out of service or on airplane mode.
Spotify’s radio is nice but basic, without the same reach as Pandora, 8tracks, or other big industry names. The play can be choppy but is generally very reliable. Artist bios are a nice touch and the mobile-desktop interface doesn’t lose much in either direction.
What’s your favorite streaming music service? Do you know of an up-and-comer that we didn’t mention? Tell us about it!
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