While the iPod and iTunes ushered in the era of the $0.99 song and $9.99 album, a new way of listening to music is quickly taking over. Instead of outright purchasing a song or album, think of streaming music like Netflix for audio. After paying a monthly subscription fee, you’ll receive access to all of the service’s music to listen to anywhere at any time. To help you decide which service is right for you, we’re taking a look at four popular options – including Apple Music.
We’ll start off with the newcomer to the streaming scene, Apple Music. After joining, the service will ask you what music you like to listen to and then present some new album, artist, and track selections to try.
Along with Beats 1 Radio, which will broadcast 24/7 from New York, London, and Los Angeles, the new initiative also includes the interesting Connect feature where fans can follow their favorite artists in a social networking setting.
Another highlight of Apple Music is Siri integration. Using the personal assistant on your iOS device, you can ask to “Play the top songs from 1982” and other similar requests.
After a very generous three-month free trial, a subscription will cost $9.99 per month or $14.99 monthly for a family plan for up to six users, which is an especially good deal.
You can access the service on your iPhone and iPad and through iTunes on your Mac and PC. An Android app and Apple TV support will arrive sometime this fall.
• Heavily integrated with the Mac, iOS, and Apple TV ecosystem.
• Siri support brings an extra level of usefulness.
• Three-month free trial.
• The family plan is aggressively priced.
• Not a real “killer” feature differentiate it from other competitors in the market.
• The Beats 1 Radio and Connect feature are available to all iOS users for free.
• No free option.
One of the oldest and most popular streaming services, Spotify helped to establish the unlimited streaming concept and is available in many countries. Along with a very well-designed iOS app, you can listen through the Web or dedicated Mac and PC clients. Before Apple Music’s arrival, the service announced some new improvements including original video, video clips from many major media organizations, and podcasts. The company also added an intriguing Now start page that will recommend music to fit your taste and mood. And Spotify Running will design playlists to accurately match your run tempo.
The service costs the industry standard $9.99 per month with some notable exceptions. Students can subscribe for $4.99 while a family plan for up to two users is $14.99 monthly. The company recently unveiled a new promotion where users can subscribe to the Premium tier for $0.99 during their first three months.
A free, ad-supported tier is basic and designed to help draw in users. But it has drawn fire from some artists who believe they don’t receive enough compensation.
• Features exclusive video content and podcasts.
• A free, ad-supported tier.
• Quickly innovating with exciting new features.
• The ad-supported tier has drawn the ire of many artists, like Taylor Swift, who have pulled their music from the service.
Another pioneer in the space, Pandora’s rise can partially be attributed to its excellent support for the iPhone with a groundbreaking iOS app. Instead of being an unlimited streaming music service as the others on our list, Pandora takes a different tact with a radio station-based approach.
Describing itself as “free personalized Internet radio,” you’ll start by entering a specific artist, track, or music genre, and Pandora will use computer-based algorithms to create a station that plays similar music. Users have the option to thumbs-up or thumbs-down a song to help the service find more songs that you’ll enjoy. Just like a terrestrial radio station, you will have to listen to occasional ads. While listening, you can only skip six tracks per hour per station for a total of up to 24 per day.
If you want to pay, Pandora One costs $4.99 and removes all advertising. You’ll also receive more skips per day.
• An ad-supported, free listening option.
• The paid option – Pandora One – is very reasonably priced.
• Only offers a radio station-like format.
• Both the free and paid versions limit the number of skips.
• No rewind or repeat function.
• Can’t download music for offline listening.
• No dedicated Mac app.
Founded by Skype co-creator Janus Friis, Rdio is also another impressive service to consider. The iOS app fits perfectly into the modern aesthetic of iOS 8 and is an excellent way to listen to almost any song or album you can think of. Along with music curated by both human and computer algorithms, the service offers a slate of great social features. Another unique plus is the Trending section that can show what’s popular right now with all the music lovers on the service, or just the people you follow. It’s a very nice way to find a song or album you should be listening to.
You can subscribe for the usual $9.99 per month. Much like Spotify, students receive 50 percent off and a family plan for two listeners is $14.99 monthly. A free option is much like Pandora and offers ad-supported personalized radio stations.
But the interesting Rdio Select option is something unique to take a look at. For $3.99 monthly, you can listen to 25 different songs at one time. The songs can even be played offline. All 25 songs can be replaced once daily. You’ll also receive the personalized radio station with no ads or skip limits. It looks like a very nice and great way to get your feet wet with streaming.
• The low-cost Rdio Select plan is an excellent option for light streaming users.
• Strong social functions.
• Can’t use it on as many connected devices outside of the Mac and iOS arena.
While all the services boast huge catalogs of songs that hover in the millions, there could easily be some gaps as your favorite artists may have only signed on for a particular service. Our best advice is to try all four of these out to discover which one best fits your musical tastes. No matter which one you choose, you’ll have access to millions of tunes for the same monthly price as just a single album when iTunes debuted in 2001. That’s pretty amazing.
As for me, I’ve been a long-time Spotify user, and am planning on sticking with the service. While Apple Music definitely looks tempting – especially with its tight integration on the iPad, iPhone, and Mac – I’m a big fan of Spotify’s extensive catalog and well-designed iOS app.