From records and 8-tracks to MP3s and Walkmen, technology changes the way in which we absorb our music. At this point, few people have memories of hauling suitcases full of cassette tapes (or even CDs) around with them on vacation as kids, and in a few more years perhaps even the ever-ubiquitous iPod will be just a memory of the past, removed from it's throne by a software that streams music to you directly in your head.
Until then, we have to make do with the technology that we have - and increasingly music fans are incorporating cloud-based, streaming services into their repetoire. From long-standing services like Rhapsody, to just-released softwares like Spotify, there are a slew of streaming music services to choose from. So, which one will work best for you? Read on for the highlights of twelve of the top options and be sure to let us know what your favorite is in the comments!
Spotify has been a popular streaming service in Europe since its 2008 debut but only recently made its way to U.S. shores. An instant hit, the service offers streaming over roughly 15 million songs from major (Sony, EMI, Universal, Warner) and indie labels.
In addition to streaming music, Spotify also enables its users to create playlists with a simple drag-and-drop as well as create a library to keep a record of playlists, starred tracks and any music purchased inside the service (as well as “your own cleaned-up and properly-tagged music files”). Songs and playlists can be shared with your Spotify friends as well as on Facebook, Twitter and email – indeed, Spotify is heavily entwined with social media; it currently requires a Facebook account to sign in which has discouraged many from using it.
The service also has a dedicated radio stream (a la Pandora or Slacker), which allows uers to make their own stations and has recently added Apps, which are designed to enhance your Spotify experience by adding apps from Pitchfork, Rolling Stone and last.fm (and more) which deliver music news, reviews, recommendations, song lyrics, even mood-based playlists. They’ve also recently linked up with Shazam, which allows you to tap a “Play in Spotify” button for the songs you discover through Shazam’s service.
Pricing: Free (ad supported, six month trial period ) offers users the ability to listen to tracks, play and organize their own music, use Spotify Social and Artist Radio, and take your music abroad for 14 days. Unlimited $4.99/month gets you everything the free version offers with no ads. Premium $9.99/month gives you all of the above functionalities but throws in the ability to play Spotify music and local files on your mobile, an offline mode for your desktop and mobile, and play Spotify through music systems.
Availability: Mac and PC desktops (there’s a preview for the Linux version). iOS, Android, and BlackBerry (reportedly coming soon for Symbian, Palm and Windows Phone 7 users). Sonos, Logitech’s Squeezebox Touch or Radio, Onkyo Home cinema receivers, WD TV Live or Live Hub, Boxee.
Rhapsody has been around (in the U.S.) since 2001 and is currently on Version 4. They’ve joined forces with Napster to bring users a streaming music service, radio service and music library service with over 13 million songs and 1 million paid subscribers.
Much like Spotify and Rdio, Rhapsody users can stream a radio station, create a drag-and-drop playlist or save music in a library for easy access. Charts show what other Rhapsody users are listening to, bios, trivia and reviews are available for artists and users can create a profile and connect with Facebook friends. Rhapsody works with AAC, AAC+, MP3 and WMA formats but downloaded files have restrictions on their use – enforced by Helix, Rhapsody’s version of DRM.
Pricing: 14 day free trial. $9.99/month for Rhapsody Premier gives users access on one mobile device, online streaming via Rhapsody.com or Windows PC client software, and unlimited home audio listening. $14.99/month for Rhapsody Premier Plus gives access on three mobile devices, online streaming and unlimited home audio.
Availability: Windows 7, Vista, XP (32- and 64-bit). Not available for Mac or Linux. iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone 7 (and partnered with Verizon, Sprint and Metro PCS to download music on a compatible mobile phone). Also available on Sonos Multi-Room Music System, Logitech Squeezebox Duet, Sonos Play 5 and Play 3, Yamaha MusicCast2, and more.
As its stated primary goal is to “let people experience and discover music together – live – online,” it should come as no surprise that turntable.fm is primarily a social platform where the music is selected by your friends and social connections (as opposed to an algorithm).
Turntable.fm is organized into “rooms,” which users can enter; you can see the other users avatar’s in the room, their comments in the chat box pop up in a bubble over their head. Anyone can DJ a song for the room, DJs spin songs and the users in the room can vote on the songs – too many “Lame” votes and the song gets skipped. Tons of “Awesome” votes give you DJ points that you can use to upgrade your avatar. Turntable.fm rooms have titles like Top 40, Indie While You Work, or I *heart* the 80’s but many lean towards electronic or dubstep. There’s information in a drop down menu on what songs have been played in the room, as well as options to buy the music, see artist info, and the tracks voting percentage.
The whole thing is a fairly social-leaning service, with the obligatory share option for Facebook, Twitter and email, but it seems to be going well – turntable.fm opened to the public in May 2011; by June it had 140,000 active users (in the U.S. – service is U.S. only due to DMCA). One of the only drawbacks is the lack of a “Pause” button, you can turn the music off or on but can’t pause, repeat or skip back or forward.
Availability: Available to anyone with a web browser and a Facebook or Twitter account. Also available as an iTunes app. Syncs with iTunes, Rdio, Spotify and Amazon.
An international search engine, streaming service and recommendation service for audiophiles, Grooveshark streams 100 to 110 million songs a month and had 35 million registered users as of May 2011. Although it was recently rewritten to use HTML5, the actual music player itself still relies on Adobe Flash.
Users can search, stream and upload music (which can be played immediately or added to a playlist), as well as watch YouTube videos for the songs in your queue. Follow friends by clicking a heart icon, connect via social media to share quickly, or use the Radio Station to stream music similar to your favorite artists.
Grooveshark has recently made headlines when legal troubles forced them to shut down in Germany; they’ve also been in legal disputes with most of the major labels, and recently pulled their app from the Android market (an unofficial version is currently still available). The company has issued a statement that ““There is a distinction between legal and licensed. Laws come from Congress. Licenses come from businesses. Grooveshark is completely legal because we comply with the laws passed by Congress, but we are not licensed by every label (yet).”
Pricing: Free (ad supported). Grooveshark Plus: $6/month or $60/year: removes banner ads, gives access to the desktop application, provides customizable features including an array of skins, sneak peeks. Grooveshark Anywhere: $9/month or $90/year: all the features included in the Plus account, with unlimited access to mobile applications for smartphones.
Availability: Web browser, desktop, iOS (jailbroken phones only), BlackBerry, Nokia and webOS.
Rdio is brought to us by the same folks who founded Kazaa. It’s on-demand access to over 12 million songs was designed for users to discover, listen to and share music. There are no ads, and it’s choked full of features including collaborative playlists (where multiple users can participate in the creation and editing of a playlist), and an ability to match to your iTunes or Windows Media Player accounts.
Rdio’s music player appears to the left of the main content area with information about the track and playback controls; artist info is displayed in Wiki-sque bio pages. A section for recent activity shows what your friends and contact are listening to, syncing, or adding to their collections. You can toggle the activity to just display your actions, or the actions of all Rdio users (which can get a bit noisy). The Heavy Rotation section shows what you (or your friends, or all Rdio users) have been listening to; there’s a Browse Music drop down menu and links to your personal music collection, playlists you’ve created, reviews and people you’re following. Speaking of that music collection, Rdio wants its users to create a digital collection that can be carried everywhere: web, home, car, tablet, smartphone, and offline.
Pricing: Free seven day trial. Web: $4.99/month for unlimited web streaming. Unlimited: $9.99/month for unlimited web streaming and unlimited mobile streaming (plus Sonos and Roku). Unlimited Family: $17.99/month for two unlimited subscriptions.
Availability: Available as a native Windows (or Mac) app, via web browser, iPhone, BlackBerry, Android Roku, Sonos.
Born from the Music Genome Project, Pandora debuted as a streaming radio service in 2000 and has only expanded since then. Pandora creates a radio station around a user-chosen track, artist or composer and provides you with information on the track, album, artist bio, lyrics and similar artists. Containing roughly 80,000 artists, 800,000 tracks and 80 million users, it’s a straightforward service.
Pandora tracks or stations can be shared to your Pandora profile, Facebook, Twitter or email – you can also put your entire station on your Facebook profile using an app but aside from that, it’s not super heavy on the social media integration side. You user profile allows you to update your profile with comments, likes, and favorite stations; the genre stations give users plenty of options to find new genres, including comedy, and top stations take the guesswork out of it. Users can give a thumbs up or thumbs down to songs, but have limited skipping options (six per hour). There’s no way to create a playlist or a collection, store music, or sync it with your personal collection. There’s also no way to rewind or repeat songs.
Pricing: Free (ad supported). Pandora One $36/year with no adds, higher quality audio, custom skins, a desktop app.
Availability: Web browser, desktop, iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Palm Pre. Also available via automobile stereo systems, TVs such as Sony’s BRAVIA line, digital media players such as the Boxee Box, Logitech Squeezebox, Roku, Sonos, and tabletop devices like the Chumby or Sony Dash.
Much like Pandora, Slacker is primarily a radio streaming service with stations programmed by expert DJs. Slacker allows users to create and share customized stations, and has over 10 million songs, organized into over 150 programmed stations with 10,000 artist stations including comedy, news and ESPN.
Slacker’s dashboard is fairly straightforward and centers around a wheel that features the album art of the song playing. A drop-down menu gives users a link to copy the station, fine tune, and add to favorites. A search bar is neatly tucked between the album art and the audio controls—including the option to go back a song. Left hand navigation buttons allow you to browse stations and genres, show current station info and create a station. Users can store playlists, entire albums and stations and can sign in with Facebook for quick access and additional social networking features. Its drawbacks? A limited number of song skips, and no ability to upload your own music collection to the service.
Pricing: Free (ad supported). Slacker Radio Plus $3.99/month removes the ads, gives you an unlimited number of song skips, news and ESPN stations and complete song lyrics. Slacker Premium Radio $9.99/month gives you all of the above plus the ability to play songs or albums on demand, create single-artist stations, cache albums and create playlists.
Availability: Web browser, BlackBerry, iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Palm webOS, Windows Mobile, Windows Phone7, Nokia, Sony, Sonos, Logitech, Acoustic Research, Slacker Portable Radio.
Created by the big “G” to enable users to “discover, buy and share music, wherever you want, whenever you want” – and to give Android fans the functionalities of iTunes, much ado has been made about the recently released service. Google Music was designed to work seamlessly with Android Market to offer music recommendations, stream music, store it, and create an instant mix.
With hundreds of free songs, and millions more to buy on Android Market, Google Music is off to a good start. Music is automatically stored in your Google Music library and instantly ready to play or download. Google Music allows you to store up to 20,000 songs for free – but (and it’s a big but) everything is stored in the cloud. While that does save room on Android devices, and allows you to listen to your library without worrying about syncing or wires, it also comes with the limitations and security problems inherent in cloud storage.
Google Music definitely is born to work within the Google/Android environments: you can easily share and listen to your music with your Google+ friends, and the dashboard and locations of commands is akin to Gmail. You can upload your songs in order to organize and store all of your music in one place, create a playlist using Instant Mix, import from iTunes, and save favorite tracks to your mobile device for offline listening.
Pricing: Storage: 20,000 songs for free. Purchase: Songs individually priced.
Availability: Web browser, Android devices, or devices that use Adobe flash.
Amazon Cloud Player/Amazon MP3
Amazon’s online music store launched in 2007, and was the first store to sell music from the four major labels – without DRM. It has an impressive catalogue of over 18 million songs (although some of them do have watermarks) although it only supports AAC and MP3, it’s been a standard in online music since its inception with the Cloud Playermusic streaming service launched last year, it's only improving that reputation.
Amazon’s cloud service is designed more for those who want to purchase and store their tunes: it saves purchased music into a folder, and purchased tracks can be added to Windows Media Player or iTunes libraries automatically but does not allow users to sample entire songs on the site – just a preview. Although you can upload your own songs into your music folder, it must be done using Amazon’s MP3 Uploader. However, it does enable users to stream their collections over a variety of devices – including the Kindle Fire.
Pricing: 5GB free. $20/year gets you unlimited space for music and 20GB of cloud storage. There are also 50GB ($50 per year), 100GB ($100 per year), 200GB ($200 per year), 500GB ($500 per year), and 1000GB ($1,000 per year) options available.
Availability: Windows, Max OS X, Linux, Kindle Fire, Android. Preloaded on TMobile G1, Palm webOS, and Droids.
A music site founded in the U.K. in 2002, last.fm has over 30 million active users enjoying its music recommendation services. Skewed towards audiophiles and concert-goers, last.fm houses a wealth of information on your favorite artists, providing photos, videos, bios, ringtones, news, charts, events, an option to purchase songs and add them to your library, radio stations that play similar artists, concert images and info, users listening to that artist, shoutboxes, journals, kitchen sinks. Okay, maybe not that last one, but still, an option-heavy site that can be easily customized using tools and plugins.
The last.fm music library contains well over 12 million individual tracks, and features The Scrobbler – an algorithm that helps you discover more music by examining the details of the songs you’ve listened to. It also automatically fills your library and updates it with what you’ve been listening to on your computer or iPod (if you have the last.fm music player app, the audioscrobbler plugin or are listening to the last.fm internet radio). Last.fm will also recommend concerts and events to users, as well as give them information on top music charts, a radio station creation option, and a community (forums, Twitter integration, last.fm groups).
Pricing: Free for users in the U.S., U.K. and Germany. Others require a subscription.
Availability: Web browser, Mac OS, Linux, iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Sonos, Squeezebox, PS Portable, Nokia N900, Zune.
MOG is a paid subscription service and blog network that streams over 11 million tracks, and allows users to read content from user posts, music blogs and in-house editors. Users create profiles with information about their musical preferences and can read other users posts, recommend users with similar tastes and listen to 30 second samples of songs. Any song in MOG’s catalogue can be streamed to a users computer via their web browser, MOG will generate a continuous play queue based on the artist chosen by the user.
Partnered with Rhapsody, MOG enables users to create, share and discover playlists, and create radio stations (including 100% artist only stations). Users can log in with Facebook, or share via Facebook, Twitter and email. Play, pause, skip, and go back are all controllable from a media keyboard, and MOG will allow you to broadcast to any speakers using AirPlay.
Pricing: Free 14 day trial (ad supported). Basic: $4.99/month provides access to MOG via the web and Roku with no ads. Primo: $9.99/month allows all of that and supported mobile devices.
Availability: Web browser, Desktop player (Mac only). iPhone, iPod touch, Android, Roku, Logitech Squeezebox, Boxee Box, Nook, Motorola Xoom, Jambox by Jawbone, LG internet-ready TVs.
Zune Music Pass
Microsoft’s subscription music service allows users to download, stream and listen to as many songs from the Zune Marketplace as you could possibly desire. Music can be downloaded and synced on up to four different computers, Zune players and Windows Phones – and you can swap out a device every 30 days.
Although Zune Music Pass is only available on phones that use a Windows Live ID, you can stream music over the web, play them an unlimited number of times, download an unlimited number of songs to your computer, and sync an unlimited number of times to Windows Phones or Zune Players. Smart DJ gives you spontaneous playlists. However, even with all its functionality, the Zune brand has been on some shaky ground lately, with Microsoft pulling it, then not, then pulling it…then, not.
Pricing: Free 14 day trial. $9.99/month for unlimited music and music video streaming. Annual subscriptions also available.
Availability: Web browser, Zune music players, Xbox 360, Windows Phones.