Streaming music services offer more ways to listen than ever, and they’re far more economical than paying for downloads or CDs. But the steadily growing number of options can make your head spin. Some streaming services, like Pandora, use automated recommendations, while others are more connected with seeing (and hearing) what your friends are into.
What can I listen to?
Most services that have deals with all or most of the major record labels offer at least 10 million songs. But there are a few holdouts, such as Metallica, the Beatles and Led Zeppelin. If you can't find most of what you're looking for on one of these services, maybe you to try the vinyl section at your local record shop.
Do I have to pay for it?
You can listen for free, but you'll have to endure radio-style ads, monthly listening limits, or only "radio station" streams based on a genre. Subscription fees of $5 to $15 get you features such as on-demand song selection, unlimited ad-free listening and access on mobile devices and Internet TVs. Some premium plans let you store songs on your computer or mobile device so you can listen offline. That could help keep you under the monthly data limit for your smartphone or tablet.
Can I share music with friends?
All services let you post your listening to Facebook (sometimes automatically), and most support Twitter. Some let you send song links directly to friends, but the savviest ones let you see what other folks are listening to in real time.
What’s the next big thing?
Apps. They're a huge hit on Internet-connected devices like computers, smartphones, TVs and set-top boxes. All of the major streaming services offer apps on Facebook so you can listen from within your profile page. Spotify recently took it a step further and introduced apps for its own service, giving you access to editorial content, integration with other services like Last.fm and much more.
What services can I choose from?
You've probably heard of Pandora's customized Internet radio stations, but here are a few other services worth checking out:
- Free: unlimited listening on your computer or mobile device, with ads
- Plus: ($6/mo.) no ads
- Anywhere: ($9/mo.) adds playlist creation and offline listening on mobile devices (Apple iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Nokia Symbian, Palm webOS)
- FreePlay (free): limited amount of listening per month on your computer
- Basic ($5/mo.): adds Roku TV set-top box access and LG TV access on some models
- Primo ($10/mo.): adds Sonos wireless audio system access, iPhone/iPod Touch/Android access, and offline listening on mobile devices and computers
- Basic (free): unlimited listening on your computer, smartphone or tablet with ads and limited song skips
- Plus ($4/mo.): no ads, offline listening, ABC News, ESPN News, lyrics access, unlimited song skips
- Premium ($10/mo): adds the ability to choose specific songs and create playlists; offline listening on devices (Apple iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Nokia Symbian, Palm webOS)
- Free: unlimited Web listening of songs uploaded by independent artists.
- Major-label tracks are limited to 30-second streaming samples, but you can purchase the tracks for download
- Free: unlimited Web listening with ads;
- Unlimited ($5/mo.): no ads
- Premium ($10/mo.): higher-quality streams, offline access on your computer and mobile devices (Apple iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Nokia Symbian, Palm webOS)