The brilliant thing about the digital age is how accessible everything is. Music has had several digital revolutions in the past decade, from Myspace, to iTunes, to Spotify. Now, it's all about streaming, here are the best services out there.

What is music streaming?

You've listened to music on vinyl, on tapes, CDs, mini-disc (that was short lived!), MP3, and now online. Streaming is essentially a convenient way to listen to music online via a computer, phone, tablet or smart television. 

When the iPod launched in 2001, Apple dominated the music market via their music store, iTunes. Just when everyone figured them to be unstoppable, along came Spotify and completely revolutionised the way the world listen to music—essentially for free, via its streaming service.

Now Spotify has both free and paid-for listening services and many others have followed suit. Just to indicate its popularity, at the beginning of 2015, Spotify had 15 million paying customers and a further 55 million users taking advantage of its free service worldwide. 

 

Is it legal?

The legality of these things is always a little tricky. Paid-for services such as Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, are absolutely legal, although not without controversy within the music industry.

When it comes to free services, plenty are above board, but most of them rely on their communities to upload tracks and share—just like listening to a record around your friend's house back in the day. But that's where the law becomes a little more tricky.

Grooveshark is a popular example of a free music streaming service that ran from 2006. The company was sued by EMI, Sony and Warner, who forced the Grooveshark player to shut down in 2015. However, as with most things online, the legality of Grooveshark's business model remains undetermined, and the player simply reemerged under a new domain later that year.

 

Things you need to consider when streaming music

How much music do you want to access?

What kind of music are you looking for? Is it just your favourite artists and the latest hits? Or would you be looking to explore new things and really immerse yourself? This could be the difference between a free player and a paid for service (see our guide to services available below).
 

Where do you want to access it?

If it's just at home or in the office then you probably won't need to look for something with offline mode. If you want to use it while you're walking around, there are some incredible services available to you.
 

How much are you willing to pay for it?

Although there are many free services available, paid-for music players like Spotify and Apple Play are inexpensive and competitively priced. If you're the type of person that buys a lot of music, paying for a service is well worth it.

 

Paid for services

The two big boys of online music are Spotify and, recent entrant into the digital music domination race, Apple Music. But there are lots of other options, it all depends on the way you want to access your music.

 

Spotify

Spotify has been around since 2008, but it has only recently come into its own, making headlines as it managed to sign up music giants AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and The Beatles. It can now boast over 35 million tracks to its very complete catalog. 

Spotify onscreen
Image via Suwin / Shutterstock.com

 

Spotify benefits:

  • It can accurately recommend music and create playlists based on what you've been listening to 
     
  • You can save albums so everytime you come across something you really like, you can add it to your own personal library where it won't be forgotten
     
  • By dragging and dropping songs into the sidebar, you can create your own playlists, and even collaborate with friends—not to mention share your masterful mixtape once it's complete
     
  • Spotify Premium can operate in 'offline mode' which means you don't have to be connected to the internet to listen. Simply make a playlist and select the 'offline' button at the top of the list. You can also do this on saved albums
     
  • It has a social element which means you can see what your friends are listening to, enabling you to discover new music (or poke fun at their guilty pleasures)
     
  • It offers a free service, although this service is limited and features ads
     
  • Spotify curates playlists based on moods, genres and topical events, so you when you're feeling uninspired there'll always be something to spark your interest
     
  • Its premium service is wonderful and affordable
     
  • Available on most devices: mobiles, tablets, laptops, computers, smart televisions—Spotify is by far the most accessible streaming service

 

How to use:

  • Either sign up for free or go straight in for premium. There will be the option of a 30-day premium trail—be sure to take them up on that offer
  • After you've selected which kind of service you would prefer, either enter your details or you can quickly and conveniently sign up via your Facebook account
  • From here you can listen through your browser or download the app to your desktop or phone. You can listen from anywhere that has the app installed (or an internet browser) providing you have your log in details
  • The interface is really straight-forward, and there are a lot of browsing options available from the off
  • Use the search bar to find your favourite artists or get exploring via pre-made playlists and enjoy a whole new world of music!

Ideal for: Someone who is a real music buff, likes exploring new and old, and wants to carry their music around with them. The family package is also great if you're a household of music lovers.

 

Apple Music

Apple was a surprisingly late entrant to the streaming game, only unveiling Apple Music in 2015. Unlike Spotify, who had to build its catalogue and reputation over time, Apple already has an established catalogue at hand thanks to its successful iTunes library. Apple had previously dominated the music market until Spotify came along. This is its response.

Apple Music
Image via Denys Prykhodov / Shutterstock.com

 

Benefits:

  • If you've already got an extensive iTunes library on your Apple device, then Apple Music is essentially an extension of that
     
  • Apple Music comes with an offline mode
     
  • Apple Music comes with five simple tabs:  For You, New, Radio, Connect, and My Music:
    - 'For You' contains recommendations
    - 'New' is what's new, inclusive of videos, all selected by editors 
    - 'Radio' offers 24-hour live radio stations
    - 'Connect' is all about discovering more about the artists you love 
     
  • Siri has upgraded its music knowledge so you can ask it things like "Siri, play me the best songs from 1964" and your iPhone will happily oblige
     
  • It is competitively priced but doesn't have a free version, although it does offer a 3-month trial
     
  • If you're familiar with iTunes and the App Store, its interface will be second nature to you

 

How to use:

  • Sign up process is simple if you have iTunes already
  • Open iTunes and select the "For You" tab across the top of the player
  • It will take you straight into the three-month trial, although you will have to select which kind of account you want from the off: Individual/Family
  • From here you will be asked for your Apple ID, if you already use Apple products you will be familiar with this process
  • You are ready to use Apple Music just as you use your iTunes library

Ideal for: Anyone already familiar with Apple products, and who is already fond of iTunes. Devices are slightly more limited, but it is available for all Apple devices, PCs, and is being developed for Andriod.

 

Deezer

Deezer has been long established. Where it differentiates itself from Apple Music and Spotify is that its vast catalogue is available in a higher quality. It also offers news and entertainment shows. 

Deezer in app

 

Benefits:

  • A free service is available, but with ads
     
  • You can create your own playlists and import mp3s
     
  • You can listen in offline mode
     
  • A paid subscription to Deezer Elite grants you access to FLAC versions of songs—that means CD quality and an enhanced listening experience
     
  • Flow also auto-generates playlists based on the way you listen. You can tell it what you do and don't like, and every time you listen Flow gets smarter, creating better lists
     
  • There are some great offers for EE and Sonos customers

 

Getting started:

  • Once you're on the website you can sign up by entering your details or signing up through Facebook
  • You'll then be asked to select your favourite genres
  • Then you will be asked to select your favourite artists—if the recommended ones aren't your bag, you can perform a search for your faves
  • From here you'll access the interface through your browser or through an app
  • If you have signed up via Facebook it will use your Facebook 'likes' to determine initial suggestions

Ideal for: The decerning listener who prefers their music streamed at a higher quality. Music buffs will love it.

 

Other paid for services include:

Google Play, offering a competitive service; Amazon Prime, whose music library is only at 1 million; Napster.

 

Free Alternatives

A lot of free streaming services come and go, as the legalities get more than a little iffy from time to time. But all mentioned below are completely above board. 

 

YouTube

Aretha Franklin on YouTube

It's very easy to set up YouTube playlists featuring your favourite artists and albums. However, a lot of the material on there has been uploaded illegally. Don't worry, listening to it won't have any ramifications for you—the responsibility will lie with the person who uploaded it. 

There are channels that legally upload music videos and tracks. Look out for Vevo, record labels, and official artist channels. The music may be a lower quality than all paid for players above, but it is free, and you can enter into some bizarre YouTube holes, that will surface fantastic new tunes—just keep on clicking around.

 

SoundCloud

Soundcloud on mobile
Image via Denys Prykhodov / Shutterstock.com

SoundCloud is a brilliant service. It is mainly geared at people making their own music and independent labels, but there is tons of music from all kinds of musicians, known and unknown. 

The player tends to play related music, unless you are playing a playlist. You can download it onto your phone, and even upload your own music. 

Essentially SoundCloud is a community where you can explore what's out there, and discover some amazing tunes.

 

Jango

Jango is a radio player that works rather simply, you enter in an artist that you fancy listening to, and then the player will pick a song by that artist at random then deliver a non-stop playlist of related artists. 

 

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