Sunday
Jul152012

Lay Down Your Swords Pirates, Streaming Music Is Here

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Want to listen to all the music your heart desires, for free, in an easy way? New streaming services are here to shake up the music industry, with the winner being the consumer. They are allowing users to quickly and simply listen to music in the way that suits them. Sounds quite similar to piracy however in this solution the artists receive some monetary compensation.
First came the record. Then the CD. Then the iPod. Now comes the network. Streaming music is here to completely change how and where you listen to music. It is shaping up to be the most profound change since Napster.

Streaming music is essentially using an internet connection to allow you to access nearly all the music in the world at your fingertips. It might sound complicated but if you have ever been to Youtube, or played some audio on a webpage, then you have streamed audio.

Streaming services have a variety of funding models. Some allow the consumer to listen (stream) as many songs as they like and every couple of tracks an advertisement is played. Others work off a subscription model, with users paying a certain amount per month to access the service.

Artists are then paid an amount per song. Yet again this is different depending on the service. A lot of services don’t make these contracts public, so we may never truly know how much money is going back to the creators. What is for certain though is this amount is a lot more than the zero they are getting from piracy.

There are some pros and cons to both streaming and owning your own music. The obvious pro for streaming services is that it gives you the ability to listen to more music than you could possibly own. The downside is that you don’t own any of these tracks. You are essentially locked into this ecosystem. If you want to move the tracks onto another device that the streaming service doesn’t support, you're out of luck. If you can play within the rules these services impose, it is fantastic. Once you step outside of it though life becomes a lot more difficult.

Streaming companies have made it very easy to use their software, even for people who aren’t tech savvy. These services either work directly in the web browser, or have a simple to use application that users download. This is vastly less effort than driving down to the local record store or jumping on your favourite music piracy website.

Streaming music also relies on an internet connection. If your internet goes down, which even in the 21st century still unfortunately does all too often happen, you're stuck digging your horrible CD’s from the 90’s out. As internet connections get better and better this should hopefully become less of a problem, but it is something to consider.

Not only do streaming services need an internet connection, every time you listen to a song it is using some of your internet cap. Some parts of the world like Australia the caps on internet plans are quite modest. While streaming music doesn’t use much data, it is something worth considering, especially if you are using 3G or similar services where the cost per Megabyte is astronomical.

So is this service right for you? If you listen to a lot of music on your computer and have an internet connection, then yes, granted the service is available in your country. If you mostly listen to music out of the home such as at work or on the daily commute, then it becomes a bit less clear cut. Likewise if you don’t use your computer to listen to music. Ultimately it will come down to how and where you listen to your music, but for the sub genre of people who do listen on their computers, these new services should be seen as a godsend.

Most services also have a paid model in addition to the free model. Generally you lose the ads and gain either more features, content or both. Below we spell out the pros and cons for the current most popular streaming services.
It is important to note at this stage that not all services are available in all countries. We recommend clicking through to the relevant website to find out if the service is available where you live. Stupid I know.

Spotify

Spotify Interface

The biggest name in streaming music services has to be spotify. Launched in 2008 it has taken the music industry by storm, offering an experience that is as easy as something Apple would provide in its iTunes application. It has allowed millions of people around the world to be easily able to access 15 million tracks from wherever they can get an internet connection.

Spotify doesn’t officially release the contractual obligations between artists so their is alot of guesswork that is going on in the blogosphere and beyond as to how much artists are actually getting paid. But there is some simple truths that are going on. They are getting paid a lot more than The Pirate Bay.

With the inclusion of apps from the likes Last.fm, Triple j, The Guardian and The Rolling Stone, Spotify is quite a powerful place to discover new music.

Spotify is free to listen to but you will have to put up with annoying random ads after a few songs.

There are two different paid tiers available.

Spotify AU PricingSpotify is a rock solid choice. The Interface is great and being free (with ads) it is a good first choice to try out for a few weeks to see if you like streaming music. The Apps by 3rd parties will only get better and better. This is what really separates Spotify from the rest of the pack.

Use Spotify if you are willing to pay, music review apps are important to you and you want an easy to use experience.

Pandora

Pandora's Interface is like a time warp to 2000. Pandora, meaning “all giving” in ancient Greek launched way back in 2000 and is geared more to radio listening than other streaming service. You pick a song or station that you like then using like/dislike buttons preference certain songs over others. The Pandora engine using over 400 different attributes of a song, then recommends other songs that it thinks you might like. The more times you let the service know what you like or dislike the better the service gets.

This service is all done in the web browser, meaning no application needs to be downloaded

At the moment Pandoras advertising is reasonably unobtrusive. No pop-up pictures or massive animated banners, just a few small static pictures. After around 10 hours of listening the music has been interrupted once (between tracks), for a short message from one of Pandora’s founders Tim Westergren saying how happy he is to have Pandora back in Australia. This relaxed stance might be an attempt to pull in the new Aussie listeners, or they could still be signing up customers from the region. Either way it's refreshing.

Pandoras makes up for its relaxed advertising stance by being a little more on the restrictive on music playback. Track skipping is limited to approximately 6 within the hour. 

If you are willing to lay down $36US ($35AU ) a year or $4US ($4AU) a month for Pandora One you get access to higher quality streams, no ads and a desktop application. Pandora understands its strengths, even touting that you can press play and you will get 5 hours of nonstop music, requiring no interaction from the user.
This hands off trait is really what makes pandora shine. If you want a radio like experience, not having to choose what you listen to, then check out Pandora.
 

Pandora Pricing

Use Pandora if you are used to listening to the radio, it will serve up music you like all day long. 

Rdio

Rdio's Interface is slick and pretty

Born out of the remains of the p2p service Kazaa, Rdio launched in 2010 and has amassed 15 million tracks. Rdio offers an experience that is arguably even easier than Spotify, by enabling users to stream music from directly in the browser. They do also provide an application for windows that is prettier than Spotify.

Also to Rdio’s advantage is that straight out of the box it is better at recommending music due to the way it can integrate social networks, but it is debatable which is better when compared to Spotify’s built in Apps.

Rdio doesn’t have a free model like Spotify but does offer a 7 day free trial.
 

Rdio Pricing

Overall Rdio is a very solid service, with an easy to use interface and a good selection of music that is similar to others in the field. The ability to play music straight from within the browser is a huge plus.
Rdio is the go if all your friends are using it, and you don’t want to have hunt around for music recommendations. Otherwise go Spotify.

Google Play

Google's Play is okay, nothing to tell your friends about. While not a streaming service like the others on this list, Google Play launched in 2011 (formerly known as Google Music) and allows you to upload up to 20 000 tracks onto their servers, which you can play from both the web browser and dedicated mobile apps.

The biggest negative holding back this service is that you need to upload your own music, which can take weeks if you have a large music collection.

The interface for the web service is passable, not extremely good like Rdio but acceptable.

Google Play is a free service to use, however you do need to have bought (or pirated) the music beforehand. If you don’t see these as limitations it is hard to argue with free. If it incorporated the ability of iTunes Match to scan your music and compare to what is already in the cloud, it would be a killer service.  As it stands it will only appeal to a niche audience.

Got a huge music collection and don’t mind spending months uploading it? Also a tightass? Google Play is the go.
 

iTunes Match


iTunes Match uses exactly the same interface as iTunes.

iTunes, the hugely popular music application used by Apple for its idevices, gained another feature in 2011, iTunes Match. Like Google Play it requires you to own the music that is available to stream, however it does it in a cleverer way than Google Play, by scanning your music collection and comparing it what is available within the 20 million song strong Apple database. Only songs that are not available in iTunes are uploaded, saving you time. It is limited to 25 000 songs.

iTunes Match currently costs AU$35 a year.
 

iTunes Match Pricing

iTunes Match is much better thought out than Google Play, but isn’t free. it also doesn’t offer access to all music in the Apple library like Spotify and Rdio. It treads somewhere in between. If you have a heap of Apple devices and a tonne of Mp3s, this service will work with the least amount of effort.

Kiss your apple devices every night before bed? Bought a tonne of music off iTunes? iTunes Match should be your pick.

Ultimately which service you choose will be a combination of where you are going to use it, what your friends are using, what kind of experience you want and how much you are willing to pay.
If you’re looking for a great comprehensive breakdown on whats included with all the streaming services check out this article
 

References (click to view)

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