If you're looking for some good music to listen to, you have loads of services to choose from, both free and paid. With Grooveshark now sadly departed, it's time to take a fresh look at the world of streaming music, and see who comes out on top. This week, we're looking at five of the best services, based on your nominations.
Title photo by Jonathan Grado
Google Play Music has been around since 2013 in Australia, and updated last year with the addition of with YouTube Music Key last year and curated playlists and instant mixes. Its 30 million song catalogue, all streaming in 320kbps MP3 format, keeps its listeners happy.
As a combination music player and store, you can upload your own collection (up to 50,000 songs), have it matched so you get better versions of the songs you own, and then have the option to fill in the blanks in your collection with songs and albums from the Google Play Music store. Even if you don't want to buy, you can just sit back and listen to automatically generated playlists, internet radio and unlimited streaming of any song in the catalogue (with a subscription to All Access). Streaming is on-demand with offline access for your favourite tunes so you can keep listening on a plane or anywhere you're without internet access. Even if you don't sign up for All Access, Google Music is a great cloud-based music storage service and player.
When Spotify came to Australia back in 2012, it ended an era of using VPNs and other tricks to get access. Spotify is now the dominant player in music streaming and has over 60 million users. Spotify now makes it easy to listen to all of your music offline, and gives you a break on the cost of multiple household accounts.
Spotify boasts a catalogue of over 20 million songs that you can browse by artist, genre, album, or by searching for a specific track. It has tons of complete albums to listen to in both its free and paid versions, the option to make and share playlists, scrobbling to Last.fm, and internet radio based on artist, genre, or mood. Spotify also has its own app ecosystem that other streaming services use to pull music from it (and give you access to your own music), and lets you roll in music on your phone or computer to listen to in the same interface. In fact, there are a lot of Spotify features under the hood you may not have tried. Spotify's free version gives you many of these features, but upgrading to premium strips out the ads, gives you access to the mobile apps, allows you to download music and listen offline, and offers higher quality audio streams (320kbps Vorbis files versus the 160kbps Vorbis format that free users get, although the apps can play local mp3 and AAC files as well), and more. Premium is $11.99/month.
Pandora keeps things simple (and affordable) by sticking to what it does best, and has done well since it launched in 2000: Streaming, interest and genre-based internet radio. Pandora's model is simple — you create internet radio stations based on genres, artists or songs, and sit back and thumb up or down the songs you hear to further refine the station. Pandora is the custodian of the Music Genome Project, a massive collection of artists and styles and how they relate to one another, and that technology is integrated into the Pandora service.
There has been some controversy about pricing, but Pandora remains an affordable option. The service comes in free and premium (in the form of Pandora One) flavours, with over 250 million users in the United States, Australia and New Zealand. Free users get ad-supported radio stations that stream at 64k AAC+ on the web, while Pandora One users get a boost, with 192kbps streaming on the web. Pandora streams at 128 kpbs on in-home stereo devices, and mobile users all get streams that vary in quality depending on signal. Pandora One users get more skips per hour and ad-free listening. The premium service will set you back $US5/month or $US55/year, with your choice of monthly or annual billing.
Rdio offers a similar range of options to Spotify: you can choose between a free ad-supported service or the $11.99/month premium version. Its interface is one of the more impressive on a streaming service.
Both the mobile apps and the desktop tools work well, get you right to your music, and gives you radio customised to your own tastes, musicians that you already like, and access to a massive music collection for free. Rdio also offers discounted membership for families, students, or even web-only listeners that can save you a few bucks.
Plug.dj is a curious additioin to the lineup, partially because it's not technically a streaming service. It doesn't maintain its own catalogue of music to listen to, but comprises a huge community of music fans and listeners who love to share and listen to music. The service has been around for a while, but really came into its own when Turntable.fm shut down, leaving it a popular copycat of the original service that was suddenly more popular, more feature-rich, and more well-liked than the one that closed its doors.
Plug.dj supports searching the site's database of shared music from users, YouTube videos and other web-based music sources to build playlists, and offers an option to play for a crowd in a "room" where users take turns DJing for everyone listening to the stream. Users in the room then vote the songs up or down to show their approval (or lack thereof) and influence the flow of the room. Even if you start a room all by yourself just to listen to your favourite songs, it's a great way to pass the time. The service encourages you to participate with virtual costumes and stickers for your avatar. The service has come a long way from being a Turntable clone — there are lots of communities and rooms to join, an on-site "currency" you can use to buy costumes and avatars, and a premium account that's $US3/month or $US30/year .
Our honourable mention this week goes to Songza, which arguably was the web's first "search for whatever you want to hear and play it" services, even if back then it didn't let you hold on to the song you wanted to hear to listen to it again. The service has since evolved into an amazing source for human-crafted playlists and radio stations, and was one of the first to offer mood-based stations and playlists. Google acquired Songza last year and integrated many of its most popular features into Google Play Music. You can read more in its nomination thread here.
Have something to say about one of the contenders? Want to make the case for your personal favourite, even if it wasn't included in the list? Tell us where we should tune in and why you love it in the comments.