Online Music: The Wide Streaming World of Digital Tunes

Online Music: The Wide Streaming World of Digital Tunes

MusicJanuary 03, 2013

Forget what the founding fathers said about happiness: The pursuit of music is today’s inalienable right. Now that Napster’s free-for-all bazaar is gone, streaming music has become the common bonfire around which we all gather and get along. In exchange for a few innocuous ads—or a small fee to make them go away—we get to listen to whatever we want, whenever we want, without the recording industry’s overlords swooping down and suing our asses, which is pretty sweet. But which service is right for you? Here’s a little insight into this rapidly expanding market’s myriad options.

Pandora: 3 out of 5

Likely the most popular of its kind, with close to 80 million users at its prime, Pandora blazed trails for legal music streaming. The incarnation of the Music Genome Project—yes, the company probably got the idea from the Human Genome Project, but no, it’s probably not trying to create an anthropomorphic musical source of satisfaction—Pandora ascribes 400 characteristics to a song and uses a complex mathematical equation to craft a play list to your liking based on any song, artist or album you feed it.

Library Size: 900,000 tracks
Stream Rate: 64-192/kbps

The Pros:
• Input the music you want to listen to and Pandora does the rest. You don’t have to worry about changing the song or starting a new play list unless you absolutely despise what’s playing and feel the need to skip it.
•Through its rigorous formula of song classification, chances are pretty high it will craft a play list to your liking, especially with the thumbs up and down options to further tell it what you’re into.
• It has a web interface for access on any computer or smart phone.
• You stand a high chance of discovering new music you like.
• Cost efficient for how intricate and effective its services are.

The Cons:
• You can’t pick and choose song by song to make your own personal play list.
• You’re only allowed six song skips per hour.
• Repeats are relatively common after a few hours of listening.
• No rewinding or manually repeating previous tracks.


Free web and mobile version with commercials. $3.99/month, or $36/year for no commercials, higher-quality streaming and music player customization.

Spotify: 4 out of 5

This ambitious music-sharing client has gained serious recognition since it was assimilated into Facebook and paired with this year. Spotify, which originated in Sweden, boasts an international user base of 15 million and growing. It’s a great tool for creating and sharing play lists for yourself and others. The modern solution to the obsolescence of making a mix-tape for your girlfriend, now you can craft it on your computer, drag and drop it to her computer or just share it using the Facebook link. You may even, if you’re this obnoxious, publicize your favorite tunes for your friends to rate, subscribe to and discover on their own.

Library Size: 18 million tracks
Stream Rate: 96-320/kbps

The Pros:
• If you use your Facebook account to create a Spotify account, you automatically get a six-month, free trial period with unlimited song listening, usually only allowed for paid users.
• The immediate link to your Facebook account gives you access to your Facebook friends’ Spotify play lists, so you get new tunes and plenty of opportunities to judge that ’90s play list your buddy claims belongs to his girlfriend.
• Song popularity rating next to the title is similar to Pandora with thumbs up and down options.
• You may sync your entire iTunes library with your Spotify account and play music through any device.
• Has a selection of apps to add to the player.

The Cons:
• Lacks a web interface. Your account and player are tied to your computer, though you may login from other computers that have Spotify.
• Lacks a music recommendation tool without downloading one from a third party app.
• Once your trial period expires, the free version only allows 10 hours of music listening per month divided into 2.5 hours per week

Free six-month trial period with unlimited streaming when creating an account through Facebook. $4.99/month for unlimited streaming, no ads. $9.99/month for mobile capabilities, offline mode and exclusive content.

Grooveshark: 3.5 out of 5

Initially experiencing massive success, Grooveshark has been plagued by a litany of lawsuits over copyright infringements from major record labels totaling more than $17 billion worth of liability. Like a bad breakup, this led partnered companies including Apple, Facebook and Android to dump their apps. Although this hasn’t forced Grooveshark to pull the plug, due to some crafty lawyering and loopholes, there’s no telling how it will affect users past limiting access on phones and through Facebook. It seems Grooveshark’s users are of a rather loyal and die-hard breed, despite the drawbacks, numbering, at their peak, around 35 million.

Library Size: 15 million tracks
Stream rate: Minimum 128/kbps

The Pros:
• Ability to upload your own music.
• It allows you to queue your own tracks into radio stations.
• Web interface.
• Its home page shows recent songs heard on radio stations so you may listen to them again, in case you forgot the name/artist.
• It offers suggested music based on your taste.
• Music videos.
• Most of its features are available in the free version.

The Cons:
• Lack of social media connectivity makes it a bit harder to find friends’ music.
• No specialized, device-specific mobile apps.
• The paid version doesn’t offer significant advantages.

Free unlimited streaming with ads. $5/month for no ads, desktop app and anywhere option.

Songza: 4 out of 5

Employing a rather unique interface, unlike most of the other music-streaming sites, Songza runs a mood/atmosphere-based music recommendation player. Additionally, it offers a more in-depth categorical search than just genre, such as era, culture and activity-specific searches. If lyrics are too distracting, but you need something to drown out your teeth grinding during an Adderall/coffee-fueled study session, Songza’s “Electronic Study: Ambient” channel could be the answer. Songza offers play lists crafted “by an expert team of music critics, DJs, musicians and musicologists.” There’s no computer algorithm using a list of mathematical equations to guess what kind of music you might like.

Library Size: 18 million tracks
Stream Rate:  Undisclosed

The Pros:
• Ability to contribute your own play list.
• Approve or disapprove tracks for fine tuning.
• Web interface.
• Minimal effort for finding a suitable play list.
• Wide range of categories to choose from.
• Human-chosen play lists—no algorithm.
• Ability to sync with social media.

The Cons:
• Six-song skip limit per hour.
• Can’t listen to your own play list you create due to legalities.
• No paid, added feature version.

Free. Yes, actually free.

MOG: 3 out of 5

MOG, short for Music On the Go, has an interface that’s like a cross between Grooveshark and Rdio. What makes MOG stand out from its competitors is its high sound quality of 320/kbps. MOG’s free service gives you a gas tank-like meter to show you how much free music you may listen to. It allows you to listen to more free music and increase your music gauge by creating play lists, inviting friends to join, or sharing music with others. MOG seems to be highly supported by the major record labels in the music industry, with legendary record producer Rick Rubin sitting on its board of directors. We’ll let you be the judge as to whether that’s a good thing or not.

Library Size: 13 million
Stream Rate: 320/kbps

The Pros:
• Artist-only radio stations.
• Offers a mix of algorithmic suggestions as well as human-picked play lists to get the best of both worlds in discovering new music based on your tastes.
• Best audio quality of any player of its kind.
• Web interface.
• Has partnered with certain auto manufacturers such as BMW and Ford to integrate the player into car music systems as well as cars with JVC media navigation systems.

The Cons:
• Free trial expires pretty quickly, unless you’re able to constantly get your friends to sign up.
• Social integration not as seamless as Spotify or Rdio.

Free limited streaming with ads. $4.99/month for unlimited streaming with no ads. $9.99/month for unlimited streaming with no ads plus mobile capabilities.

Rdio: 4.5 out of 5

Brought to you by the same guys who gave you KaZaA and Skype, Rdio is a music-streaming service whose interface most closely resembles Spotify. Rdio allows users to amass a collection of music from the site and use that cache to create play lists that may be shared with friends. The cool thing about Rdio is that it gives you the ability to follow artists who have their own accounts and listen to their play lists. Rdio falls into the social play list-centric category that gains popularity where the play list rules supreme and single tracks are but mere peasants in the music-streaming feudal system.

Library Size: 18 million tracks
Stream Rate: Undisclosed

The Pros:
• No ads.
• Recently doubled its library.
• Easier navigation than Spotify (less inundation).
• Better mobile apps than Spotify.
• Web interface.

The Cons:
• Not quite as widely connected on Facebook as Spotify.
• Inability to upload music from computer to Rdio.

Free limited streaming. $4.99/month for unlimited web streaming. $9.99/month for unlimited web and mobile streaming. $17.99/month for two subscriptions of unlimited family access, or $22.99/month for three subscriptions.