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What’s the Deal with Music Streaming?

Services, Rates, and Features that Make a Difference

Music streaming services offer millions of music tracks across a myriad of genres. Technology devices can now stream thousands of vinyl records, CDs, and cassette tapes. Gone are the hours of listening to the radio, hoping to hear your favorite song. Before choosing a streaming service, take time to consider which features are important to you and that the service is the right one for your devices. The options can be daunting and seem endless, but here are a few things to consider as you choose a streaming service that has the features you want and pairs with your devices.

General Considerations

Some services have a free tier that is supported by ads. If you have multiple music-loving family members, consider a service that has a family plan, so your child’s love of top-forty music does not influence your carefully curated music selection. If you have limi


ted mobile data, then be sure to select a plan that allows you to download music and listen offline. 

For the true music connoisseur, consider streaming services that offer data compression that does not degrade sound quality (lossless compression). If you want to stream on more than one device, be sure to check compatibility with each of them. Another lesser-known feature available on some services is a music locker, where you can upload your personal digital songs and play them on different devices. 

Streaming Services

If you have faithfully purchased songs and ripped CDs to iTunes, then Apple Music Streaming will allow

you to stream your personal library and Apple’s 75+ million songs. Subscribing to the service gives you access to artist-hosted radio stations and exclusive concerts. You can download music and listen offline. Although Apple Music does not have a free streaming option, there is a free trial. An individual plan costs $9.99 a month, and a family costs $14.99 a month and includes up to six family members. Unfortunately, Apple Music does not work on older Apple devices like iPod Shuffles, Nanos, or Classics. Apple Music works with several smart speakers, including Amazon Echos, Apple HomePod, and Google Nest (Home).

For Amazon Prime Members, Amazon Music Unlimited provides access to 70 million songs and hundreds of podcasts for only $7.99 a month for an individual plan and $14.99 for a family plan. A free tier of service allows you to listen to preset playlists and radio stations. The app for iOS and Android phones will enable you to download songs for offline listening. You can subscribe to playlists or create your own. The service automatically integrates with Amazon smart speakers, but it also works on other smart speakers, too. If you prefer high-fidelity sound quality and don’t mind using additional bandwidth, Amazon Music has an HD tier, which recently became a free upgrade.

If your house is filled with Google or Android devices, then consider YouTube Music. For $9.99 a month or $14.99 for a family plan, you can stream more than 40 million songs (for $2 more, you can upgrade to YouTube Premium and stream YouTube ad-free). The ability to download music on mobile devices allows you to play your music offline. YouTube Music integrates easily with most mobile devices via an app, and it is compatible with most smart speakers, especially the Google Nest. YouTube Music has a music locker feature so you can upload all your favorite CDs, mix tapes, and
vinyl records.

For the budget-conscious, the free tiers of Spotify and Pandora provide a radio-like experience with ads between songs. The Pandora free tier allows you to select an artist, song, or genre to create a custom radio station. If you rate the songs, Pandora will further customize the station based on your ratings. In contrast, Spotify radio is static. You can make, save, and share playlists with other Spotify users on the free tier. Both services work with most smart speakers and devices, but the quality of music on both free tiers does not compare to CD quality.

For true music enthusiasts who require a CD-quality or better listening experience, Tidal is ideal. The HiFi plan, which costs $19.99 a month or $29.99 for a family plan, plays songs in full CD quality. A select number of songs in the Tidal Masters collection stream at a higher quality. In addition, Tidal has negotiated with prominent artists to release content before radio stations and streaming services, and the service streams live concerts. Although the interface is not as intuitive as others, Tidal’s extras like artist meet-and-greets make it an excellent service.

Internet Radio Stations

Don’t forget that many radio stations can stream to devices, too. You can listen to your favorite childhood radio stations, or you can discover new ones, including Internet-only radio stations. Soma FM is an Internet-only radio station that has existed for more than twenty years. Stations include Drone Zone, Secret Agent, and Groove Salad. The Illinois Street Lounge station has a fascinating collection of background music songs perfect for a lively dinner party. Soma FM depends on listener donations rather than charging a fixed fee.

The number of music-streaming services most likely exceeds the number of radio stations in Richmond. Before investing in a service, take time to determine which features you want in a service. Internet radio stations like Soma FM give you more variety than traditional radio stations, but they do not give you the customized streaming services experience. Sign up for free trials, but don’t forget to cancel them at the end. 

Also, while you’re considering these options, be sure to share your personal music-listening history with your children – the hours you spent recording songs off the radio, making mix tapes with your double-deck cassette stereo, buying CDs to update your home library – the list goes on and on!

All prices quoted are accurate as of this writing, but may be subject to change.

Shahwar Qureshi is the director of technology at The Steward School where she spends her days enhancing education through the use of technology. When she is not at work, she is searching for adventures of the unconnected variety with her husband and two children. 
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