I previously wrote an article for the playground discussing how the way you listen to music compensates the artists that create it. But putting aside that issue, streaming music services are worth exploring if only for the huge selection of music they offer you, the user. In this post we’re going to run down some of the popular online services. In a later post, we’ll look into the particulars at using online services to discover new music.
So I’ll say it one more time: while it’s great that these choices are out there, it’s also great to support the artists that you love. Although buying music will always help the artists better than streaming, it’s hard to resist the convenience of just going straight to a streaming music service. If you can’t resist, why not make the commitment to subscribe to more than one service? For the cost of one or two album downloads a month, you would have access to more music than you could hear in a hundred lifetimes! If enough people subscribed to at least one paid streaming music service, payments per stream to artists might grow into something that actually contributed to them.
Another reason to support these services is, perhaps surprisingly, their business models aren’t always sustainable. Most of them are yet to turn a profit, or are propped up by their parent companies. But from a consumer’s point of view, these services are comprehensive, accessible and affordable beyond the imaginings of a music lover of a couple of decades ago. Don’t be too worried about committing – most services offer month-by-month subscriptions. And there is no doubt that support for streaming services is growing. Most industry observers feel that those services that get past their growing pains will stay with us well into the future – or at least until the next revolution…
Let’s see what some of the better-known services out there have to offer and what their future prospects are like:
Google Play Music
Google Play Music isn’t as popular as the other major streaming players, but the fact that it’s backed by Google gives it a good shot at survival. Google Play Music is actually a few things: It’s part iTunes (you can buy songs); part iTunes Match (you can upload songs you downloaded elsewhere for access anywhere); and part Apple Music. As a bonus, anyone who subscribes to Google Play Music also gets a YouTube Red subscription, and vice versa. For $10 a month, that’s a lot of streaming music and ad-free YouTube content.
iHeartRadio is run by iHeartMedia (the company formerly known as Clear Channel Communications), which has a huge tie-in with most of the nation’s largest radio stations. iHeartRadio might not have cachet of Spotify, but with 100 million registered users in the US, it has a lot of ears. Moreover, because its owner is the biggest player in the terrestrial radio business, it doesn’t have the same financial issues as Slacker or Pandora. iHeartRadio might not be cool, but it’s also not screwed.
Amazon Music Unlimited
Amazon has had a music service for its Prime users for a few years, but last October, it launched its direct Spotify/Apple Music rival, Amazon Music Unlimited. Though it is very likely that Amazon sees its music offering as a loss-leader—Prime members pay $8 a month instead of $10 for non-Prime members—as long as Amazon doesn’t get bored by music, it’s probably pretty safe.
Make no mistake: Spotify has some very real business problems. For one, it can’t make money, though some investors insist it might find profitability this year. For another, musicians and labels don’t all love the service. And the longer it delays its IPO (initial public offering), the more money it owes some of its investors. None of that is great. However, the reality is that Spotify is far and away the biggest streaming music service globally—both paid and free—on the planet, with more than 50 million paying users. Moreover, even though labels and artists often decry how much Spotify pays them, only the biggest artists can actually afford to not be on the service. Post-IPO, Spotify could be in trouble, but for now, it’s the definition of too big to fail. For now at least, revel in its catalog of more than 30 million songs. A 200 year subscription should cover that if you avoid listening to any song more than once.
Apple Music will probably never outpace Spotify in number of subscribers. Spotify had at least a four-year head start, and it has a free product that can get people hooked. That being said, in less than two years, Apple Music has managed to attract more than 27 million paying subscribers, something no company on this list (save Spotify) can even fathom reaching. Plus, Apple Music is backed by the richest corporation in the world. And in the future, Apple Music will likely be the iTunes Music Store’s replacement. As revenue for the iTunes Music Store declines, Apple is going to do everything in its power to make Apple Music make up the difference. Its catalog matches Spotify in quantity and quality.
Tidal might be thought of as the subscription service for the true music buff. For a higher fee than other services, subscribers enjoy a higher audio quality and exclusive content. It’s still the only place where you can legally stream Beyonce’s Lemonade album. Being owned by a consortium of artists headed by Jay-Z, the service looks after the fans with extras like online meet-and-greets, and the artists with its higher royalties.
Are you a subscriber of any of these streaming music sites/apps, if so do you have a favorite? Leave us a comment below lets us know what your favorites are and why!