Music streaming services have quickly become popular among those who enjoy listening to their favourite tracks at demand. There are a couple of established names when it comes to this market share, including AOL Radio, Grooveshark, Last.fm, Pandora or Spotify, but also new ones that are worth mentioning. Here we go…
AOL Radio is amongst the most popular names when you talk about music streaming. In order to improve the listening experience, the company decided to introduce Slacker Radio, an idea which started from iPad’s Slacker app. Besides enabling a brand new interface with plenty of new features, AOL Radio also modified some of its core services. For example, you can no longer listen to music without creating an AOL account. There are also three plans to choose from. The free one lets you skip a maximum of six songs in an hour, while also promoting advertisements.
Also available for iPhone, iPad and Android-based devices, Jango sets itself apart by offering three important features: unlimited skips, artist promotion, and social networking. Moreover, the streaming service is coming with a complex interface (although not comparable to AOL’s) that incorporates social networking, categorized music, and a set of other useful features, including seeing what people are listening to, adding friends and sending them messages, and so on. With Jango, you get access to 15 different radio stations, covering all music tastes, from Rock to Pop, Country to Reggae, Rap to HipHop, and so on, and so forth. Yes, it’s free, but video ads can be a bit aggressive as they cover a hefty portion of your screen. Leaving that aside, the music experience is uncanny.
Another popular name that often made the news on our website is Grooveshark. The service’s interface is basically a music player (similar to Spotify), featuring a couple of needed areas – content, playback, and a sidebar showing what you’ve uploaded, playlists, and stations. The service is free, but you can also pay a minimum of $6 a month for Grooveshark Plus or $9 a month for Grooveshark Anywhere. Both are ads free, but the latter also allows you to take your music experience anywhere (on your mobile device), hence the name. Furthermore, for both of these plans users also get access to the Adobe Air-powered Grooveshark desktop application, Video Mode – that lets you watch YouTube videos for songs that you queued, Visualizers, Power Hour Mode – a feature that automatically skips between songs every 60 seconds, crossfade, share songs via popular social networks, and out of the oven skins. You can browse for songs, artists, or album. And you won’t be disappointed by the search engine – results are shown as you type. Grooveshark’s audio quality is excellent on both desktop computers and mobile devices. Last but not least, Grooveshark’s intuitive Music Recommendation feature may come in handy at points when you’re tired of your own collection.
Being accountable for millions of unique accounts, Last.fm is by far one of the greatest free music streaming services around. If you’re a newcomer to the service, a dialogue box will greet you, asking that you type the name of your favourite artists. As you do so, recommendations are suggested. Unfortunately, this is a one-time opportunity, meaning that you’ll never be able to see that box again. After creating an account, you’d need to add songs and artists, one at a time – which can be a bit frustrating for those of you who lack patience. Last.fm also enables four important features. The first is called New to My Library – a section box that shows your latest additions. The second is Last.fm Recommendations – a self-explanatory feature. Events keeps you updated with the latest shows that are about to take place in your area, while Free Downloads is offering, from time to time, samples of free music. But what really made Last.fm popular was this: the music streaming service allows artists to create their own page, showing photos of the band, biography, and pretty much everything one would need to promote his or hers band.
Slacker’s interface is just as good as any of the aforementioned services, enabling the user with access to a tab area containing four important categories – Home, Now Playing, Create Your Own, and Devices. Each of these four’s functionality is pretty obvious. As for browsing, you can lookup a song, album or artist by simply typing the name in the search box. You can also rate your music experience by either choosing to ban a song or favourite it. With a free account you can skip a maximum of six songs an hour, and listen to audio ads (unless you decide to mute). There are two other packages – the Slacker Plus ($3.99 a month) and Slacker Premium ($9.99 a month). The first is ads free, and you can skip an unlimited number of songs. The premium package is quite popular, and not so expensive, given its features – you can cache and create stations, view artists’ pages, play anything on demand, and so on. Moreover, Slacker gives you access to ESPN, and ABC Radio’s Men’s Life and Women’s Life channels. For example, with ESPN you can listen to live streams from different cities, including Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, and NYC. Sporting events are also popular, so you get access to that as well.
Due to some licensing issues, Songza is only available for those living in the United States or Canada. Moving on, the service is packing a strong punch. Since it’s free, you’ll notice a couple of visual ads, which is better than audio ones, right? You can join Songza by creating a dedicated account or by signing in with Facebook. Also, the interface comes with three core options: Music Concierge, Popular, and Browse All. Each of these has its own purpose, but we’re going to talk a little about Music Concierge. This unique feature presents music options based on the time of day. As an example, Monday Afternoon comes with Work or Study (without lyrics), Work or Study (with lyrics), Easing the Tension, An Energy Boost, and Popular Genres, while the Saturday Late Night includes A Nightcap, A Sweaty Dance Party, Getting High, Getting Lucky, and Bedtime. Any of these mentioned options leads to a music genre/playlist that best suits your mood. There are plenty of other features to discover with Songza, such as creating your own playlist, add comments on different songs, and even share them on Facebook and Twitter.
Spotify needs no introduction, but we are going to say that this cloud-based service is free and full of surprises. Spotify’s database gathers more than 15 million tracks from United States’ most prominent music labels – Sony Music, EMI, Warner Music, and Universal Music. If you’re looking for a better experience with full-pledged features, then you should consider Spotify’s Unlimited and Premium accounts. The first is only $4.99 a month and lets you sync your own music, while also removing ads. Having a Premium account ($9.99 a month), comes with some really cool features: you can listen to an album before it’s officially released, cache songs for offline listening, and a crystal-sharp audio clarity (320 Kbps). What may upset some people is that, in order to use Spotify, you need to install a Windows or MAC client, depending on what you’re running. However, Android and iOS versions are also available. As far as interface is concerned, Spotify resembles iTunes, in the sense that it offers a main library view, playlists and radio links, and album art. Each of these features has its own subfeatures. For example, by clicking an artist’s name you get additional songs, organized by albums, top hits, and playlists from different members. Simply put, everything is neatly organized for easy access and listening.
Pandora is also amongst those popular names, and this title has not been easily earned. The service’s development team has worked hard to improve the overall music experience. Two notable changes are the HTML-5 powered design, and the new unlimited listening feature. Besides its change of look, Pandora Radio enables a plethora of options, from rating to easy access to basically any song, artist or album you can think of. However, this service truly shines when it comes to customization and the so called Music Genome Project. As such, you can create stations based on your music preferences, while also getting suggestions on that genre. Furthermore, lyrics are now shown on the same page (in the past a new tab was opened). Hovering the album art opens a menu that explains why the station is playing a particular track; even better, you can move the track to another station, if you’ve already created it. Pretty neat! And speaking of that, you can customize your station as you see fit. Prior to its upgrades, with a free account you could listen to just 40 hours of free music a month (“thanks” to the service’s contract with the RIAA), but now you have 320 hours of music. However, you can opt for Pandora’s One package ($36 a year) and get unlimited number of skips*, choose from a variety of skins, download a desktop application, and enjoy 192 Kbps quality sound.
*you are however limited to a number of six skips per hour.
Last but not least, is Turntable – a streaming music service that enables themed listening rooms. Each room enables a DJ-like feature, meaning that up to five people can mix music. Amusingly enough, each listener and DJ is represented by a South Park-like avatar. You can, however, choose a different image by going to the Settings area. Unique, and customizable avatars are available for those who have a verified account. If you think you’re talented enough, look for an open spot and play music for others. Turntable also enables clear quality sound, even over Wi-Fi networks. What comes as a drawback is that you don’t have lyrics, and you can’t listen to full albums on demand. Furthermore, a DJ can’t scratch, mix, or crossfade. Leaving that aside, if you’re looking for a great opportunity to either learn or launch yourself as a DJ, this is definitely the place to be.
If you know other free or paid music streaming services that are worth mentioning, don’t be afraid to use the comment section below.