It's been over a decade since Napster changed the music industry forever. Or rather, since broadband Internet, faster computers, ever growing hard drive sizes, and new compression algorithms (like the mp3) allowed every day folks to share music around the world almost instantly. In the years that followed, a little computer company called Apple -- maybe you've heard of it? -- became the world's largest music distributor, and there's an entire generation of new music lovers who have never purchased a physical copy of an album. And with newer streaming services, some people may elect never to purchase music again; instead choosing to rent access to a library for a monthly fee.
Since Swedish streaming service, Spotify, recently debut here in the United States (after signing up over 10 million users in Europe), I thought it would be fun to do a quick refresher course about the how newest streaming services compare to the Pandora -- how much they cost, what they provide, and how well they do it? Consider this a survey course rather than a look into everything that's available now.
PRICING AND SIGNING UP
Let's start with Spotify, a music streaming service offering both paid and unpaid versions. All users have access to over 15 million music tracks via a desktop application resembling iTunes. Search for any artist, album, or track you like and, save for the holdouts such as The Beatles or rare recordings, it will be ready to play. You can build and arrange custom playlists and the Spotify software will even access your computer's digital music library (Windows Media Player OR iTunes) to allow you to run your collection alongside streaming Cloud Music. The one thing to note is that not all tracks from every album are playable. Some, for various legal and financial reasons, have been left out.
So, how do you get Spotify? Two ways. Either sign up for waiting list https://www.spotify.com/us/invitation/ (it took about a week for me) or be invited by someone you know. Spotify Free covers 20 hours of listening per month with advertisements sprinkled in for good measure. Spotify Unlimited will run you $4.99/month for unlimited access to the available music without any commercials. At $9.99/month, Spotify Premium jumps up to 320kbsp (versus 160kbps) and adds mobile connectivity, home streaming capabilities, and "Offline Mode", which allows you to cache a certain number of songs locally (or on the go) so you no longer need to have your Internet connect.
Next, we have Rdio, which I have not used personally, but looks quite similar to Spotify in terms of being able to search for specific tracks and play them in any order you wish. Rdio offers a free 7 day trial, and has two price points. $4.99/month buys you unlimited web access to all available tracks. For $9.99, you add Unlimited Mobile Access as well as Sync to your Mobile Phone. Rdio for iPhone works on all iPhone models OS 3 or newer. Rdio for Android works for all Android devices running OS v.16.
Another newcomer hot-rodding its way around the social networks is Turntable.fm, which is currently only in Beta testing. Meaning you'll again need another coveted invite from someone really cool, or as was my case, be friends with someone on Facebook who is already a member. Then it's as easy as signing via your Facebook account. Turntable.fm is an online social music listening environment. Users go into various "rooms" which are divided up by genres, to hear "DJs" (aka, other users) play their favorite tunes. You can also create your own room and spin tracks with up to four other DJs. DJs are able to build up points by how many people like his or her musical choices (as judged by the Like or Dislike buttons which listeners can hit every time a new song plays).