As competition among music streaming services reaches a boiling point, most of them now offer two experiences: one free and the other “premium.”
By 2015 many of these companies are tinkering with different models. What is free on one service can be expensive or even unavailable on another. A great time to be alive for music enthusiasts, but sorting the good from bad can be overwhelming.
A simple philosophy guides my personal streaming decision: I don’t want to pay a dime, and I want access to everything.
Piracy, Then and Now
There was a time that where the connection between sharing and stealing was less understood. Veterans of the 1990s internet are no strangers to piracy. Remember the Napster era?
Napster was sued for millions. It had successors which catalyzed the evolution from a centralized server to a peer-to-peer (P2P) structure. Large central servers had presented an easy target for government seizure — which was an unsustainable weak point for those networks.
These days people still pirate music, but they mostly use torrents. It’s likely that the battle over piracy will go on in perpetuity, but as technology accelerates, “stealing” music is no longer the easiest thing to do. There are so many cheap or free ways to buy it, that we do.
Great, but what about the free options out there?
The Good: A radio service which will recommend music based on the actual musical qualities that you rate highly. Like a song with a certain type of guitar and vocal tone? You will hear other similar music. This makes the service ideal for discovering music tailored very specifically to your tastes.
The Bad: Limit to the number of tracks you can skip. 6 per hour the last I checked. There are also intermittent advertisements.
The Good: Think “Netflix for music.” Spotify puts a world of music, popular and obscure, on a palette from which you can compose playlists. They recently added PS4 compatibility, and already had it for Xbox One, which means you can really put your imagination to work. Want to play Pacman with the soundtrack to Pulp Fiction? Spotify can make this happen in an instant.
The Bad: The ability to play any song on demand is a premium feature, unless you are streaming Spotify through a video game console such as the PS4. There are ads. You have to be connected to the internet — you cannot download any of the music to play while you are offline.
The Good: Google music offers access to 50,000 of your own songs. Meaning, once uploaded to Google, you can stream your mp3s anywhere and from any connected device. No ads and no hidden costs. Totally free. Have an old mp3 collection laying around? Upload it to Google and stream it at your leisure.
The Bad: If you are using the free service, it will be limited to the streaming of music you already own.
Define Your Method
I use all of these services because of the “good” they offer. It currently takes a bit of flipping back and forth in order to get everything free. But, as you see, where there is a will there is a way. In 2015 and beyond I expect our access to free music will continue to grow.
Enjoy, music lovers.