spotify

If you’re a music lover who is still downloading your favorite songs one album or track at a time, you might want to consider a music streaming service to get your fix. According to Nielsen SoundScan data, music downloads were down 13% in the first quarter of 2014, while interactive streaming was up 34%. With so many services to choose from it can get confusing, so here’s a breakdown of some of the most popular options:

One of the oldest, but still very popular streaming services is Pandora. Started in 2000, Pandora lets you create your own radio stations based on a particular artist or genre of music. In the free version, you can create up to 100 stations, but you have to listen to ads every few songs, and there is a limit to how many songs you can skip per hour. The paid version is $4.99 per month and eliminates the ads. Unfortunately, you don’t get offline listening, and Pandora’s catalog is fairly small with only about one million songs available.

Spotify is probably the most popular music streaming service currently available that boasts a 20-million-plus song catalog, and the ability to listen to songs on-demand. You can create custom playlists, or choose playlists based on different categories like "workout," "romance," and "kids." There is also a Pandora-like radio station feature as well. The free version of Spotify limits the number of skips per hour if you’re using the radio station, and you can only listen to your playlists in shuffle mode. Spotify’s $9.99 per month paid version gives you those capabilities and also eliminates ads and allows for offline listening.

Google is also getting in on the streaming music game with Google Play Music All Access. Similar to Spotify, you can create playlists, listen to pre-selected radio stations, or hear music on-demand by your favorite artist. But All Access also lets you upload your own personal music library as well, so that you have your entire collection of music in one place, accessible from any device, and available offline. There is a limited free version, but most of the features you’d probably want are included in the $9.99 per month subscription service.

A few other services worth mentioning are Rdio, which has close to 20 million songs in its catalog. True music aficionados will appreciate the inclusion of more indie artists but not the poor sound quality you get for your $9.99 ad-free subscription. Rhapsody is still hanging in there, with a decent catalog (16 million songs) and lots of devices that support the service so that you can stream on-the-go or at home. But with no free version, the $9.99-$14.99 per month price tag might be a bit steep for some. And Beats Music’s $9.99 monthly fee was worth it to members for the slick design and ease of use of the app, as well as the unique discovery algorithm and high sound quality. It will be interesting to see if Beats becomes a more major player since its acquisition by Apple this year.

Personally, I’m not quite at the point where I feel the need to pay for a monthly streaming music service, but I also never thought I’d be paying for a monthly TV/movie subscription either (thanks Netflix!). For now, the free version of any of these services will probably do just fine for me, but if you’re a music lover who wants your music on-demand with all the bells and whistles, the subscription fee might just be worth the price.

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