As much as it hurts me to say this, the bane of the music industry is a product that is made by Apple. That product is iTunes. How could a piece of software that was designed with a single task in mind — managing a music collection — become such a disaster? Don’t ask me. But there are better ways!
Times have changed. The idea of puchasing, downloading, storing, and managing music files feels so, well, old school! We have been blessed by tech-savvy brainiacs that have invented this thing called the Internet, and it has, for the most part, been good to us. So when more of those tech-savvy geniuses invent amazing services to simplify our lives, we should pay attention. It just so happens that the audiophiles in this world are getting special attention.
The Web 2.0 era has brought along many new music services that rival anything produced in the past. Music lovers can now blast as much music into their brains as it can handle. The nice thing is that the new ways don’t require people to fork out hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year to accomplish this. Many are free. Some will require people to forego a cup or two of Starbucks coffee (difficult, I know). But either way, it’s well worth it.
This is the future of music, so why not enjoy it right now?
Rdio is the newest kid on the block that you probably haven’t heard about. It comes from the creators of Skype, which is one of the most useful services in existence. Rdio isn’t about communication; however, Rdio just might be the future of music consumption. It offers unlimited streaming with a clean interface, social functions (e.g. sharing playlists, songs, etc.), and mobile streaming. And it has the potential to live up to Skype’s success.
You can play all the music that your heart desires during the free three-day trial, but after that, you’ll have to pay $5 per month for Web-only access or $10 per month for Web and mobile access, which includes Android, iPhone, and BlackBerry phones. While it is still in its early stages, it looks to be a great service that will grow even more impressive with time.
Spotify is a Swedish startup that was created to revolutionize the way people consume music. If you live in a select few European countries, you might already be acclimated. If you live in the U.S. or anywhere outside of Europe, it’s time to be introduced. Users can stream all the music they want from any artist for free (for up to 20 hours). There is also an impressive desktop application that offers similar functionality to iTunes. And it is all fits into a nice package that is very popular.
There are three tiers of service available with Spotify: Spotify Open, which offers 20 hours of music a month for free; Spotify Unlimited, which offers unlimited, ad-free music for £5 per month; and Spotify Premium, which offers the same features as Unlimited and offline playback and mobile access. It’ worth a look if you can gain access to it. If not, rest assured that Spotify is working hard to get the service into other countries (it’s just a matter of dealing with the big record companies, which is never an easy task).
Grooveshark is one of the more interesting offerings in the cloud music space. It offers a completely free service that offers an unbelievable amount of music. It looks more like a search engine than anything else, but it allows users to search, queue, and add music to playlists. It is also different from the aforementioned in that it offers a radio feature, which is useful for those looking to discover new music.
Grooveshark offers VIP service at the cost of $3 per month or $30 per year. It offers access to Grooveshark Desktop and Grooveshark Mobile, which is available on Android, Nokia, Palm, and BlackBerry phones (unfortunately, Apple removed their iPhone application). Either way, it is an amazing deal. The service is also an excellent choice if you don’t feel like signing up for anything, as it is not required.
Rhapsody is a name you’re probably already familiar with. Regardless of what you have heard before, Rhapsody has become an impressive establishment in the music arena. After signing up, users receive an unlimited amount of music to play whenever they want, as long as they remain members and their devices are supported. Sure, you can still purchase MP3s from Rhapsody, but the service primarily deals through its streaming music. There is also an impressive amount of radio stations to keep things fresh.
After a 14-day free trial, the service costs $10 per month with unlimited access and support for a single mobile device. For $15 per month, you can enable access for up to three mobile devices. You can’t go wrong in going with a service like this that has stood the test of time.
Napster is one of the first decentralized Peer-to-Peer music services that really changed the entire music industry (although the argument of whether it was for the better or worse is still up for debate). The service began by enabling users to share music with each other, but after countless court battles with the music industry, they eventually folded and became the Napster of today. The service now enables users to purchase and stream music for a monthly fee. It’s all legit, but the service has received plenty of praise for its new direction.
Napster is $5 per month or $50 per year for regular access or $10 per month or $96 per year for included mobile access and offline access to music. Unfortunately, there is no free trial, so we didn’t test it. But if you have any experience with Napster, feel free to share it in the comments!
MOG is another popular online music streaming service that steps it up a notch by offering a plethora of social features. The main highlight is being able to share, discovery, and play music with friends while finding hidden gems with the service’s radio feature that plays similar music to what you have already listening to.
MOG offers a Web-only music streaming option or Web, mobile, and offline music playback option for $5 or $10 per month, respectively. If you are interested in services like Last.FM, this service might be worth a look.
The mSpot music service is probably one of the most unique services here in that it sticks with the traditional way of managing music collections. To start, you have to buy, rip, or download all your MP3 files that you want (just as you have always done). Then mSpot allows you to upload all of these songs to the their services and provides you with many ways to listen to your music on the Web or on your mobile devices. Think of it as an online locker for your MP3s.
The price for mSpot is very reasonable at $4 per month, and it is turning out to be a huge hit on the Android platform. That, sadly, is the catch with mSpot: it is currently only available on Android phones. Sorry iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad fans (however, they do have a movie rental application in the iTunes Marketplace).
Slacker Radio is a bit different from all of the aforementioned services in that it is primarily a radio experience. Users can select from hundreds of radio stations, many of which are organized by genre or artist. Users can skip the songs they don’t like, but the myriad of stations should ensure that you always have something to listen to.
Slacker Radio Plus can be purchased for $5 per month or $47.88 per year, and it includes unlimited song skips, mobile station caching, song lyrics, and no advertising. If you have a good idea of the type of music you want to listen to, Slacker Radio is a great choice.
However, if you only have a starting point in mind, Pandora should demand your attention. This service is the greatest concept of a radio that anyone could ever envision. It feeds you a relevant source of new and intriguing music that is tailored to your own musical tastes. It takes an artist, song, or genre, and dissects it into its smallest parts and generates a a radio station for you.
Pandora is primarily a free service, with up to 40 hours of listening time per month. If you become a power user and want unlimited daily skips, higher quality audio, and a desktop application, Pandora One might be worth the yearly $36 subscription.
Did we miss anything? If so, let us know in the comments section!