The Pros and Cons of the 6 Most Popular Music Streaming Apps
If you're anything like me, every waking minute of your life is better with music. It's your best friend during awkward first dates, when the words you've practiced over and over in your head all of a sudden vanish, and your mouth gives Death Valley a run for it's money. Or you have an hour commute to work and you're sick of hearing the same political rant or bad jokes on your favorite morning talk radio station.
Luckily, the age we live in has allowed us to keep our entire music library in our back pocket, and easily accessible at a moments notice. This has all been made possible with the advent of streaming music apps, which can not only store your music, but will also help you discover new music by recommending playlists, similar artists to who you listen to, and concerts based off of your favorite genre.
Listening is the easy part, but choosing which streaming app is right for you isn't, especially now that our choices have doubled in the past few years. We thought we'd help out our fellow music lovers by listing the pros and cons of the 6 most popular streaming music apps according to us, but in no particular order from affordability to notability. Before you start, here's a list of terminology we used to classify each music streaming service:
- Affordability - How much it costs
- Availability - The size of the music database and/or presence of an "Offline" mode.
- Usability - How easy it is to discover new music and find the music you want to listen to.
- Personability - Personalized playlists, recommended music/playlists and the ability to create your own playlists.
- Exclusivity - Exclusive deals with artists for early releases.
- Sociability - How easy it is to share on social platforms or with your friends within the app.
- Notability - Notable mentions
1) Apple Music
Back in May of 2014, Apple bought BeatsByDre, the music and electronics brand made famous by co-founder Dr. Dre, because according to Tim Cook, "they recognized that human curation was important in the subscription service, that the sequencing of songs that you listen to affects how you feel." And since then, Apple Music has been trying to replicate this feeling with their new and improved streaming music player they've built from the groundwork already in place by Beats By Dre.
- Availability - Not only does Apple Music boast a database of over 30 million songs and counting, but also allows you to easily integrate your already downloaded iTunes library into your playlists.
- Exclusivity - By making deals with huge artists like Drake and Frank Ocean, Apple is able to release popular music earlier than most of it's competitors.
- Personability - By using both algorithms and high profile music enthusiasts in the industry, Apple offers a lot of options for different genres, moods, radio stations and playlists based off of the music you love to listen to.
- Affordability - They offer a $14.99 per month family plan for up to 6 people as well as a student discounted plan for $4.99 per month depending on the country you live in.
- Notability - Not ready to take the plunge? You can "Take Apple Music for a spin" for 3 months! You're also able to request Siri to find new and vintage music for you.
- Beats 1 Radio - It's Apple's own 24 hour live music station headed up by former BBC DJ Zane Lowe and a great way to discover new music.
- Live Festival Broadcasts - Receive playlists from festivals that you might enjoy. At the time of this post, they're offering live recordings from the Apple Music Festival.
- Affordability - If you're not willing to pay $9.99 for their single user premium plan or qualify for their discounted plans, then you're stuck with your iTunes library and the radio because they don't offer a freemium plan.
- Usability - Have a favorite song or playlist that you like to play regularly? If so, you won't find them very easily since Apple likes to push new music on their users.
- Notability -
- Transferring Platforms - If you've been using another streaming app like Spotify, you'll need to download a third-party app in order to import your music. Here's a guide from macrumors.com if you plan to switch.
- Apple App- This is only a con if you're both an iPhone and Apple music user, but should still be noted: If you're an iPhone fan, then you know the headache that comes with having to reorient yourself with IOS updates, especially the new IOS 10, which updates every IOS app on your phone including Apple Music. iPhone users are reporting a hard time getting used to the new app.
2) Pandora Radio
If you're a regular radio listener, but are getting sick of the same song on your favorite FM station playing on repeat, then this service could be for you. Pandora Radio is one of the oldest music streaming apps around, starting way back in 2000, and the reason for it's longevity is due to their Music Genome Project. They proclaim that it's "the most sophisticated taxonomy of musical information ever collected. It represents over ten years of analysis by [their] trained team of musicologists, and spans everything from this past Tuesday's new releases all the way back to the Renaissance and Classical music." Now this is a bold claim, but if you've ever used it, then you already know that their algorithm for picking music you'd like to listen to is no joke.
- Affordability - Their "Free" plan is Ad supported so if you're OK with listening to an Ad every few songs, then this is a no-brainer. You'll also still get access to the hundreds of stations they offer all for free. Their premium version called Pandora Plus, is only $4.99/month and unless you're a student, this is the best deal around. It now offers an offline mode, zero ads, higher quality streaming, unlimited skips and replays. They also offer a Business plan with no long-term contracts and they cover the commercial use license for $26.99 per month, but you have to purchase their media player for a one time fee of $99.
- Usability - While playing music, you're able to very easily find out more about the artists, discover new ones that are similar, and get the lyrics from songs in your playlist.
- Personability - You can base a radio station around a song or band that you love, and their algorithm will introduce you to new artists or songs that are very similar to the one you've chosen. The more active you are in giving the songs you like a "thumbs up," the more personalized the station becomes. It will also suggest other playlists that are similar to your interests and what's popular.
- Sociability - Feel free to be social, follow your friends radio stations, send them radio stations and post on Facebook as well as Twitter.
- Notability -
- Local Concert Dates - Pandora can update you as to when your favorite artist is coming into town, which is also available for the free version.
- Personability - There's no option to download the songs that you like and add them to a personalized playlist of downloaded songs.
- Usability - If you find an artist that you like, you can't simply choose to listen to their entire album, you're limited to a playlist based off of the artist or song that you choose.
- Availability - Very limited song database so new music is rarely an option, except for artists like Taylor Swift, who removed her music from Spotify, but kept it on Pandora.
- Affordability - SoundCloud Go is their premium plan for $9.99/mo, which is separate from their Creator Plans. SoundCloud Pro will cost you $7/mo and their top tier creator plan, SoundCloud Pro Unlimited, will set you back $15/mo, but allow for in-depth analytics about your audience. If you already have a SoundCloud Pro Unlimited account, SoundCloud Go is only $4.99/mo.
- Usability - Similar to Twitter, you can search for music with #Tags, see what other's are listening to that you follow, and see song charts based off of the most played tracks on the platform depending on which genre of music you're interested in.
- Personability - Personalized playlists and stations are automatically created for you based off of what you've liked and who you follow.
- Shareability - Soundcloud has created an atmosphere for those who love to experience music with others. You can like, re-tweet or share on your own page or share to just about any other platform of your choice including embedding a song on to your website!
- Notability - With the launch of SoundCloud Go, they're claiming that their music catalog is expanding by signing new agreements with UMG, Sony, Merlin, Warner and others.
- Availability - Unless you're on here for sharing you're own music or following your friends, it's hard to tell which artists are actually on SoundCloud and a simple search on their platform won't help. For example, I searched for "Drake" and a few profiles came up with his music, but none of them looked official.
- Notability - SoundCloud Go is currently only available in the USA, but is promised to be available in more countries soon.
- Freemium Plan - Smaller music directory, no offline playing, 30s previews and ads really limit your freedom to explore the music they offer.
- Affordability - One of the only platforms with a true freemium plan, you can stream music from anywhere, but you just can't download it for offline listening and you'll have to listen to a few ads here and there.
- Personability - From personalized stations and playlists to a "Jump Back In" section, Spotify is really trying to create a personalized user experience by allowing you to listen to old favorites, discover new music or listen to a playlist that's based on mood!
- Shareability - Sign in with Facebook and easily follow and share music with friends, but if you're feeling anti-social, you can also play your music in "private mode." Have a playlist that you like or a song that you love and want to share it with friends on social media? It's very easy and you can also embed your playlist on a website as well.
- Notability -
- Switchability - You can import playlists from both iTunes and Windows Media Player in order for a smooth transition from either of these two platforms as long as Spotify offers the songs you're transferring.
- Concerts - If you're OK with Spotify knowing you're location, they'll suggest concerts and even provide a link with more details as well as ticket purchase information. You can also change the location in case you want to plan ahead, but there's no search or calendar feature in case you want to get specific.
- Exclusivity - Spotify doesn't seem to believe in creating many exclusive deals with artists and because of this, a lot of new music isn't available for a couple of weeks after launch.
- Notability - Some musicians (and the number is growing) claim that Spotify doesn't pay enough to the artists for access to their music, one example is Taylor Swift, who has removed her music from the platform.
5) Amazon Music
Amazon has had a music streaming service for it's prime members called Amazon Prime Music for a long time, but it has a limited selection of 2 million songs and seemed like more of a careless add-on feature than a real music streaming service until now. Just recently, they've beefed up Amazon Prime Music and have called it Amazon Unlimited. They're hoping that the combination of their growing Amazon Prime Membership popularity and their AI devices like the Echo, Dot and Tap will help them compete with the big guns by offering lower prices for owning one of these devices and/or being a prime member. The ultimate question is if this combination enticing enough to make people switch?
- Affordability - Like previously mentioned, if you're already paying $9.99/mo for an Amazon Prime membership, then you can add on Amazon Unlimited for only $7.99/mo for a total of $12.98/mo. Their freemium plan is their Amazon Prime Music, which is a good option if you're hurting in the wallet department. If you already have the Amazon Echo, Amazon Dot or Amazon Tap, you can get this service for $3.99 per device and give commands for volume, playlist and songs, although Alexa will still play your Spotify music as well with the same commands...for now.
- Switchability - When switching from Spotify to Amazon Music Unlimited, whatever music I had already downloaded showed up in my Amazon Unlimited app as long as it's also available on their platform, which is nice when you're as cautious as I am about downloading a third party app that might not work the way it's supposed to potentially wiping out your precious music collection.
- Availability - With only around "tens of millions" of songs available, it's lacking on the music database front when compared to Apple and Spotify who have a guaranteed 30 million tracks in their collections. Although, with Amazon's deep pockets, I wouldn't expect their database to stay small for very long.
- Exclusivity - Currently, I couldn't find any artists that they've made exclusive deals with, so you will have to wait for new releases from artists who have an exclusive deal with another platform.
- Sociability - At the moment, there's no way to share music with or follow your friends nor a way to post on social media.
Tidal became the first major music service to be owned by an artist after their North American re-launch in early 2015. Jay-Z is their new CEO and along with him came other artists like Beyonce, Coldplay and Madonna, to further persuade other artists to sign exclusive deals with them.
- Affordability - With essentially 8 tiers: Standard, Family, Student and Military, (for each there's a Premium and HiFi plan available) they've got a discount for you, but the biggest difference from their competitors is the Military Plan since none of their competitors are currently offer anything similar.
- Exclusivity - Like Apple, Tidal has locked in artists like Beyonce, Rhianna and Frank Ocean's Blonde so you're sure to get new music earlier than most of its rivals. They even offer exclusive playlists created by major artists like Jay Z, Swizz Beatz and Danger Mouse.
- Personability - Like Spotify, Tidal offers playlists based off of moods, genre's and your most recently played music.
- Sociability - You can share your music, playlists and music videos with friends via Facebook and Twitter.
- Notability -
- Music Quality - If you're a huge music lover and have a great pair of headphones, the fact that Tidal HiFi provides CD quality streaming is a big deal. If you have no idea what the difference is, check out this explanation...or this one. (We compared the sound quality of Spotify vs. Tidal and there was a marked difference.)
- Music Videos - If you're missing your MTV, then you might want to try out their premium version. They have a huge library and will even make suggestions for your next one based off of what you're watching. The only thing is that not all of their video's are in HD quality like Kid Cudi's Persuit of Happiness with MGMT, which is odd since this song came out in January of 2010.
- New Artists - TIDAL Rising is for up and coming artists trying to broaden their fan base.
- Chromecast - If you have Chromecast plugged into the back of your TV to make it smarter, you can stream your Tidal music directly from your mobile devices.
- Affordability - For standard sound quality and HD music videos, you can get the TIDAL Premium subscription for $9.99/mo and if you want "Lossless High Fidelity sound quality," you'll have to fork over $19.99/mo for their TIDAL HiFi membership.
- Usability - For the HiFi subscription, not everyone has super speedy internet or wireless carrier data speeds, so streaming HiFi quality music may not be an option for everyone.
The Final Verdict
I've used the premium free trial version for every platform listed, and the following are my honest opinions where as the above list is objective. Although most of us in the office are torn, my personal favorite is Spotify, because I'm a creature of habit and although I love discovering new music, there's nothing like that perfect song to match my mood.
I don't need to listen to brand new music as soon as it comes out, MP3 quality works just fine for me, and I care more about bringing my personalized playlists everywhere I go without the need to hunt down every WiFi password to stream music. I've also been using Spotify for a long time now and although it's very easy for me to keep my subscription, I'm now teetering on trying a new platform. This revelation comes after doing in-depth research on each of these platforms and coming to the conclusion that, as an artist myself, paying for art is necessary to keep it alive.
I did not write this piece to persuade you one way or another, pick the service that best suits your needs and enjoy the ride. In the end, it's all about our love for music and although free feels best in our wallets, we need to respect artists and musicians by paying them for the amazing experiences they're providing us.
Let us know what music streaming app you use and why in the comments section below. We'd also love feedback on if this post has helped you make your decision on which streaming music app to use, if you enjoyed reading this or you've noticed a factual edit that needs to be made. Thank you!