Streaming Music: What’s It All About?

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Pandora is just one of MANY music-streaming services. Most have both free, ad-supported and paid subscription options.

If you use Facebook or Twitter you may have noticed updates from friends saying that so-and-so is “listening to [song] by [band] on [Spotify / Pandora / Rdio / etc.]”, and you may have wondered what that’s all about. As per usual, the Digital Media Mom is here to break it down for you!


Streaming Music Services Use The Internet Like A Radio Antenna

You know how sometimes, you’ll click on a link to visit a web page and a video or audio file will immediately start playing somewhere on the page? That audio or video is “streaming”, or being fed one byte at a time to your computer (or mobile device) across your internet connection. In the olden days of dial-up internet access, streaming was buggy and prone to lots of freeze-ups and delays because the internet and devices you could connect to it weren’t capable of processing huge quantities of bytes (the stuff that makes up computer data, and digital audio and video files, and all other types of digital files) very quickly.

Nowadays, thanks to high-speed internet connections, it’s no problem.

So once high-speed internet connection became commonplace, some smart techie types got the bright idea of setting up websites devoted to playing digital music files. Essentially, they’re using internet connectivity the same way radio stations use their radio antennas: to send music out into the world, for anyone who wants to tune in and listen.

You sign up for an account on the service’s website, then install a free companion app on whatever devices you want to use for listening to the station. Some websites, like Facebook, have apps for music streaming built into their own sites, which is how and why it’s possible for you to see what your friends are listening to when you’re on those sites.

Spotify is a streaming music service that’s used by lots of Facebook members.


Streaming Music Services Let You Be The Disc Jockey

These sites, like Pandora, Spotify and Rdio, each have huge collections, or “catalogs”, of music available, but not every site will have every artist or song so you kind of have to try them out to see which one(s) have most of your kind of music. Pretty much all of them offer a basic, free level of service that allows users to create their own playlists or tune into specific “stations” that feature their preferred genres (e.g., jazz, metal, new wave, classic rock, dubstep, etc.) on the site. The free accounts are ad-supported though, so just the same as if you were listening to a real radio, you can expect to hear paid ads sprinkled in among the music offerings.

All of the sites also offer paid, “premium” subscription accounts, typically starting at around $10/mo, to get additional features and listen to your chosen music without any ads. These additional features may include certain parts of the music catalog: sometimes a song or artist you want will be available on a given site, but only to users who’ve paid for the account upgrade to premium subscription status.

Rhapsody – yet another streaming music service provider.


Why I Haven’t Jumped On The Streaming Music Bandwagon

These services offer free radio service that allows the listener to choose her own playlists and genres, so what’s not to like? For many people, nothing. But for me, quite a lot.

First, I don’t like that no matter which service you choose, the music catalog that’s available is limited—and often limited in unexpected ways. For example, you may find about half of a given artist’s catalog is available, but their most recent album isn’t. Or that most of the songs on a specific album are available, but not all of them. This is due to licensing restrictions. Each site or service has contracts with record companies and music publishers, and they can only offer the music covered by those contracts.

Second, you have to have an internet connection available to use streaming music services. When I’m out and about (which is usually when I most want something to listen to) I don’t usually have an active internet connection on any portable device other than my cell phone, and I don’t want to burn through those precious, severely limited data plan megabytes listening to the radio. And I REALLY don’t want to burn those megabytes listening to ads! Especially when there’s an actual radio in my car that costs me nothing to use, and an MP3 player in my purse with my entire library on it, which also costs me nothing to use.

I’d much rather just stick to my Samsung Galaxy Player for listening to digital music. No ads, no subscription fees, and I know for certain it only contains music I love—because it only contains music I put on it!

Third, I don’t like having to listen to radio ads in general, even if I were just using a streaming music service on my home computer while working. When I’m at home and want music, I’ll listen to stuff from my massive MP3 library, or from one of the many genre-specific stations offered at no extra charge through my cable provider. When I’m driving in my car I’m always either listening to my own MP3s on my MP3 player, or if it’s a short outing I’m listening to the radio and switching to a different station every time an ad comes on.

Fourth, I don’t like having to pay $10 or more per month to eliminate the ads. I’d rather put that $120 per year toward buying the MP3s I want and adding them to my library, so I can listen to them whenever I want with no ads, no internet connection, no data plan usage, and no subscription fees.


But That’s Just Me…

Many of my music-loving friends are absolute devotees to this or that streaming music service. I guess it depends on your lifestyle, and personal preferences. If you don’t mind the ads or are willing to pony up the monthly subscription fees, and your cell phone or other mobile device has no limits on data usage (or you’re mostly listening to streaming music at home or the office, where you’re not having to pay extra for internet connectivity), these services may be just great for you.

One thing’s for certain: streaming radio stations are a great way to learn about new artists and songs you might not otherwise hear on the real radio.


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One Comment

  1. Comment by Andy:

    I don’t know, I really like streaming music when I’m at work, I use Torch Music and it’s free (and ad free) so it is kind of a no brainer. I created a few playlists on it for different moods or whatever and I listen to them pretty much all the time.