By Tracey Dowdy
Sometimes I feel nostalgic for the days of huddling next to my clock radio waiting for CIGO 1410am to play the top 10, so I could record songs on my tape recorder and make an amazing mix tape. Then I come to my senses when I remember the sound of my mother yelling at my brothers showing up in the middle of “Hungry Like the Wolf.”
Radio has long since moved from the airwaves to online and accessing your favorite music is easier than ever. In fact, digital downloads may be declining but online music streaming is taking off. There are a lot of options out there, but here’s a breakdown of some of the most popular options.
Pandora is the granddaddy of them all. Launched back in 2000, Pandora has a relatively small catalog at only a million songs. Users choose a song and Pandora then creates a playlist of music from similar artists or genres.
Pandora has a limited number of customizable features but does offer options like social sharing, artist bios, lyrics, and the ability to personalize stations by liking or disliking songs, although you can only skip 5 songs per hour.
One unique feature Pandora offers is the option for users to create custom skins, so the look of their playlists can be as unique as their sounds.
Platforms: Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Roku, Sonos, Web, Xbox
Price: Free version with ads or choose subscription service Pandora One for $54.89/year or $4.99/month
Pandora may be the granddaddy but Spotify is the undisputed front-runner of streaming services, with 60 million subscribers, a catalog of over 20 million songs, and service in 58 countries.
Users choose an artist, an album or, with the premium version, a song and Spotify will create a playlist based on your choice. Paired with that extensive library, Spotify also features excellent audio quality, an offline option, social media tools, third-party apps and is fully compatible with iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows and home audio systems.
Users who opt for the ad-free premium service are treated to top tier audio streaming, the ability to download songs for offline listening and there’s no limit to the number of songs you can skip per hour.
Platforms: Android, BlackBerry, iOS, OS X, Windows
Price: Spotify Free for 10 hours per month/Spotify Premium ($9.99/month) with unlimited streaming/Spotify Trial – free for 30 days of Spotify Premium.
Deezer started in France back in 2007 and though it has 16 million users in 182 countries it’s just coming into its own in the American market.
Like Spotify, Deezer has a massive music library at 35 million songs. When users launch the app for the first time Deezer asks you to choose your preferred genres then Like or Dislike a series of artists. Because the library is so extensive, you can swipe for hours but whenever you’ve had enough, the app takes that information to create your custom playlist called your Flow.
The home page is called “Hear This” and features a constant stream of singles, albums and user-generated playlists, and its App Studio offers over 100 apps for everything from lyrics to chord extraction.
Platforms: iOS, Android, Windows, Windows Phone, OS X
Price: Free with ads or Premium subscription for $9.99 month
iHeart Radio is the only completely free streaming service in the mix, with the catch being it acts like a radio station in that you can choose a basic genre but you have no input on what plays. The upside is that it’s ad-free and the music is free. If you’re a “set it and forget it” kind of listener, iHeart radio is a great option and, with a catalog of 15 million songs, there’s little risk of getting tired of a particular song, which is a common complaint with traditional radio.
Platforms: Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Web, Windows, Xbox
Rdio is arguably Spotify’s biggest competitor at this stage of the game, with a catalog of over 20 million songs, a user friendly interface, a strong social media element, and unlimited access through any browser or desktop. Couple that with features like Top Charts, Newest Releases or Heavy Rotation and the option of a family subscription and it’s easy to see why Rdio’s popularity is steadily growing.
One fun feature for users who opt for the ($10 month) mobile app is the ability for your phone to act as a remote control for Rdio on your computer, as well as the ability for your playlist to pick up where you left off across different devices.
Platforms: Android, BlackBerry, iOS, OS X, Web, Windows
Price: $5/mo., $10/mo. mobile, $18/month for family (Same as unlimited, but for 2 accounts; $5.00 for each additional account up to 5 accounts total.)
iTunes Radio is limited to Apple products or iTunes supported platforms but boasts a catalog of 26 million tracks. Like Pandora and iHeart radio, you have little control over specific song choices and playlists are created based on your preferences for artist, song or genre.
Platform: Apple TV, iOS, OS X, Windows
Price: Free with ads, free (no ads) with $25/year iTunes Match subscription.
Again, this is by no means an extensive list. Google is determined to make Google Music a serious contender in the streaming music business, and with Beats Music gaining attention for its superior sound quality and its partnership with Apple, we can expect big things. Consider your needs, your budget and your travel schedule – some are only available in the U.S. – and take advantage of the free trials many of these apps offer to see which one best fits your lifestyle.
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.