Tag Archives: Spotify

Give the Gift of Streaming

By Tracey Dowdy

Though there has been much progress on getting a vaccine approved to prevent coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the CDC warns we’ll still be wearing masks and social distancing for the next few months. Once approved, the goal is to have all those who choose to be vaccinated receive the vaccine by the end of 2021.

That means that for the foreseeable future, we’ll continue to spend time at home, and with the colder months upon us, we’ll be indoors. That means finding ways to entertain ourselves and stave off cabin fever. And, with the holidays just around the corner, this year’s most popular gift may be the gift of a streaming service. 

Not only can it help keep your quarantine team entertained, but you can also share with extended family and friends, near or far, through features and extensions like Teleparty (formerly called Netflix Party), Disney Plus GroupWatch, and Amazon Prime Video Watch Party.

Here are a few options:

Disney Plus allows you to gift a one-year subscription for $70 (it usually costs $7 a month, saving you $14 over a year). When the subscription is up, the recipient will have the option to add their payment details and continue subscribing. Go to Disney Plus to purchase a subscription, enter the recipient’s email address (must be a U.S. resident, new subscriber, or willing to create a new account), choose a delivery date, and write a personal message. On the date you’ve chosen, they’ll get an email with instructions on how to redeem their gift subscription. All Disney Plus subscriptions include Disney Plus GroupWatch, which syncs your streams so you can watch any title on Disney+ with your personal friends and family virtually through the app. 

Though You do not need to have an Amazon Prime membership to use Prime Video, it can’t be gifted as a stand-alone service. It is bundled with an Amazon Prime membership ($119 a year or $13 a month), bringing plenty of perks besides streaming. To gift someone a Prime subscription, go to Amazon.com/giftprime. Login to your account and choose either the one-year or three-month option. At checkout, you’ll enter the recipient’s email, the date you want it delivered, and be able to write a personal note.

To gift a Netflix subscription, you’ll need to purchase a gift card online through AmazonWalmartBest BuyTargetNewEgg, or Kroger. You can buy in-store at Walmart, Target, Best Buy, CVS, Walgreens, Kroger, 7-Eleven, Dollar General, and Safeway. Gift card values range from $25 to $200, and Netflix subscriptions range from $9 to $18 a month, depending on the number of screens you choose to stream at the same time and if you want HD. The recipient can use the gift card for new or current subscriptions with the card’s value applied as a gift balance. Netflix notifies account holders when the balance is running out. The subscription includes Teleparty, which synchronizes video playback and adds a group chat feature to Netflix, Disney, Hulu, and HBO (subscriptions to each required for all participants).

Hulu also offers gift cards ranging from $25 to $100 that you can purchase online or in-person (TargetWalmartBest BuyKroger, and Paypal. A subscription to Hulu costs $6 a month with ads, $12 a month to go ad-free, or $55 a month for Hulu Plus Live TV. The recipient can redeem their gift card through their Account page on the app or website. If they are a new subscriber, they’ll need to update their payment details after the gift card balance is up, or Hulu will cancel the account.

 Video streaming isn’t the only game in town. Spotify is a great option for the music or podcast fan in your life with a Spotify Premium individual plan costing $10 a month. You can buy eGift cards online at TargetNewEggKroger, and PayPal or purchase physical cards online at Amazon or Best Buy, or in-store at Walmart, Target, Staples, CVS, 7 Eleven, Kroger, and Simon Malls. Choose from $10, $30, $60 or $99. Note, gift cards can be used only for Premium Individual plans — you can’t use them for Premium Student, Premium Family, Premium Duo, or trial offers. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Apps for Autism Awareness Month

By Tracey Dowdy

 April is Autism Awareness Month, and there’s no better time to celebrate the diversity and strength of the autism community.

Over the years, there’s been much misinformation surrounding what causes autism – there’s no one cause –  and possible cures – there is no “cure,” but behavioral treatments and interventions can be highly effective for many autistic individuals.

Autism is considered a “spectrum disorder” because it presents such a wide range of characteristics. A common saying within in the autism community is, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” In other words, two individuals, even within the same family, can present with different behaviors, challenges, and strengths. Ask any parent of an autistic child, a physician, or mental health professional, and they will tell you there is very little that is typical or predictable about autism.

Friends Brady and Nathaniel are both on the autism spectrum, but like any neurotypical friends, have distinct personalities, challenges, and gifts. Brady, diagnosed with Autism/PDD-NOS at two and a half, was non-verbal until he was nine, but is now a great conversationalist and lights up every room he walks enters. Nathaniel was diagnosed with Autism, ADHD Combined TypeSensory Processing Disorder, and Anxiety Disorder at three years old and knows more about Pokemon than anyone you know. Both boys have learned how to manage the sensory overload and anxiety that they struggle with, enabling them to continue their education with goals of getting a job and the possibility of some kind of independent living.

When asked what apps are most valuable for supporting both the autistic individual and their families, these apps are highly recommended by parents, caregivers, and individuals with autism:

Find My Family, Friends & iPhone – Life360 Locator Life360 Locator is great for children and teens with autism. An intuitive tracker app to keep family, friends, and caregivers connected, the app works across mobile devices. When you open the app, family member’s locations are immediately visible, eliminating the anxiety of not knowing when your child at home, work, or at school, and allowing them to check your location at a glance, so they know when you’ll arrive to pick them up.  You can set alerts, send private or group messages, and even send a quick “check-in” to alleviate any concerns about personal safety. (Free)

Amazon Music, Spotify, or Apple Music  – “Nathaniel uses Amazon Music daily to help manage his anxiety, prepare for transitions, and to stay on task with chores. Allowing him time to listen to music while completing chores results in much less grumbling about doing them. He will listen to a three-minute song to make sure he has brushed his teeth long enough.” No matter which platform you choose, music is a powerful tool to assist with transition, distract and redirect during meltdowns, and cheer an otherwise troubled heart. Amazon Music comes as part of your Amazon Prime Membership, Spotify can be bundled with Hulu with additional discounts for students, and Apple Music allows you to set up a Family Sharing plan. (Prices vary by service)

Time Tree –  Mobile phones have native calendar apps, but if you need to go one step further, Time Tree a collaborative calendar app for Android, iOS, is an excellent option. When you set up the calendar, the app asks what it’s primary use will be – personal, family, friends, work, relationship, or group use.

Each category is clearly defined so you can make the best choice – the relationship calendar is made for two people to share, so it’s ideal for managing your child’s schedule and tracking appointments. You can create multiple, color-coded calendars within the app and events are displayed in an overlay providing an overview of what’s on your schedule any given time. (Free)

Proloquo2Go – Symbol-based AAC – Proloquo knows that “Not being able to speak isn’t the same as having nothing to say. The app is a full-featured augmentative communication application (AAC) that offers picture only, picture and text, and keyboard options for non-verbal or individuals with verbal communication challenges. The app uses natural sounding male, female adult or child voices, and the keyboard and picture/text grids can be used for sentence building. The buttons are SymbolStix images, however you can customize the pictures to make it an even more personalized tool. (iOS – $249.99)

Choiceworks – Choiceworks is a picture-based learning tool to help individuals stay on task and complete daily routines, chores, or schoolwork and helps them understand and control their emotions, improves their waiting skills, and empowers them to make right choices. It’s useful for assisting with transitions during the day or at bedtime and offers useful resources for re-directing anxiety and de-escalating meltdowns. The app allows users to create an unlimited number of schedules and practice waiting by using the “wait screen” that displays a timer counting down the amount of time left, and offers suggestions options for what to do while they wait. (iOS $6.99)

Peppy Pals Sammy Helps Out (Preschool), The Social Express II (Elementary), Sit With Us (Teen) – Each of these apps teaches empathy through age appropriate social learning by encouraging inclusion and acceptance for all individuals. Not only are they useful for individuals on the spectrum, the apps are particularly useful for neurotypical individuals who may be unfamiliar with autism and the challenges it presents as well as the abilities and gifts of these individuals. (Prices vary by app/available across platforms)

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

The Music Industry Resets – Again

By Tracey Dowdy

It will come as a surprise to exactly no one if I say streaming – not downloading – is the future of music.

Streaming isn’t new. When Pandora launched back in 2004, it was one of the first streaming sites to use algorithms to create personal radio stations matching your musical tastes and preferences. Over the years others, like Spotify, Tidal and Apple Music, have joined the game and now, for the first time, streaming services have edged ahead of downloads in income generated.

When the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) released its 2015 year-end sales report, analysts noted that the music industry earned a whopping $7 billion in revenue last year. Streaming services generated $2.4 billion, or 34.3 percent, of that revenue, with downloads coming in second at 34 percent. Somewhat surprisingly, physical music sales (CD’s and vinyl) brought in a solid 28 percent, perhaps in part due to the resurgence in popularity of vinyl.

“In 2015, digital music subscription services reached new all-time highs, generating more than $1 billion in revenues for the first time, and averaging nearly 11 million paid subscriptions for the year,” RIAA CEO Cary Sherman said. “Heading into 2016, the number of subscriptions swelled even higher — more than 13 million by the end of December — holding great promise for this year.”

So what does that mean for your music library? Is it as obsolete an 8-track tape? Well, yes and no.

Streaming may have surpassed downloads last year but only by a narrow margin. The music industry still generates significant revenue through downloaded music and it’s unlikely that will change any time soon, particularly when top artists like Drake, Taylor Swift and Adele are factored in.

When Adele, one of the industry’s top selling artists refused to make her last album “25” available on Spotify and Apple music last year, she explained her decision to TIME. “…for me, all albums that come out, I’m excited about leading up to release day. I don’t use streaming. I buy my music. I download it, and I buy a physical [copy] just to make up for the fact that someone else somewhere isn’t. It’s a bit disposable, streaming.” She isn’t alone. Taylor Swift pulled her album “1989” and her back catalog from streaming services and wrote an open letter to Apple to ask them to review the compensation paid to artists.

Despite this, consumers have demonstrated a preference for subscription services over ownership of a particular song. According to Forbes Magazine, Spotify has seen roughly 8 million Apple users move to its platform. As a result, Apple had to get onboard with streaming to mitigate the lost income. Of course, using streaming doesn’t generate the income downloading brings, but it’s more than Apple would see if they allowed users to defect to Spotify, Tidal and Pandora and didn’t offer their own alternative.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.


YouTube Red Helps Reshape Streaming Services for Mobile

By Tracey Dowdy

Although we all know YouTube as a free online video service, you may be surprised to learn that it also offers paid video streaming subscriptions. Previously offered as a little-known music streaming platform called YouTube Music Key, the service was revamped to include video and relaunched in October 2015 as YouTube Red.

Like many streaming services, the first month’s subscription is free, and then it costs $9.99 a month thereafter. While that price tag isn’t the cheapest, it’s certainly comparable with the cost of many other video streaming services. Choosing Red over watching YouTube the way we always have means you no longer have to deal with ads interrupting your videos (unless you’re watching paid TV channels or renting TV shows and movies). Currently Red is only available in the U.S. but there are plans to expand to a global market.

YouTube has created original series and movies for PewDiePie, Lilly Singh, Rooster Teeth and other YouTube stars that will be offered exclusively through YouTube Red. There is speculation it will eventually be available for free but there’s no guarantee or timeline offered as to if and when that will happen.

The pros for Red are that users will be able to download and watch videos offline and that you’ll be able to listen to videos with the screen off – in other words, you can open another app on your phone and still be able to listen to your video in the background.

Because YouTube is owned by Google, subscribing to Red means free access to Google Play Music, making it a better deal than Spotify, Rdio, Deezer and other streaming music services. Conversely, if you have a subscription to Google Play Music, you already have access to Red; they’re a package deal, you just need to be signed in to the same account on both services and ensure that both are available in your area.

The cons are that video is available for direct download only to phones and tablets. Content will be available for 30 days but some features such as liking and commenting are unavailable if you’re offline. Red may not be a good fit if you already subscribe to a service like Spotify and use an ad-blocker extension. At $10 a month, it simply may not be worth the additional cost. However, if you’re a commuter or frequent traveler, being able to download content to watch offline and hang on to it for 30 days may be enough of an incentive. At the very least, subscribers have that one month free trial to give it a test run.

One final piece to consider is the impact ad blocking and subscription services are having on the “free Internet.” Ad blockers have been around for years but, with increased awareness of how our personal preferences are monitored and logged by advertisers, more and more people are using ad-blocking extensions to circumvent the tracking. This has an impact not only on retailers but on content creators on services like YouTube, as many of the channels are dependent on ads to stay in business. It will be interesting to see how long access to sites like YouTube will continue to be available at no cost. If monetizing a formerly free service is successful, we can expect the so-called “free Internet” to disappear faster than Fantasia in “The Neverending Story.”

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Making the Most of Spotify

By Tracey Dowdy

When we moved back to Virginia after five years in Canada, one of the things that eased the pain of saying goodbye to poutine and ketchup chips was access to sites like Amazon Prime, Hulu, Netflix, and Spotify. Of course Canada has Amazon, Netflix and Spotify, but the content is different and like everything else ‘Merican, well, your content libraries are bigger.

Spotify in particular has been a welcome addition – who wouldn’t love rolling through Spotify’s catalog of over 30 million songs, available through free or paid subscriptions? One of my favorite features is “Discover Weekly” – a customized list based on your listening preferences that gets updated every Monday. I’m guaranteed to pick up at least 2 or 3 songs a week to add to my playlists.

Spotify’s launched back in 2008, but even if you’ve been using it for a while these tips and tricks can help you make the most of the service.

1. If you don’t want the world to know your secret life as a diehard Belieber, make your listening activity and playlists private.

  • In desktop preferences, un-check “Publish my activity on Spotify”
  • Make individual playlists private by right-clicking the title and selecting “Make Secret”
  • Start a temporary private session under the main Spotify window on the desktop

2. Read lyrics in real time as a song plays so you can avoid “momming up” the lyrics and you’ll discover Taylor Swift isn’t actually singing about her list of “Starbucks lovers” in Blank Space.

3. If you use the paid version, you can import songs from iTunes and other places on your computer directly into Spotify. This is particularly useful for artists like Taylor Swift whose music isn’t available through the service. Tracks will be displayed under the Local Files tab under “Your Music” in the Spotify app.

4. Make your playlists collaborative by clicking the “…” icon next to “Following.” You’ll get a notification any time the list is edited by another Belieber, I mean another user. Ahem.

5. Get specific with Advanced Search. Go beyond searching by artist, genre, album or title and use common search parameters AND, NOT, OR. E.g. “Simon AND Garfunkel”, “Simon OR Garfunkel” or “Simon NOT Garfunkel.”

6. Easily recover a playlist you deleted. Not that that’s ever happened to anyone I know. Simply login to your account on Spotify’s website and select “Recover Playlists.”

7. Use “touch preview” to sample an album or playlists. Tap and hold the cursor over the album or playlist to explore, quite literally, without having lifted a finger.

8. Use your phone as a remote control to play music from another computer or your speakers. The technology also works with newer TV’s and some speakers like those from Sonos.

9. Organize your playlists into folders. On the desktop, go to “File” and then “New Playlist Folder” and sort and label away.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Best Apps for Streaming Music

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.


pandoraPandora 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


spotifyPandora 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.


deezerDeezer 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

iHeartiHeart 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
Price: Free


rdioRdio 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

itunes-radioiTunes 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.

Best Free Apps for New iPhone Users

By Tracey Dowdy

If you’re a new iPhone user, transferring email, contacts and your calendar is as simple as adding a new account, or you can use an app like Copy My Data. Photos, videos, books, music and documents are easily transferred as well.

The one thing that won’t transfer is your apps but not to worry – many of the same apps are available for iOS that you loved on your Android phone. In fact, one of the perks of being an iPhone user is that new apps are often introduced before they are available for Android devices, and some stay exclusive to the iOS platform.

So if you’re new to iPhone, these are some of the best apps for new users. Many of these are likely to be familiar to you and others are iOS exclusive, but best of all – they’re free!

Facebook Paper
Facebook Paper is designed to make your feed have more of a magazine or newspaper feel. Designed specifically for the iPhone (no iPad version), content is posted in a grid so it doesn’t feel as cluttered and is easier to read. Content isn’t limited only to what’s been posted by your friends but is curated by a team of Facebook staff to include what’s trending across social media.

The Spotify streaming music service allows you to search by artist, album, genre, playlist, or record label to create custom playlists of your favorite music from a vast catalog.  Accounts can be integrated with your Facebook and Twitter accounts and premium accounts are ad free. Spotify radio lets you choose by decade or genre and, unlike Pandora, you can skip as many tracks as you like.

Onavo Extend
Onavo Extend works in the background compressing incoming images to help limit your data use. The app automatically turns itself off when Wi-Fi is available and tracks data usage so you can see what apps or activities are using the most data. It’s especially convenient if you travel outside the U.S. when every mega-byte counts.

Pocket allows users to save articles or webpages to a list that can then be read later offline. Pocket syncs across devices so an article you saw on your phone during your morning commute can be read later on your laptop or iPad.

Brewster combines all your contacts from across your networks into one address book. You don’t have to download an app – simply authorize Brewster through your Google or iCloud account and contacts will automatically be synced. Now when you start to type in an email or text, Brewster will auto-fill the field based on your contacts.

SwiftKey is an onscreen keyboard that intuitively picks up on your commonly used words, typos, and even the emojis you use most often. Sign up through Facebook or Google Plus and the app discerns your writing style based on your posts and email. The more you use it, the more accurate and customized it gets.

Flipboard follows the trend of magazine style layouts to provide users with an uncluttered view of RSS feeds and social media pages. Create an account with Flipboard, then choose which social media account you want to pull content from. Choose from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Instagram, Google+, and YouTube. You can customize the layout and create a “magazine” of preferred content.

Of course, apps like DropBox, Google Maps, Skype and Evernote have virtually become smartphone essentials. Needless to say, with over 1.2 million apps available, you’ll have no trouble making your new iPhone unique to you.

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.