How to Listen to Music Online

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Like most, if not all, forms of entertainment, music listening has transitioned to be a mostly online activity for many people. While the record industry itself is still trying to cope with the shift, tech companies have created many apps and services to make music listening easy and cheap or free for consumers, while still being legal. The beginning shift to digital music was heavily characterized by piracy, with services like Napster and Limewire stealing music and providing it for the public to take without paying for.

Many artists still feel that the shift to digital has left them without a way to profit from their art, but new services and apps do pay artists and record companies a percentage of the money made either from advertising or from the app purchase. Musicians such as Taylor Swift might not like it, but consumers decidedly do. With all the options for music listening online, figuring out which apps and services to use can be overwhelming. Here’s a rundown of some of the most popular and best ways to listen to music online, all without pirating.

Apple’s iPod was the first major MP3 player and the company’s iTunes Store was the first major online destination for the legal purchase of digital music. While both of those iTems made it easy to carry your music around with you anywhere, they also made music listening less tangible than it had ever been in the past, essentially doing away with album artwork and eventually the album as a format of listening as consumers were free to purchase individual songs.

iTunes is still the place to go if you want to purchase an album to own digitally and not leave it up to a streaming app to always have access to your favorite record or artist. You don’t have to have an Apple product to use iTunes; in fact, it’s pretty much ubiquitous across devices for music listening. The downsides here are you have to pay for songs or albums and since they are downloaded they take up space on your device. The plus side is since you own what you buy on iTunes you will always have access to it and you can listen even without Internet access once it’s downloaded.

Spotify has become the most popular and most talked about of the online music streaming apps. These types of apps allow you to play music from a huge catalog, listening to full albums or creating playlists. The free version of Spotify is ad-supported, but an ad-free version is under $10 a month. Not only can users create their own playlists, but the app has a social media aspect to it that allows you to ‘follow’ friends and other listeners to see what they’re listening to and access their playlists as well. If you want to listen to something embarrassing there’s a private setting as well.

Given that Spotify grants you access to more music than you would ever want to purchase for a monthly fee, it’s a great way to discover new music, give a new band a real chance by listening to an album from them in its entirety, and just having access to whatever music you could possibly want while on the go without having to have your entire library downloaded to your phone. The downside to Spotify and apps like it is that artists can choose to pull their music from the service whenever they want to. Given that online streaming is still new and still somewhat controversial, some big artists aren’t available on Spotify. More may choose to follow in Taylor Swift’s shoes.

Apple Music (formerly Beats Music)is like Spotify for the music snob. The music streaming app is curated by music industry professionals, with playlists made by journalists, historians, and famous musicians to expand your musical knowledge. The service’s curators work to make playlists to suit every mood, genre, and preference and the service learns more about your tastes the more you listen. There’s also no ad-supported version, so to get the playlists made by the writers at Pitchfork or Iggy Pop you have to pay $9.99 a month.

Another way that music listening has moved online is with the radio. Almost any radio station can be accessed via the Internet and podcasts are the online equivalent of quirky radio shows about any subject imaginable. Pandora Internet Radio is another very popular method for listening to music online, in part because it has a free, ad-supported service. Pandora creates a custom radio station based on an artist, song, or genre that you choose, then further refines that station based on whether you like or dislike a song it plays. You can’t pick and choose albums and songs like you can with Spotify, but Pandora will use its Music Genome algorithm to hours of “insert your favorite artist here” radio filled with similar artists that might be some of your other favorites or you might not even have heard of.

YouTube was originally created by Google as a video sharing website, but it has since become one of the most popular ways to listen to music online for free. Through Vevo and YouTube artists share music videos online, fans post footage from concerts, and people simply upload full audio files of entire songs and albums for people to listen to for free. YouTube also typically only has advertisements at the very beginning of videos, so after the first ad is over you can listen to the rest of a video without interruption, while apps like Pandora and Spotify will stop to play a commercial every few songs. Given how widespread YouTube is on an international level, you can find almost any recording imaginable on the site.

However, like streaming apps, videos can be removed from YouTube by the site or taken down by the user without warning. A lot of the music and film clips on YouTube technically violate fair use and copyright law, but they are so prevalent that it would take too much work for the content owner to continue requesting the videos be taken down; as soon as one is removed, another will pop up. That’s something to keep in mind when using YouTube to listen to music. Some of it isn’t actually compensating the artists at all. If you want to be kosher, then stick to the artist’s official YouTube channel.

There are tons of apps out there that get even more specific into your music listening tastes as you explore the world of online music consumption. If you like to be involved in your local music scene, SoundCloud is a great way to listen to local bands. Anyone can upload music to SoundCloud, and it’s a key way that new groups use to reach their audiences. Artists can create profiles and upload their music to the site for free and fans can in turn listen to that music for free. Artists that want to upload more than three hours’ worth of music can upgrade to a subscription service.

If you really love live music, Concert Vault is an app that has a huge collection of some of the greatest live recordings in history that can be hard to find elsewhere. The company makes sure to great the best renditions of the recordings possible and pays royalties where royalties are due. Some historic performances available include the Allman Brothers at Fillmore East and Muddy Waters playing the acoustic slide guitar at Newport in 1969. From the legendary to the obscure, all the performances are treated with respect and you won’t find any bad audio or incorrect song titles here.

There are of course many more music listening apps than the ones listed here and new ones being developed all the time as our electronic devices have become the primary tool we use for listening to music. That is also only fuel in the fire for the vinyl resurgence, so you could also forgo all the advice I just gave you and buy a turntable instead.

Follow Jacqueline on Twitter @Jacqui_WSCS