After years of fighting against currents of change, the music and entertainment industries finally seem to be adapting. At one time, record labels and the RIAA were trying to outlaw MP3 players, and suing everyone they possibly could for piracy and illegal sharing. Instead of simply adopting a new model for distribution, the industry stood clinging to a failing and outdated business model — but things finally seem to have turned the corner.
With the advent of the Netflix model, both the music and television/film industries have found a way to keep making money while giving the people what they want. Just a decade ago, people were still headed to brick-and-mortar stores to buy physical copies of albums, sometimes at prices as high as $20. Clearly, that wasn’t going to last forever, especially after services like Napster and Limewire sprung up.
People wanted access, and they wanted it in an unlimited capacity, and in a digital, on-demand format. Though the industry fat cats thought that people would be unwilling to pay for such a service, a new and innovative business model has proven them wrong.
On-demand music streaming has become the new norm. You can use a variety of services — from Pandora to Rdio to Spotify — to satiate your addiction to tunage, and new competitors are constantly entering the fold to vie for your dollars.
And we’re here to help you sort through them all.
Though there are a ton of options out there, we’re going to give you the skinny on four of the bigger music-streaming options on the market: Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Prime Music, and Tidal. Yes, there are others, but for now, we’re focusing on this small handful.
So, what will get you the most bang for your buck? We look at a few factors, including content, users, unique features, and common gripes to try and figure it out. We don’t give you an answer as to where you should spend your money, but some of these services do have a leg-up on others.
Read on to see our comparison.
1. Apple Music
Cost: $9.99/month individual; $14.99/month family plan (up to 6), free 3-month trial
Access: 30 million tracks, ad-free music videos, Beats 1, Curated Playlists, Connect
Users: “Millions and millions”
iTunes has made the jump to the cloud. Well, kind of.
That’s one way to think of Apple’s new music streaming service, simply dubbed Apple Music. Though it seems as though Apple’s had the music and media thing in the bag for years with iTunes, Apple Music has been met with much less enthusiasm, for a number of reasons. For one, you evidently can’t delete the app from your devices. Adding music to one’s library is apparently more difficult than it should be, and there are a handful of other buggy features that have the press shunning the service.
Of course, these things should be sorted out with time.
In terms of pricing, an Apple Music membership will cost you $9.99 per month for an individual, $14.99 for a family, and there’s also a free three-month trial. That gets you access to roughly 30 million tracks, and a few other extras like Beats 1 radio, curated playlists, and Connect — a service that connects listeners to artists. Not bad, and pretty much on the same level as Spotify.
Apple Music has promise, and looks like a good deal. But it may be best to let the early adopters sort out the kinks.
Cost: Free, or $9.99/month for a premium membership, $14.99/family
Access: >30 million tracks, 1.5 billion playlists
Users: 75 million
Spotify has become the default music-streaming app for millions of listeners. And for good reason. The service is easy to use, relatively inexpensive, and boasts a gigantic amount of content at more than 30 million tracks. Almost anything you want to listen to, no matter how obscure, is probably available. With a huge user base of more than 75 million people, all interacting, sharing, and creating playlists, there’s a ton of new things to explore as well.
The folks behind Spotify made the decision to allow a free option, though it doesn’t have all the perks of the premium membership. Even that upgraded membership only costs $9.99 per month, which gives you access to pretty much anything you could ever want to listen to. Naturally, however, it does have its downsides. The service is often very slow, or freezes up, leading to frustration for many users.
As a complete package, Spotify may be your best bet. Its free option lets you get a taste of the app and is similar to Pandora, and its premium membership gives you more music than you could ever want, all for less than the price of a single album. Oh, and you can save music for offline listening, too.
3. Amazon Prime Music
Cost: Free with Amazon Prime subscription ($99 per year, or $8.25 per month)
Access: 1 million tracks
Users: Tens of millions
At first glance, it would appear that Amazon Prime Music is well behind the curve in terms of music streaming. The service is lacking in the content department, featuring only around one million tracks or so, which is a tiny fraction offered by other services. But the catch here is that the service is free — so long as you’re already an Amazon Prime member, which costs $99 per year. All told, it’s a pretty generous added perk.
Aside from the pricing of Amazon Prime, there’s one other cool feature that Amazon Prime Music has: you can actually download and access any tracks that you have previously purchased on Amazon, stretching back over years and years of purchases. That has garnered the service some praise, though it still lacks a lot of other features that Spotify or Apple Music offer.
That said, Amazon Prime Music is a bit of a mixed bag. If you’re already an Amazon Prime member, it’s a great addition. If not, you may be better off opting for another service.
Cost: $9.99/Month or $19.99/Month “lossless” quality
Access: 25 million tracks, 75,000 music videos
Users: < 1 million
Tidal been a bit of a disaster, at least so far. The streaming service, which was launched by rapper and entrepreneur Jay-Z, was promised to bring big changes to the industry. The reality, however, has been a multi-million dollar flop that has drawn the ire of consumers and artists alike. Though the business side of things has provided plenty of fodder for the press, the product itself boasts more than enough content to keep even the pickiest listener happy.
Tidal doesn’t have a free option, and instead costs $9.99 per month. That gets you more than 25 million tracks — not as many as some rivals. The user base is considerably lower than that of other subscription services, but it’s important to keep in mind that it’s also a newborn service. Other than the fact that the company is “artist-owned,” the only feature that separates Tidal from its competitors is the “lossless” quality option (an additional $10 per month), which boasts higher-quality tracks.
The verdict on Tidal? It’s unclear, since it’s still early in the game. From a consumer standpoint, Spotify is still a bigger and more effective option in terms of selection and pricing, especially since Tidal has no free subscription option.
Follow Sam on Twitter @SliceOfGinger