Do you ever find managing your music library frustrating? Are you always missing that perfect song when you need it because you forgot to transfer it to your iPod, computer, or phone? Do you find the music you’ve purchased can get old really fast and it is expensive to keep buying more? The good news is, now you can get all the music you want freely, legally, and without restrictions streamed on demand to your computer or your internet connected mobile devices! It’s not just in the United States either; many of these services are available free to Canadians!
First, a little history! For several years now there have been a plethora of internet radio sites, music upload sites, and social music sites that have come and gone. Many of them faced intense legal battles with the record companies and just couldn’t hang on while others struggled to earn enough advertising revenue to justify their existence. Fast forward to today and the record companies are now starting to ease up and accept the digital age, the music sites are becoming more useful and less restrictive, and better revenue streams are being developed so they can fund their operations and actually pay royalties to the artists as well. It has actually become so good now that I have essentially ceased purchasing CDs or MP3s because my music library can now contain nearly any song imaginable, is more portable than ever before, and the online interfaces are practically as good, or better, than Windows Media Player and iTunes ever were.
So what are these sites you might ask? Well, there are many, and I will mention some of the best of them right here, but one site in particular has caught and held my attention ever since I first laid eyes on it, Grooveshark.com. It took me years to find this site, and believe me I looked. I really don’t know how I missed it for so long! I tried many other sites like Last.fm, Pandora, YouTube, Deezer, Songza, IMEEM, and Lala but they all fell far short of the Grooveshark experience and now I barely give the others a second glance.
I consider Grooveshark.com to be the first music site that has actually done everything right by letting users listen to high quality music their way without restrictions of any kind, having an easy to use interface that I find to be more enjoyable to use than standalone music players, and by making an honest attempt to meet the needs of recording artists through both royalties and great advertising opportunities. I’m actually listening to Grooveshark right now as I type this, as I almost always do when working at a computer!
So what are some of the best features Grooveshark offers?
- An almost unlimited library of high quality (up to 192 kbps) free and legal music!
- Practically no restrictions on how the music can be played or used.
- No commercials | no play count maximums | no 30 second previews | no skip limits | no limits on song selection
- A spectacular flash based website that is built entirely around the music player!
- No artist info, social interaction, comments, or links cluttering up your screen.
- The flash music player is comparable to standalone music software like iTunes and Windows Media Player.
- A fully customizable easy to use music library organized by Artist, Album, and Songs.
- A simple and effective favourites system for grabbing and saving music as you listen.
- Full featured user generated playlists with full drag and drop, sorting, and shuffling.
- Smart playlists that include the most recent and popular music built right into the player.
- Very quick and responsive without the need for full page loads when songs or links are clicked.
- An amazing Now Playing music bar at the bottom of the screen that is better than anything I’ve ever used, period.
- Album art is displayed for each song so it is easy to flip through and select songs quickly.
- Adding music to the Now Playing bar is so easy and useful it is refreshing. I almost never use the Now Playing functionality directly in other music players, just playlists.
- Full drag and drop support for rearranging, adding, or deleting songs to or from the bar.
- Ability to save your current Now Playing list as a new playlist or even export it as a widget to share with others online.
- Multiple views so you can view album art or pictures depending on your preference.
- The ability to play, favourite, delete, see other songs from the same album, or see other songs by the artist with just 1 click.
By this point I would be very surprised if you haven’t clicked over to Grooveshark.com to check things out for yourself. It’s that good, really!
You can also access Grooveshark from your mobile device. If you want the device specific app developed by Grooveshark themselves, then you will need to upgrade your account to VIP status for $3 a month which will give you full access to these apps. But don’t forget, you can access the main Grooveshark site to stream music using any flash enabled browser. I’m one of the few people still using Windows Mobile, and luckily one of the only flash enabled mobile browsers, Skyfire, was first developed for Windows Mobile. Skyfire is now available for Android as well. So, if you have the patience to use the interface that way, you can still get to all your music for free. If not, $3/month isn’t all that much to pay for never having to buy a CD or MP3 again!
With VIP, you also get other great features like a full desktop application built on Adobe AIR, and Last.fm scrobbling if you like to track your music listening in that way.
iLike is one of the only other music services available to Canadians that lets you choose the exact track you want to listen to without a lot of restrictions. All the other services are either more like customized radio stations, have loads of restrictions, or have a very limited music library that doesn’t include the most popular artists. iLike also excels on the community aspect of music listening as it attempts to connect you to other people you know in real life so you can share your playlists, music tastes, and recommendations.
Not only does iLike connect you to other people like yourself, but it also connects you to the artists you are most interested in. It will display recent tweets, blog posts, music videos, behind the scenes footage, and other updates from your favourite artists. This is actually really useful if you are a music fan, because it allows you discover a lot of information and media directly from these artists that you probably wouldn’t find otherwise from regular internet browsing or searches.
As for the interface, it definitely isn’t on the same level as Grooveshark, but on the plus side it is simpler, faster, and easier to use than Last.fm. It does have playlist and radio station functionality and although it is a bit clunky to use, it gets the job done. There is also an iLike sidebar that can be plugged into either iTunes or Windows Media Player that gives you some of the functionality of iLike right in your player along with tracking what music you have been listening to so your iLike experience can be even richer.
Last.fm is another great music streaming service that is 100% free for Americans but only partial functionality is available to Canadians and most other nations. If you want to listen to their user customizable radio stations, which is the best feature they offer, then it will cost you $3 per month. Just like with Grooveshark, you can develop a library and favourite songs as you listen to them and then you can play all of these songs at once as a radio station. However, if you aren’t in the USA you can only play 30 full length songs before your free trial ends and all the songs played become 30 second clips.
So why would anyone choose Last.fm over Grooveshark? Well most times you wouldn’t! But, they do have some cool features:
- A scrobbling system that tracks what music you play and how often you play it.
- This is a great way to better understand your listening habits and preferences.
- You can even browse others user’s scrobbled songs that have similar tastes to you.
- Many bells and whistles including graphs, charts, playlists, and statistics.
- It can even be integrated into external music players and mobile devices so you are always scrobbling.
- A much better community and social interaction system than Grooveshark.
- This is both a pro and a con because all these social network features can get in the way of the music listening.
- Slightly better music discovery options for finding new music that might interest you.
Pandora is essentially an internet radio site that uses a custom algorithm known as the Music Genome Project to play music that you’ve told it you like along with other new music that has almost identical qualities to the music it knows you like. This transcends artists and genre and actually analyzes the underlying sounds, instruments, properties, waves, and styles of the music to give you the best possible match to your tastes!
As far as features go, it is fairly restrictive, but the interface is fun and easy to use and that partially makes up for it. You are also able to skip up to 12 songs per day that you don’t like and create multiple stations each with its own properties depending on your tastes or your mood. Unfortunately, Pandora is no longer available to Canadians by conventional means but it can be accessed by using a free American proxy tools if you so desire.
Other Free Online Music Streaming Sites
There are several other online music streaming sites out there as well and I can’t cover them all here. Fortunately there is a great site, AlternativeTo.net, which gives alternative software recommendations for those people who are looking for software, tools, or websites that are similar to something they already know about. Here is the Grooveshark AlternativeTo.net list of music sites for you to check out yourself.
Free USA Proxy Tools
If you really want to be able to access one of the American only music sites, then it is possible to use an internet proxy to spoof your IP address and make it look like you are connected to the internet from the USA even though you aren’t. I am not sure of the legality of doing this so I would advise you to proceed with caution, but I don’t think accessing a music streaming site via VPN is on the same level as illegally pirating music. At least this way the artists still have the chance to receive royalties from advertising dollars and you are viewing the advertisements like any other user. However, these free proxies tend to bombard you with a lot of inconvenient advertisements or even change your web browser’s default homepage, so you need to have lots of patience when using them. There are also reasonably priced pay to use proxies out there for those that want to use a proxy and not be bombarded by advertisements. Here are the two free ones that I have used successfully plus links to lists with more options:
So what about you? What do you think of these online music streaming services and what other recommendations do you have for saving money on music?