But everyone loves music – just maybe not paying for music.
The top music sources have moved from a pay per song or album service (à la iTunes) and instead opt for subscription-based streaming.
And it makes sense – buying tracks or albums individually is expensive. A music library of 1,000 songs could mean an investment of over $1,000.
But as the market for music streaming grows bigger each day, which one should you commit to?
Well, it depends on what kind of music listener you are.
Let’s look at the current options that offer free music streaming (most include options to upgrade to premium accounts), divided by your music personality:
- The explorer ‒ you like the classic radio-style experience which allows you to discover new music and stay up to date with the current trends,
- The music buff – you have your list of favourite bands and prefer to stick to it, or
- The hidden-gem miner – you prefer to be one of the first to find an up-and-coming indie band most people have never heard of – and probably never will.
Online radio for the explorer
If you want a streaming experience that gives you access to live music stations, these might be your best options. Let’s get exploring…
|Explorer Radios||Why You’d Like It||Free Option||Paid Option|
|Slacker Radio||Curated radio stations with ability to personalize.||Ads, handcrafted and curated stations.||From $5.16 to $12.91 a month. Removes ads, enhances quality, and allows on-demand and offline playback.|
|TuneIn Radio||Access to live music, news, and sports radio stations.||Live radio stations and podcasts.||$12.36 to remove ads and get access to live sport games.|
|iHeart Radio||Curated and live radio stations.||Ads with a few commercial-free options.||Not available in Canada.|
Slacker Radio gives you a personalizable radio experience with hundreds of curated radio stations, all of which can be customized to your liking.
Their database includes millions of songs, all divided among their radio stations by genre, year, and a multitude of other factors for nice discoverability.
As will be a theme you’ll see among streaming sites, the free version comes with ads. They are less intrusive than what you may be used to on car radio stations, but they still exist.
Slacker has 2 levels of paid subscription.
The first is at a good price of only $5.16 a month, giving you an ad-free experience, better audio quality, and unlimited skips.
The next step up is available for $12.91 a month. This premium subscription gives you all the previous perks, plus on-demand playback and offline listening.
Want real, old-fashioned radio stations? You know, the ones that have DJs and commercials?
TuneIn gives you access to almost all major stations worldwide so you can stream them from any device you want, no radio signal required.
This includes music-centered stations, but also extends to news and sports channels, as well as podcasts.
It’s $12.36 a month to remove the ads, but this subscription also offers a special treat for the sports lover: access to live NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL games.
iHeartRadio gives the user access to over 100 channels of commercial-free music, as well as live radio stations in the United States and Canada.
Its channels cover a variety of genres and moods so your music will always be how you want it.
They offer all-music Artist Radio Stations where you select an artist you want to listen to and they’ll play their songs and similar music.
The free version offers some ad-free stations and personalizes your playlists based on what you like, but you cannot access a certain song on-demand.
Unfortunately, iHeartRadio Canada does not offer paid subscription service – yet.
The United States subscription gives us an idea of what may be in our future. Right now, they offer 2 levels of paid subscription.
The first level, called iHeartRadio plus, gives the user a variety of new features, including customized radio stations, on-demand playback, and unlimited skips. If you like a song a station is playing, you’ll be able to save it and instantly play it back again. This level costs $4.99USD ($6.45CAD) a month.
iHeartRadio All Access is the next step up. At $9.99USD ($12.91CAD) a month, it offers unlimited playlist creation, access to millions of songs, and offline listening.
Playlist streaming for the music buff
If you already know exactly what you want to listen to, and prefer to listen to only what you like, these sites let you create playlists and listen to full albums of your choice.
|Music Buff Playlists||Why You’d Like It||Free Option||Paid Option|
|Spotify||Playlist creation and unlimited music.||Ads and shuffle play.||$9.99/month for ad removal, offline listening, and on-demand playback.|
|Deezer||40 million songs with CD-quality playback.||Ads and shuffle play.||$9.99/month to remove ads and add options for offline listening and on-demand playback.|
|Youtube||Vast, worldwide library with instant playback and unlimited playlist creation.||Ads and screen must be turned on when listening on your phone.||$9.99 for ad removal, ability to turn off screen, and offline playback.|
|Google Play||Curated playlists and ability to upload the music you already own.||Ads and shuffle play.||Ad removal, on-demand playback, offline listening, and free subscription to Youtube Music.|
As one of the most popular music streaming sites today, Spotify definitely deserves a spot on this list.
With access to millions of songs and hundreds of curated playlists, Spotify users can also choose to create their own playlists and share them with friends and strangers alike.
As a free user, you’ll have access to all the music available on Spotify, with the exception of certain new releases for the first two weeks (this depends on the artist). You’ll also experience fairly regular ads and be limited to shuffle play.
Premium is available for $9.99 a month or a $14.99 family plan for up to 6 users living in the same house. With a subscription, Spotify becomes ad-free and gives you unlimited skips, on-demand playback, offline access, and higher quality audio options.
If you’re looking for an alternative to Spotify, Deezer would be your best bet.
Deezer boasts about their 40 million song catalogue, which, compared to Spotify’s 30 million number, seems like an obvious benefit.
Both services offer great discover programs to help you sift through the millions of songs available. Spotify offers a couple more discovery methods, but overall they are both great resources to finding new music.
An area where Deezer outshines Spotify is in its audio playback quality. Deezer’s premium service offers CD-quality music streaming at 16-bits, whereas Spotify’s high quality options come in at 320kbps. This may seem like a big difference, but much of the loss is of parts of the music that is mostly inaudible – not that audiophiles care.
Deezer offers the exact same prices as Spotify – $9.99 a month or a $14.99 family plan. Their subscription perks are typical as well, including ad removal, offline streaming, and unlimited playback.
Of course, Youtube is an entertainment giant and much more than a music streaming service, but what it has to offer allows it to rival even the best options.
With unlimited playlist creation and skipping, on-demand playback, and a vast variety of content, it’s definitely something to consider.
If you’re worried about supporting the artist, most musicians upload their own content, so they receive revenue through Youtube’s monetization service. The views you add through streaming will also help less popular artists with advertising.
The downsides of streaming your music on Youtube are the ads, of course, but it’s also the fact that when listening on your phone, you can’t turn off the screen or go to a different app without the video pausing.
Youtube has addressed their downsides and streamlined the music listening process in general through the introduction of Youtube Music.
With a subscription of $9.99 a month (as well as a family plan option), Youtube allows ad-free playback, offline listening, and the ability to turn off your phone screen.
Of course Google has to get its hands on the booming music streaming industry.
Its version has access to 40 million songs, as well as the ability to upload up to 50,000 songs you already own. You can also listen and subscribe to podcasts and curated playlists for any mood or situation.
Google Play Unlimited users are given the usual triple threat of premium service: ad-free experience, on-demand playback, and offline listening. What’s special about Google Play, however, is that Unlimited also includes a subscription to Youtube Music for free. It’s like a 2-in-1.
The subscription is $9.99 a month with a $14.99 family option.
Indie troves for the hidden-gem miner
For those who don’t care to learn about music based on how popular it is, but would rather be one of the first to discover an underground band before they get big…
There are several music streaming options that cater to your hipster needs.
|Indie Troves||Why you’d like it||Free Option||Paid Option|
|SoundCloud||Popular underground music site with great social features.||Unlimited playback, ads, and some songs are available only as previews.||$4.99-$9.99 a month for ad-free listening, offline playback, and full access to premium tracks.|
|Bandcamp||Pay-what-you-want purchasing and free album streaming.||Playback limits based on artist’s preference.||None (yet). Encourages purchasing the album instead.|
|Audiomack||Up-and-coming Reggae, Hip-Hop, and Electronic artists with unlimited listening and downloads.||Free, unlimited downloads and streaming.||None.|
|Hypemachine||Find unique, new music that’s been mentioned in music blogs.||Links to SoundCloud, Bandcamp, and Audiomack.||None.|
|Jamendo||Royalty-free and independent music.||Free, unlimited downloads and streaming.||None.|
Once a completely free place for independent musicians to upload and share their content, SoundCloud has also moved into a subscription service.
With the recent success of "SoundCloud rappers" – several young rappers who became the front-runners of “emo rap,” one of SoundCloud’s most popular subgenres – SoundCloud is only getting bigger. It’s also a popular uploading-ground for remixes of varying quality.
The free version has access to over 120 million songs from new artists who are still making their way into the limelight. It’s generally unlimited playback, with a cool social service that allows you to leave a comment on any part of a track which other users will see while playing a song.
The first tier of their subscription service, called SoundCloud Go, allows users to have an ad-free experience as well as download music for offline listening. This currently runs at $4.99 a month.
Their second tier is SoundCloud Go+. For $9.99 a month, this service offers an additional 30 million "premium tracks," which other tiers only have preview-level access to.
Bandcamp emphasizes supporting the artist much more than previous sites. Similar to SoundCloud, it’s filled with emerging artists and usually the first place bands post their albums for their fans to listen and purchase.
The musicians set their price themselves and it’s usually on a pay what you want basis starting at a low cost (sometimes even $0).
The site boasts that its users have given $325 million to artists, $7.3 million of that total in the last month alone. If your focus is supporting your favourite indie band, this is definitely the place to do it.
Bandcamp doesn’t offer a subscription service (yet), but most songs are free streaming for a limited amount of playbacks. The exact number is determined by the band themselves, so it could be unlimited, but it’s defaulted to 3.
If you’re a big fan of Reggae, Hip-Hop, or Electronic music, Audiomack offers completely free and unlimited streaming and downloads.
With over 3 million songs on their database, this could become your #1 source for downloads.
Hypemachine is definitely a unique experience that indexes hundreds of music blogs and collects the songs they mention. They then allow you to stream their music by linking to their SoundCloud, Bandcamp, or Audiomack.
This will definitely depend on indie and emerging artists, so you won’t be getting top-100 pop music, but for anyone who likes to discover new things, this is the perfect place to do it.
There are definitely plenty of unique finds. In my few seconds on the site, I discovered a 2-minute long album that consists entirely of 1-second songs.
Jamendo is a great place for discovering royalty free, independent music.
The site is focused around indie and up-and-coming artists that you probably won’t discover on the other big music sites. It allows you to download and stream completely free and supports its artists by helping them license their music for commercial use.
If you want something different and more organic, this is the place to go.
Listening to music is a personal experience that changes from one day to the next, or even from hour to hour.
Luckily, you can listen to what you want and how you want it from a variety of different sites.
As the streaming industry expands, you will only get more options to access the music you love.
So, I want to know, how do you guys listen to your music?
Do you use the sites listed here? Are there some that I missed?