TIME wireless carriers

T-Mobile’s Unlimited Music Streaming Is the Worst for Net Neutrality

Legere
T-Mobile CEO John Legere speaks during an event in Seattle on Wednesday, June 18, 2014 Matthew Williams -- Bloomberg / Getty Images

"Music freedom" looks like a benefit for subscribers, and that's the most dangerous part.

Most things that T-Mobile has done over the last year have made me feel warm and fuzzy inside, but I felt a pit in my stomach on Wednesday when the carrier announced that certain streaming music services won’t count against users’ data limits.

Instead of treating all music services equally, T-Mobile has decided that the most popular streaming music services should get better treatment. If you have a limited data plan on T-Mobile, you won’t come any closer to your monthly cap when using Spotify, Pandora, Rhapsody, iTunes Radio, iHeartRadio, Slacker Radio and Samsung Milk Music.

This is the most insidious type of net neutrality violation, because it’s being pitched as a benefit. Most users stand to gain from the free data, so they may not even care about the slippery slope they’re on.

T-Mobile is well aware that it’s picking winners and losers, so it’s telling users to vote on other services that they’d like to make the cut. This by itself is messed up — why should I have to petition T-Mobile to give preferential treatment to a particular music service? — but it also underscores why net neutrality is so important. New or obscure streaming music services will remain at a disadvantage for as long as T-Mobile doesn’t recognize them. This, in turn, makes it harder for these services to take off, enforcing a vicious cycle.

What’s really scary is that some tech pundits don’t even see this as a problem. Ross Rubin, an analyst whose opinions I usually respect, wrote on Twitter that the free music streaming is “not really a net neutrality issue” because T-Mobile isn’t favoring any one provider or setting up a “fast lane” for chosen services. But with wireless Internet, data caps are just as important as speed limits. The incentive to use unrestricted services is just as strong.

The good news, for now at least, is that T-Mobile isn’t charging music services for uncapped data, according to The Verge. And as the smallest of the major carriers, T-Mobile doesn’t pose a huge threat to the streaming music market on its own.

But by going down this road — and getting a warm response for doing so — T-Mobile is signaling to its competitors that it’s okay to dole out preferential treatment as long as customers see a short-term benefit. Once the hooks are in, T-Mobile could easily start charging these music services for their customers’ data use, and other carriers could start doing the same. AT&T has already set up a system to allow “sponsored data,” and Verizon has expressed interest in this business model as well.

And there’s nothing you can do about it. We currently don’t have any net neutrality protections in the United States, and it’s unclear whether wireless Internet will even be included as the FCC draws up new rules that can withstand legal scrutiny. Besides, if enough people feel good about what T-Mobile is doing, it’s hard to imagine regulators getting in the way. T-Mobile tries hard to look like it’s putting an arm over your shoulder, but “music freedom” is actually more of a stranglehold.

TIME Music

No, Streaming Will Not Kill Your Radio

iHeartRadio
iHeartRadio

But just in case...

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This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

Considering Internet radio has been around since 2000, you’d expect the market to have shaken out by now. But competition has actually become more fierce. Spotify has grown to 50 million users, with ten million of them paying to access the service each month. Pandora continues to grow with 250 million registered users; around 77 million are active. Apple made several big moves in the category, introducing iTunes Radio last year and buying Beats by Dre and its music streaming service for $3 billion last month. And last week, as expected, Amazon introduced its own competitor: Prime Music.

And then there’s iHeartRadio, the streaming music service owned by terrestrial giant Clear Channel. The company today announced it has crossed 50 million monthly active users.

That reach makes Clear Channel’s streaming offering a formidable competitor to Pandora, Spotify, Apple, and Amazon. But Clear Channel CEO Bob Pittman is not as concerned with Internet radio as one might think. Digital radio makes a lot of noise, but only accounts for 10% of the overall radio market. (A market that, conveniently, is dominated by Clear Channel.)

“If it were not for the fact that radio is so large, you’d say, ‘Wow these are big numbers,’” Pittman tells Fortune. “There are one billion FM radios in the US and 160 million smartphones and 160 million PCs, so it’s still a subset of the FM marketplace.”

Pittman doesn’t believe streaming hours will overtake traditional radio in his lifetime. “Music collections always replace each other and radio always tends to be yet another choice,” he says. “Satellite didn’t kill FM. AM didn’t kill FM. (Streaming music) one more choice and one more device you can listen to the radio on.”

With that perspective, why would Clear Channel waste resources getting 50 million people to use a streaming service like iHeartRadio to begin with? The product draws resources from a number of Clear Channel’s businesses, including live shows, tech, operations and advertising. As Pandora’s investors know too well, it is not cheap to license music streaming rights from the record labels.

The short answer, Pittman says, is growth. He maintains that digital is an important growth area for the business, even if the $17 billion or so that advertisers spend on radio each year is slow to move over to the Web.

For the rest of the story, go to Fortune.com.

TIME

Surprise! Amazon Launches Streaming Music Service

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Like a ninja in a library, Amazon has quietly launched Prime Music, a streaming music service similar to Spotify, Rdio and others.

If you’re a $99-per-year Prime member, you’ll have unlimited access to north of a million songs, which makes Amazon’s library far smaller than its competitors’ libraries. Spotify, for instance, boasts over 20 million songs.

But this is another added nicety for Prime subscribers, who, for $99 a year, get free two-day shipping on a bunch of Amazon products, a free Netflix-like video service, a handful of freely borrow-able Kindle ebooks and now, free music to boot.

The fact that Prime Music was launched without much fanfare likely means that Amazon isn’t looking to try to lure people away from competitors — not yet, anyway. If the company builds up the music catalog in the coming months, however, it could serve as an interesting underdog.

As for what you actually get with Prime Music, there are no ads and you can listen to as many songs as you like. Songs can be downloaded for offline listening, though you’ll have to listen to them through Amazon’s music app, which is available on most popular tablet, smartphone, web and computer platforms. Here’s a list of available songs.

Amazon is expected to launch its own smartphone on June 18, so we’ll see how much the company’s new music service plays into the phone’s launch.

TIME technology

Apple-Beats: Here’s What Analysts Are Saying

Apple Introduces iPhone 5
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

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This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

What a difference three weeks can make. Analysts who “struggled to see the rational” behind Apple’s acquisition of Beats when it was a $3.2 billion rumor now think it’s a pretty smart move. “Probably the only smart move within the last 3 years!” according to one Apple skeptic.

Below: Excerpts from the notes we’ve seen so far. More as they come in.

Katy Huberty, Morgan Stanley: Apple beats the service drum.“Subscription music service could make the deal a home run, with every 1% penetration of Apple’s 800M account base equating to $960M of revenue. Apple believes Beats offers the right strategy for streaming music as it leverages both algorithms and 200 human curators to create playlists, which differentiates it from competitors.”

Trip Chowdhry, Global Equities: A smart move from Apple, and probably the only smart move within the last 3 years! “Currently, Beats Music Streaming Service only has 250K subscribers — but with Apple’s power in distribution (iOS Devices and AppStore), subscription to Beats Music Streaming Service can easily grow to 20 million subscribers within the next 12 to 18 months.”

Gene Munster, Piper Jaffray: Thoughts on the now-confirmed Beats deal. “We believe that if successful, adding Iovine and Dr. Dre could help propel Apple into the next level in its content offering, particularly in video, which could pave the way for new products including a television. Finally, given that Beats is the largest acquisition of Apple’s history, we believe it could open the door to other larger acquisitions, potentially around Internet services outside of content.”

Daniel Ernst, Hudson Square: AAPL Beats rhythm and blues. “On balance we are not fans of the Beats acquisition, although, we do not expect a negative market reaction to the news, and we concede Apple Beats holds promise to exceed our very low expectations. As a music-focused premium hardware maker with a budding, well-curated service component, Beats does fit well with Apple, and at $2.6B, the cash deployed represents just 1.7% of the company’s 3/31/14 balance. However, in our opinion even within music, there exists more impactful targets like Sonos or Spotify and moreover so many more targets in a vast array of segments either not, or not well served by Apple today including cloud services, security, commerce/payments, television and games.”

Benedict Evans, Andreessen Horowitz: Content Is King? “Music has gone from being a key strategic lever in the tech industry to an afterthought. The same applies to movie and TV libraries — media has gone from being a choke-point to a check-box, commodity feature than every platform has to offer but where none has any particular advantage… So for a platform owner or device maker, the content you can offer is no longer a strategic asset. Content doesn’t sell devices, because they all have the same content.”

Ben Bajarin, Creative Strategies: Apple, Beats, and Content as Differentiation. “What makes Apple’s products stand out is they are differentiated by hardware and by software. Much of their software runs on no other computers than their own. What if they can bring content into this fold? What if they can acquire exclusive deals, even if exclusive for short time windows, that are only available on their hardware and through their software? Then what if they do release lower cost phones in the $350 range? If you are in China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, and you are a fan of American music, movies, and even TV, would you pay $100 or $200 more for exclusive hardware, software, and content? Again, while I acknowledge the difficulty or ‘moon shot’ of this effort, content (beyond apps) is an interesting differentiator if done right.”

TIME Streaming Music

Spotify Boasts 40 Million Users, 10 Million Paid Subscribers

Streaming music keeps on booming, though the radio of freeloaders to paid users stays the same.

Just in case Spotify’s dominant position in streaming music wasn’t already established, the company revealed Wednesday that it now has 40 million active users and 10 million paid subscribers.

That’s up 67 percent from last March, when Spotify had 24 million users, 6 million of whom paid for the streaming music service. Spotify says it has streamed 12 billion hours of music since its 2008 launch and that users create or update more than 5 million playlists per day.

Many of Spotify’s on-demand streaming competitors don’t disclose their user numbers, but it’s likely that no one comes close. Rhapsody, which has been around since 2001, revealed in April that it has 1.7 million paid subscribers.

While Spotify’s growth is impressive, the ratio of unpaid to paid users is unchanged from last year — roughly a quarter of users pay $10 per month for Spotify Premium, which removes audio ads from the user experience. Beats Music, which may or may not be getting bought by Apple, reportedly converts 70 percent of users to paid subscriptions through a partnership with AT&T, according to Bloomberg.

Spotify has faced some criticism from musicians who feel short-changed by the service, but the company has tried to convince the artists that there’s lots of money to be made, especially as more people sign up for paid subscriptions.

TIME Streaming Music

Now’s a Bad Time to Start Using Beats Music

Take it from someone who's been stranded by the volatile streaming music business before: You do not want to get involved with Beats Music right now.

Apple hasn’t yet announced its rumored $3.2 billion purchase of Beats, but the deal seems likely, with even Dr. Dre alluding to it in a video on Facebook.

That’s enough for me to recommend avoiding the Beats Music streaming service, at least until we know what it’ll look like post-acquisition.

If you’re a Beats subscriber already, a couple key questions should come to mind:

  • Would an Apple-owned Beats Music work on non-Apple platforms? Beats is currently available on iOS, Android, Windows Phone and the web, with Chromecast support possibly on the way. But Apple typically doesn’t offer its services on competitors’ hardware. Yes, iTunes for Windows is an exception, but it’s also a relic from a time when supporting Windows was important, and there’s no version of iTunes for Android or the web. Maybe Beats will be Apple’s way of reaching out to other platforms, or maybe it’ll turn inward, becoming another selling point for Apple hardware.
  • Will the service even continue to exist? It’s unclear, as Re/code’s Peter Kafka points out, whether Beats’ streaming music rights would transfer to Apple after an acquisition. If they don’t, Apple would have to negotiate new deals with record labels, which could take a while. Even if Apple does keep the rights, there’s no guarantee Apple wouldn’t just shutter the service and create something new on its own terms. That’s exactly what Apple did after it acquired streaming service Lala in 2009.

I’ve been in this situation before. When Beats acquired MOG in 2012, it was obvious that the streaming music service I loved was going away, as development on MOG’s mobile apps stagnated. Although I jumped ship before Beats announced work on a new streaming service in January 2013, the writing was already on the wall. When Beats Music launched earlier this year, MOG announced plans to shut down, leaving users with no easy way to transfer their artists and playlists to the new service.

Switching to another streaming music service is a tedious process. The companies that run these services don’t make it easy to move your artists, albums and playlists in and out, so adopting a new service means starting from scratch. When I switched from MOG to Rdio, I spent hours with my MOG collection in one window, and Rdio in another, manually re-adding everything. Trust me, you don’t want to get stuck doing that if Beats goes under, or changes into something that doesn’t suit your needs.

What do you do if you’re dying to subscribe to a streaming music service now? My colleague Matt Peckham has compared all the major streaming music services, but I recommend Spotify if you want a service that’s most likely to last the long haul, or Rdio if you want the best collection of apps and features. Otherwise, just wait and see how this Beats acquisition plays out (or doesn’t).

TIME Music

Silent Album Games Spotify to the Tune of $20,000

Thanks to fans who streamed its completely silent album Sleepify on Spotify while they slept, indie band Vulfpeck has funded a free-admission tour. Royalties from the album, which Spotify has now asked Vulfpeck to remove, earned the band $20,000.

A couple months ago, an indie band called Vulfpeck released an album on Spotify with nothing but 30-second silent tracks, and encouraged fans to keep the album on loop while they slept.

The idea was to drum up enough royalties to fund a free tour, and it worked. Over the last couple months, Vulfpeck earned roughly $20,000 from its Sleepify album, according to Vice. Vulfpeck will use that money for its tour budget, based around the areas where Sleepify was played the most.

But now, the party’s over. Spotify has asked Vulfpeck to remove the album, though the rest of Vulfpeck’s catalog remains available. (The band has even posted a new, three-track album, called Official Statement, which contains an explanation of what happened, a dreamy track called “Parted Sea,” and one more 30-second silent track, dubbed “#Reflect.”)

Through it all, Spotify has put on a good face. Speaking to Billboard in March, Spotify spokesman Graham James called Sleepify “a clever stunt,” but said it “seems derivative of John Cage’s work.” Hopefully that means Spotify will play nice and pay out the $20,000 in royalties so Vulfpeck can keep making actual music.

[The Verge]

TIME Streaming Music

The Biggest Problem with Spotify Is Being Fixed Now

Spotify

"Your Music" collection finally makes streaming a viable replacement for iTunes.

For the longest time, I’ve stayed away from Spotify for one major reason: The inability to organize a collection of favorite music made it a nonstarter for me.

Starting today, that’s changing. As part of a significant redesign, Spotify is adding a “Your Music” section to its apps and website. At last, you can sort your favorite tracks by artist, album or song. It works just like iTunes–and like every other on-demand streaming music service that has offered this feature for ages. Spotify had been testing a similar “Collections” feature for months, but never rolled it out under the old design.

The fact that Spotify has grown to 24 million active users without a proper music collection feature is not lost on me. Much of that may be due to Spotify’s business model, which offers a free, ad-supported version to lure in users. If you’re only using the free version of Spotify–and therefore not trying to replace your MP3 collection with it–the inability to cultivate a streaming record collection may not be a big deal.

But I suspect that many people don’t care about sorting through an album or artist view anyway. We live in the age of the playlist, which is indeed the main way that Spotify users have organized and cataloged their music up until now. I like a good playlist as much as anyone, but growing up on tapes and CDs has conditioned me to think in terms of the entire album, not just a few favorite songs. While Spotify has always allowed you to “star” favorite albums, doing so only added them to a massive, unorganized list of tracks.

Spotify has good reason to add a “Your Music” collection now. In December, the company expanded its free service, so you can listen to playlists or individual artists on shuffle mode from a smartphone, or listen to any track on-demand from a tablet. Having full access to your collection on a smartphone might nudge more users toward paying for a $10 per month subscription, which also removes advertisements, provides greater sound quality and supports offline listening.

Spotify is rolling out the redesign and “Your Music” feature to iOS, its website and its desktop apps starting today, and support on other platforms is coming “soon.”

TIME apps

New Tricks for Google Play Music: Easier Uploads and a Mini Player

Google

Finally, a way to add new music without the extra software.

A couple of new experimental features have popped up in Google Play Music, making it easier to manage and listen to music through the browser.

If you’re using Chrome, you can now upload songs by dragging files or folders into the browser. You can also keep your computer’s entire music collection in sync by adding folders through the Settings menu.

To enable drag-and-drop uploads, head to the labs section and enable “Google Play Music for Chrome.” You’ll then see an “Add music” button in the top-right corner.

Without this feature, Google requires you to use its Music Manager software for Windows, Mac or Linux. The software works well enough for syncing your main music library, but it doesn’t provide an easy way to upload individual songs from another folder or computer.

Enabling the labs feature also adds a mini music player, which you can open by clicking the arrow button in the bottom right corner. Unfortunately, this player only works while the main Google Play Music window is open, and there’s no way to make it stay visible over other windows.

Google Play Music lets you store up to 20,000 songs online. You can then stream those songs to any web browser and to Google’s official apps for Android and iOS. (Unofficial apps are also available for other platforms.) It’s a great service for accessing your music collection on phones and tablets without using up storage space, and these new features make it just a little easier to get started.

TIME Ask TIME Tech

13 Streaming Music Services Compared by Price, Quality, Catalog Size and More

Beats Music, Google Play, iTunes, Pandora, Rdio, Spotify and others: See which one's best for you.

Forget for a moment how profitable streaming music services are (not terribly), or how much they’re paying in royalties to rights holders (or in particular, how much is ultimately trickling down to the artists). Those things couldn’t be more important when you get down to it, but they’re also intangible figures we’re left to speculate about, since full disclosure of a revenue network as complex and legally tortuous as the music industry’s is inconceivable.

So let’s talk about what we do know, in the wake of curation-angled streamer Pandora hiking its rates by a buck a month, and revisit how the top music services currently available in the U.S. stack up from a subscription pricing and features standpoint.

The chart below summarizes what I believe most are looking for when weighing options: catalog size, maximum streaming quality (note that in most — if not all — cases, the streaming quality will be lower if your connection is slow or fickle), platforms supported and pricing.

I’ve done my best to provide the most up-to-date info, but bear in mind that streaming services are moving — and in some cases murky — targets: not all services update information like catalog size routinely, and where you’re talking about millions of songs and ongoing catalog negotiations, it probably changes frequently. I’ve also tried to list all of the most notable platforms, mobile or otherwise, but a few of these services support a smattering of others (Sonos, Roku, etc.) that I’ve left out for brevity’s sake.

Catalog Quality Platforms Price
Beats Music 20m 320 Kbps Android, iOS, Web, Windows $10/mo.
Google Play 20m 320 Kbps Android, iOS, Web Free or $10/mo. extras
Grooveshark Unknown Unknown Android, Web Free w/ads, $6/mo., $9/mo. mobile
iHeartRadio 15m Unknown Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Web, Windows, Xbox Free
iTunes Radio 26m 256 Kbps Apple TV, iOS, OS X, Windows Free w/ads or $25/yr
Last.fm Variable 128 Kbps Android, iOS, Linux, OS X, Windows, Sonos, Web Free or $3/mo. extras
Sony Music 25m 320 Kbps Android, iOS, PlayStation, Web, TVs $5/mo. or $10/mo. mobile
Pandora 1m 192 Kbps Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Roku, Sonos, Web, Xbox Free w/ads or $5/mo.
Rhapsody 32m 192 Kbps Android, iOS, Web, Windows, Xbox $10/mo.
Rdio 20m 192 Kbps Android, BlackBerry, iOS, OS X, Web, Windows $5/mo., $10/mo. mobile, $18/mo. family
Slacker 13m 128 Kbps Android, iOS, Web, Windows, Xbox Free w/ads, $4/mo., $10/mo. extras
Spotify 20m 320 Kbps Android, BlackBerry, iOS, OS X, Windows $10/mo.
Xbox Music 30m 192 Kbps Android, iOS, Web, Windows, Xbox $10/mo., $60/yr for Xbox Live to listen on Xbox

Beats Music

Created by musician/producer Dr. Dre and Interscope/Geffen/A&M chair Jimmy Iovine to replace MOG, Beats Music (reviewed by my colleague Harry McCracken here) has been described as a hybrid of Spotify and Pandora: a sort of middle ground, on-demand music service that marries the former’s expansive catalog and direct control of it, to the latter’s “What do I listen to next?” taste curation — though in Beats’ case, it emphasizes listening lists cultivated by human tastemakers over rote computer algorithms. Streaming quality is strong, at up to 320 Kbps.

Monthly cost: $10 individual, $15 family (up to five members on up to 10 devices, exclusive to AT&T Mobility).

Google Play Music

I had mixed feelings about Google Play Music when it launched last May with fewer perks than a service like Spotify. But if you prefer Google’s online app-related modus operandi, Google Play Music lets you upload up to 20,000 songs of your choosing (accessible across all devices), or for $10 a month, access its catalog of 20 million songs, listen to them offline and create playlists as well as themed radio stations with unlimited skips.

Monthly cost: Free, $10 individual for extra features.

Grooveshark

Launched in 2006, Grooveshark is arguably the black sheep of the bunch if you factor turbulent relations with publishers into the equation: the company, which offers a vast catalog of music through a web interface and Android devices, has been embroiled in legal battles for alleged copyright violations for years (for which Apple eventually kicked it off the App Store, thus it’s not an iOS contender). But on the features front, it’s an interesting amalgam of elements, allowing you to upload your own MP3s, see what friends have been listening to (or subscribe to their playlists) or fiddle with recommendation algorithms derived from users’ ratings of songs.

Monthly cost: Free with ads, $6 individual, $10 individual to access mobile app.

iHeartRadio

iHeartRadio is the only completely free service in the mix, with ad-free streaming of some 15 million songs supporting multiple platforms. The kicker, of course, is that it works like an actual radio station, meaning you can nudge it in a musical direction, but you’ll have to listen to its picks.

Monthly cost: Free

iTunes Radio

Apple’s approach to streaming music is an extension of its iTunes application, thus restricting it to Apple products or iTunes-supported platforms. You gain access to Apple’s impressive catalog of some 26 million tracks, but like Pandora and iHeartRadio, you’re restricted to giving the service directions by selecting an artist, song or genre, then listening as it queues a medley of related tunes, with a limit of six skips per hour (per station).

Monthly cost: Free with ads, free (no ads) with $25/year iTunes Match subscription.

Last.fm

One of the oldest members in this list, Last.fm is a free (no ads) music recommendation tool that keeps track of everything you’ve listened to — a feature endearingly known as “scrobbling,” though Last.fm’s contemporary rivals now offer the same essential functionality — to devise music recommendations. The service has a unique Wiki-like angle, in that users can collaborate to provide annotative material for tracks.

Monthly cost: Free, $3 for extra features.

Music Unlimited

Sony’s streaming music service, Music Unlimited — formerly known as Qriocity — leverages the company’s massive music catalog across its array of Sony-branded devices (TVs, phones, games consoles, etc.) with high-quality playback on par with Spotify, Beats Music and Google Play.

Monthly cost: $5 individual, $10 individual to access mobile apps.

Pandora

The catalyst for this piece was Pandora announcing a fee hike for ad-free music by $1 a month, effective this May (according to Reuters, it’s to cover escalating licensing costs). The only trouble with an automated music streamer like Pandora — another of this list’s oldest members — is the size of its comparably diminutive music catalog: just a million songs. The service’s curation process masks this somewhat, but even at the free-with-ads end of the pool, the service is starting to look awfully threadbare, massive listener base or no.

Monthly cost: Free with ads, $5 individual.

Rdio

Arguably one of Spotify’s chief rivals in terms of dynamism and value, Rdio offers moderate-quality streaming of a Spotify-sized music catalog with offline playback support, robust social networking features and one of the friendliest interfaces of the bunch.

Monthly cost: $5 individual, $10 individual to access mobile apps, $18 family.

Rhapsody

Spotify’s other major rival, Rhapsody, offers a sprawling subscription as well as MP3 download service that’s grown from 16 million songs just a few years ago to 32 million today (thanks in large part to the service’s acquisition of Napster in 2011). Part of Rhapsody’s appeal is its breadth: I’ve listed the primary platforms in my chart above, but according to the company, the service is available on “more than 70 consumer electronics devices.”

Monthly cost: $10 individual.

Slacker Radio

Before Beats Music, Slacker Radio was doing “expert”-created music stations (by professional DJs, says Slacker), and that’s still one of its selling points, offered in either free-with-ads or pay-to-zap-ads tiers. It’s another of the automatic curation streamers, meaning you’re left to the whims of its algorithms (based on your selections), though there’s a premium service option that gives you ready access to select songs on demand.

Monthly cost: Free with ads, $4 individual, $10 individual for extras (including on-demand streaming).

Spotify

Probably the best known streamer of the bunch for its meteoric rise in recent years, Spotify offers high fidelity streaming and a robust 20-million song catalog across a range of platforms with conventional social networking options, all for a flat take-it-or-leave-it $10 a month. The trouble with Spotify these days is that its desktop interface could do with a radical overhaul, and it’s arguably flushing revenue down the drain by ignoring the demographic clamoring for a family subscription option.

Monthly cost: $10 individual.

Xbox Music

Fire up Xbox Music and you’ll almost be seduced by its elegant promise: 30 million on-demand songs (the largest catalog going), a visually pleasing interface, a “smart DJ” radio feature, a cloud-match service for your local tunes and solid multi-platform support. But then the kickers kick in, chief among them the fact that Xbox Music is an embedded subscription: you’ll need an Xbox Pass ($10 a month) subscription for unlimited streaming, plus a $60-per-year Xbox Live subscription if you want to listen on your Xbox.

Monthly cost: $10 individual, plus $60 a year for Xbox Live for Xbox subscribers.

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