Man with phone and headphones

The inside scoop on music subscription services

We as a people like to collect things. Trading cards. Toys. Beer Cans. Stamps. Beanie Babies. The list goes on and on. One major collectible is popular media, including as books, movies and music. And nothing probably has the emotional attachment as the latter—music.

Music got us through the a hundred stages of life—the rebellious youth, the awkward teen years, our first heartbreak, and so many more moments.

For nearly 100 years Americans have been buying music—first as vinyl, then 8-tracks, cassettes, CDs—and now as digital downloads.

So when it comes to renting music, as opposed to owning it, many of us are reluctant to make that leap. Our attachment to music is so great we are hesitant to NOT purchase our favorite songs or albums. However, the music industry has evolved dramatically over the last few years, making subscribing to a music service a no-brainer for many.

A music service, such as Apple Music or Spotify, gives you the ability to listen and download millions of songs anytime you want. That’s the power of the major music streaming services. The catch is that you don’t own the music like you do when you buy a CD or digital music track.

This article will take a look at the positives and negatives of using a subscription music service. We’ve narrowed our focus on services that allow users to stream music as well as download music that can be played offline. This latter item is critical to many as most people are not always going to be connected to high-speed WiFi. The ability to download music to your phone, table and computer is a requirement.

Why subscribe to a mainstream music service

Here’s some (but certainly not all) of the answers:

Woman with HeadphonesSo much music
Most of the major music services offer access to 30-40 million songs. That’s a lot of music. It not only allows you to listen to all of your favorites, it gives you the opportunity to discover new music that you may not have given a chance in the past. Don’t like something? Just remove it from your phone and you’re good.

Online or offline
In addition to lots of music, one of the best features of the top music services is the ability to not only stream music—but to download music and listen offline. This is perfect for people who travel often or who are on the go. When you don’t have a WiFi connection, you want to be able to still listen to your music. That’s not a problem with a music service. Depending on the storage capacity of your phone, you can download thousands of songs at any given time. That will make your cross country flight, commute to work or long walk far more enjoyable.

No clutter
While there is a certain joy to holding a CD or reading the liner notes of a album, a music service puts its goods in the cloud. There are no album jackets and no CD cases. Try packing up 1,000 CDs to move across the country. It’s not a simple task. When your music is in the cloud, it’s there for you without the clutter in the home.

Cost
If you buy one record a month for $10 you end up with 12 records at the end of the year for $120. Why not have access to all those records—and millions more—for the same price? That’s the beauty of the music services. You essentially have access to millions of songs for about $10/month.

Note: Family plans are generally around $15/month which means multiple people can access the service at any given time. This is perfect if you have several people in the family who are frequently listening to music.

Curation
Many of the music services today offer some great tools to help you find music that fits your tastes. You’ll find oodles of pre-made playlists (examples include ’Best country songs of 2010’ and ’100 Rock Anthems’), often times created by popular artists. You will get recommendations for artists, stations and playlists based upon what you have listened to, making it easy to find music that you’ll love.

Radio stations
Most of the music services offer radio stations that give you a simple way to listen to any genre of music.

No commercials
Subscribing to a music service means no commercials. Download or stream whatever you want without the interruptions.

Why NOT subscribe to a music service

Phone and headphonesSo, we’ve detailed a bunch of reasons to subscribe to a music service, but is there a reason you wouldn’t want to pony up $100 or so a year for one of these products? Yes. Here’s why:

You don’t own the music
When you subscribe to a music service it’s a commitment. If you stop paying your monthly subscription you lose access to all the songs you’ve downloaded.

Fidelity
With the exception of Tidal’s HiFi service, the audio quality for streaming services is not going to equal that of a traditional CD. The sound is still good, but it can’t beat an old-fashioned CD or high-resolution digital file.

You won’t find everything
Despite having millions of songs in the libraries, the streaming services may not have every item you want. That’s the breaks.

Cost
A music service subscription will run around $100 a year. If you already own all the music you will ever want—and rarely buy any CDs or digital downloads—a music service might not be for you.

Need WiFi
If you rarely have access to high-speed internet, a music subscription might not be best for you. You will want internet access to stream music and download songs.

Top Services

Below are some of the top music subscription services on the market.

  • Amazon Music Unlimited – Blends nicely with Amazon’s Echo devices. There is a discount for people who already have Amazon Prime.
  • Apple Music – If you live—and love—your Apple-centric world, then this is probably the service for you. Tons of songs and nice exclusive content. There is also integration with Apple’s HomePod Speaker.
  • Google Play Music – Includes YouTube Red, which gives you ad-free videos and other exclusive content.
  • Spotify – The most popular digital music platform around. Spotify offers some of the best curated content available.
  • Tidal – Offers the best sound quality with its HiFI service (which costs $20/month). There are also lots of exclusives as well as music videos.

Conclusion

The internet has changed the way we interact with music, and the growing number of services available is giving users unprecedented access to music. We gave you an extensive list of why to use a music service as well as a list of some of the top providers. Know that there are many other services available, so do your research before committing to any one product. Most offer limited-time trials that will allow you to test out their service, making it a perfect way to find out if a Apple Music or Spotify or whatever product is right for you.

In the end, using a music subscription service may be changing the way you approach the idea of ‘owning’ music. Instead of buying a dozen or so albums a year, you instead get to ‘borrow’ millions of songs whenever and wherever you want. That’s not a bad problem to have.

About Matthew Breen

Based in Colorado, but from Madison, Wisconsin, Matt likes to blog about travel, auto, gadgets, food and entrainment. Follow author Matt Breen on Google + or read his recent stories on Pursuitist.

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