I have recently noticed the ever-expanding market of music streaming services. It's impressive. One would think that the industry would be flooded with garbage. And, don't get me wrong, there's still a lot of useless services out there. But, there's also an amazing set of solid music streaming services that are just impressive.
To quickly jump to a conclusion, yes, there's something for everyone. That said, it's hard to deny Spotify the top spot in service and user experience. YouTube Music is the only service that immediately establishes a "universal player" for both music and video. They are setting a new precedent - and it's cool. For those that do elect to pay a monthly fee - they're most likely a fan of Apple (Apple Music), Google (YouTube Music) or Amazon (Prime). In a separate post, I will provide a review of other fan-supported indy-artist websites such as BandCamp and Patreon.
Today's Top Music Streaming Services:
Hands down, continues to be the best. Catalogue is key. And they seem to secure music from everyone. They continually improve their artist relations and it shows. Everyone is upping their game on the quality of their playlists. Spotify is going strong here as well. I actually find myself starting playlists over searching for anything. This is where I agree that curation is essential to a successful streaming service (no matter the market). Integration with Facebook allows sharing of playlists with friends - and the ability to play music OnDemand is stable at $5 for students / $10 for everyone else. The player itself is über-basic - nothing special here but full-screen pictures of albums and artists, but it's functional. There were a number of features that I found surprising and welcomed. The first was the ability to play music in the background on my phone. And the second was the ability to send the music to multiple "available sources". Both excellent ideas - nearly expected. Make the music easy to access, listen to and share.
Simply put, you have to be an Apple fan to use this service. It's probably the only reason they have a subscriber base. The biggest advantage thus far has been the ability to download music and play off line. Their radio stations have potential. Playlists are fine to discover new music. The family account has potential. Costs are identical to Spotify at $10 for individuals and $15 for families. Advantages with Apple is certainly it's integration across all Apple devices. They also offer a 1-year subscription for a discount. To make their app "smart", it's obvious that Apple will eventually do more with Siri to follow patterns and make smarter suggestions.
These folks seem to be the "Netflix" of music streaming. Their smart algorithm using the thumbs up/ thumbs down rating is machine-learning implemented well. This function will become more prominent in other services as the technology to integrate becomes more accessible. Pandora now offers the ability to play music on-demand - which surprisingly wasn't always the case. From what I have seen, Pandora was and still is - the passive listening streaming service. It's the closest to hybrid radio.
Of all the services out there, SoundCloud appears to be "the peoples" streaming service. They now have over 100 million user-created tracks. That number is absolutely insane. But they make it so easy to share original music in their platform - so why not. SoundCloud also boasts hundreds of millions of active users. Which is also absolutely incredible. If anyone is looking for the absolutely freshest music - this is the place. They also do something that Medium.com does with their content. Listeners have the ability to comment on the music while it plays. And this can be so entertaining to read while listening. I give them big kudos for their unique service and focus on the indy artists.
When this service launched, they focused on fidelity. And this continues to be the case. So, for the audiophiles out there - here's your modern vinyl record player. Subscription accounts can cost double over other services at $20/month for their hi-fi service. Competitors will be doing the same soon enough. But people will always expect the listening experience to be good. So, not sure anyone would really pay more for this. There are aspects of Tidal that should be looked at more closely. 1) They are targeting a specific audience - the affinity market. 2) Today is now owned in-part by a major US mobile carrier - Sprint. 3) It seems blazingly obvious that all they want to do at Tidal is get acquired. Just saying...
It's obvious that YouTube would move into this market. Even though their free music features don't hold an LED light to Spotify it will be hard for everyone to compete with the YouTube audience and content creator network. YouTube is an entertainment powerhouse - hands down. I also see them as the Switzerland of services. Everyone (competitors and the like) heads to YouTube. So YouTube music will be no different... eventually. Today, the biggest differentiator for YouTube Music is the integration of their streaming video player. With the option to watch and listen or just listen is massively unique. Unfortunately, without becoming a premium subscription holder, you cannot just listen to music. Strange move on their part - especially with all of the integrated ads. It's also worth mentioning, YouTube Music will undoubtedly become the "Apple Music" for Android devices. This will give Google-the Android community of User and YouTube Music a massive advantage in market penetration. And it's also expected that this service will become wildly smart with Google's algorithms working behind the scenes.
By the time I checked out Amazon Music, it feels like Amazon is getting into the biz because everyone else is in the business. With Alexa getting more and more integrated into people's lives, Amazon has at least one advantage. And, without a doubt, Amazon is another unexpected powerhouse in entertainment. So - built in community, built in eco-system, hardware is there, now comes the powerful software. Curation-wise, they have the same playlists as the others. There's a set of solid features under the hood especially for Prime users - allowing easy control to modify existing playlists - the ability to play music in the background on mobile - access to popular music over the ages. It's impressive. Especially when your looking at an app that's also delivering your favorite movies, tv shows and toilet paper.