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Joining the Music Stream

Steve Morgenstern
From the Print Edition:
Havana—The Insider's Guide, November/December 2011

I still don’t understand why subscription music services haven’t drawn a mass audience. The value proposition seems compelling: pay a monthly fee roughly equal to the price of a single CD and you’ll have unlimited access to millions of songs, on your computer and your smartphone. Granted, you don’t own the songs—if you drop your subscription, they’re gone. But for those of us who like to discover new artists and tunes, legally trying beats haphazard buying hands down. And with the recent buzzed-about arrival of the Spotify music service in the U.S., we may finally be ready for a post-MP3 world.

When it comes to streaming music to your phone, Spotify Premium is very similar to existing music subscription services such as Rhapsody and Rdio. For $9.99 a month you can download an app and search for songs, albums or artists, check out music recommendations, and store playlists for repeated listening. The three services mentioned here also let you download tracks to your device, so you can listen when you can’t get online (on a plane, for example).

What makes Spotify special? Partly it’s the unusually generous free music option for listening at your computer—20 hours a month at no charge with additional restrictions after six months and some ads sprinkled in ($4.99/month eliminates the ads and the limitations). Spotify’s extraordinary success in Europe, where it boasts 1.5 million paying subscribers (the largest U.S. service, Rhapsody, has just 800,000) also fueled the bonfires of hype. As much as I like Spotify and its huge music catalog, though, I don’t find it handles new music recommendations as well as the other services, and choosing the “best” app design among the competitors is a matter of personal taste.

My advice: try several services and see which suits you. They all have free trial offers, though you may have to fork over a credit card number, and some trials are computer-only. You’ll find varied approaches to discovering music and that each has different gaps in song availability. Whichever you choose, all-you-can-listen music may prove irresistible.

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