For music aficionados there has never been a better time than the present to explore and discover new artist and music. A large number of music titles are now available for digital download or streaming to a number of devices over a myriad of digital services and the numbers are growing everyday.
These services fall into three basic categories. Internet radio stations like Pandora, and Slacker radio. Social music subscription services like Rdio and Spotify. Music cloud storage /music stores like the Amazon MP3, Google Music Beta and Apple’s iCloud music service.
Internet Radio stations typically offer a basic free music service that lets you listen to radio stations that you can personalize by choosing a genre of music, favorite artists or songs. Using your selections a “station” is created that plays their music and other music similar to your selections. You can further refine the services selections by voting thus improving future suggestions over time. Once you take the time to customize these services I’ve found listening very pleasant. Much more enjoyable than any commercial radio station I’ve run across and with limited commercial interruption.
The free service is ad supported and allows a limited number of skips per hour for song suggestions that disagree with your music palette and limits how many hours per month you can listen. A paid subscription service is also available that is ad-free and allows an unlimited number of song skips and listening. These services require a persistent internet connection and use a lot of data. It is suggested that you use these services over WiFi or have an unlimited data plan which are increasingly rare as carriers are moving toward tiered data plans for new customers and throttling unlimited data plans for existing customers.
The social music subscription services allow you to choose the exact music you want to play and allows you to listen from the web, or your mobile internet connected device. You can listen by streaming or downloading the music to your computer or mobile device. They also allow you to follow friends and others for music suggestions and discovery (Rdio) and easily share music with friends using social networks (Spotify).
The features and music catalogue varies from service to service but basically they offer unlimited streaming of music to your computer for a fee, typically $4.99 as well as a premium service $9.99 that allows you unlimited streaming of music, access to their entire catalogue via a mobile application (Android, Blackberry and iOS) as well as an offline mode where you can download music locally to your device so that the music is available offline as long as you maintain an active subscription.
The next major category of digital music service is a product category that was recently introduced and is in large part still under development. These hybrid cloud storage locker/music stores represent what many believe is the future of music on the internet.
These internet music storage lockers/music services have been announced by Apple, Amazon and Google.
Of the three services the Amazon MP3 and Cloud Storage service is the only one currently available. The Amazon music service offers a fully realized MP3 DRM (digital rights management ) free music store coupled with the Amazon Cloud Drive. The Cloud Drive is off-site storage that is maintained by Amazon and accessed by users over the Internet. Any music purchased from the Amazon store can be automatically added to your cloud storage and doesn’t count towards your storage allotted by Amazon. Music purchased outside of the Amazon store must be uploaded to your storage locker to be available on their service.
Amazon provides 5 GB of free storage, roughly enough storage to hold 1,000 songs or 2,000 photos. Additional storage can be purchased in 20/50/100/200/500/1000 GB plans for an additional $1 per gigabyte per year.
Google Music is currently in Beta (under development) and available by invitation only. At present Google Music does not have a music store attached to its cloud storage services although one is rumored. Currently all music must be uploaded to the Google Music Beta servers in order to be used with the service. Once uploaded the music is available to any internet connected device for streaming or download. Google currently provides storage for up to 20,000 songs free of cost. No pricing has been announced for the service once it comes out of beta.
Apples iCloud service appears to be the most complete service announced to date. The iCloud service promises 5 GB of free storage and combines the benefits of the former Apple MobileMe services, contacts, calendar and mail with iTunes in the cloud as well as storage for iOS backups, apps, and a photo stream service that automatically uploads any photos you take or import on any of your devices and wirelessly sends them to all your devices and computers.
Apple recently announced the pricing for additional iCloud storage. 10/20/50 GB of additional storage will be $2 per gigabyte per year.
An innovative feature of the iCloud service that will be exclusive to the iTunes iCloud store is iTunes match. For a $24.99 annual fee (US only) iTunes will match any song in your library with a high-quality DRM free version if it can match it to one it its over 18 million song catalog.
It’s unclear if Apple will count iTunes match content against the allotted storage. If it isn’t included it would be a substantial savings compared to the already announced pricing depending on the size of your music library.
Apple iCloud services will be available this fall concurrent with the release of iOS 5.
Please keep in mind that many of these services are still under development and final services and pricing may change prior to their official release.