It's 2013: The CD is dead, the MP3 is on its way out, and music has officially and irrevocably moved to the cloud. While that means you probably won't be buying the new Justin Timberlake record at your local Best Buy, the upside is you can stream virtually all music ever created from any device whenever you want (whoa).
It also means there are a lot of services vying for access to your ear canals and ad dollars. From big players like Spotify and Pandora to cool kids like Rdio to the newly revamped Slacker Radio, there are so many options that it can be daunting to pick a service that's right for you. Luckily, we've rounded up some of the most popular streaming services, with info about why they might be right for you. Happy listening!
Price: Free with ads, or $3.99 per month for Pandora One, its premium service.
What is it?: Originally derived from the Music Genome Project, OG streaming platform Pandora creates customized Internet radio stations according to your taste and still does a pretty great job doing it.
Downside: If you want to listen to a single album or specific artist all the way through, this probably isn't the service for you.
In short: Pandora is for people who love music but don't want to worry about picking the next track.
Price: A staggered three-tier system: $4.99 for unlimited web streaming, $9.99 for all your devices, and $17.99 for two all-access accounts.
What is it?: A web-based streaming service, which is also Spotify's biggest competitor, with a heavy social-listening bent. It doesn't have as big a market share as the guys in green, so that could be a downside for some.
Downside: Smaller market means you'll probably miss out on playlists made specifically for Spotify. Also, it doesn't have the cool apps that work within Spotify. In short: Techies love Rdio because it's a slick, web-based (unlike Spotify) system with a solid community element.
Price: Free with ads. Grooveshark Anywhere, the premium-subscription service is $9 per month or $90 per year.
What is it?: Grooveshark offers streaming from a web-based platform with a large library of tunes and easy playlist-making capabilities. Unlike many of its competitors, you can just head over and play a track, without registering a username. Woo privacy!
Downside: It does what it does really well (stream individual tracks and make playlists), but we'd rather use Spotify's more robust UI or Rdio's more beautifully designed online player, even if it means registering an email or social account.
In short: If you want to play music easily from a slick website, Grooveshark is a good option.
Price: Free with ads. Or $10 per month for Spotify Premium.
What is it?: Looks a lot like iTunes in the cloud, with a bunch of other neat features –– like Internet radio and 100s of apps –– thrown in for good measure. It also happens to be what Refinery29 uses for our playlists. With Premium you can also download music for offline listening, which is a big plus.
Downside: You'll need the desktop client to stream music. That means if you're on a computer without the Spotify application, you're out of luck.
In short: If you want a wide variety of music at your fingertips in a format that is familiar, then Spotify is your app.
Price: Free with ads, $4.99 for Basic (no ads, but no mobile either), or $9.99 for Primo (no ads, with mobile support).
What is it?: Mog, Spotify, and Rdio are positioned to go head to head. They're all trying to provide an encompassing cloud-based player, with much the same experience you're used to from a traditional desktop jukebox.
Downside: It's a lot like Spotify, but it isn't Spotify. Also, it doesn't integrate the Mp3s on your computer like Spotify does, which is either an upside or a downside depending on your view.
In short: Mog is a solid product but less ubiquitous than other streaming services.
What is it?: Last.fm is sort of an oddball. It has streaming Internet radio similar to Pandora, but the social element is really its big sell. By downloading the Scrobbler, you can integrate with iTunes and share what you're listening to with friends.
Downside: It's not a very robust streaming product compared to Pandora or Slacker Radio.
In short: Last.fm is more for sharing your listening habbits than a solution for full-time music streaming. It IS free though, so why not play around with it?
What is it?: A competitor to Pandora that has yet to catch on, it does basically the same thing, without any sort of password or username required. Also, mobile is free, which is a great perk.
Downside: The interface is clunky compared to Pandora and Grooveshark.
In short: Another streaming service that's worth checking out, but probably not the best solution for regular listening on a daily basis. Free mobile streaming is a nice perk, though.
What is it?: A streaming service out to give the heavy weights a run for their money. Slacker Radio boasts 10 times the music of Pandora, and a more fully-functional internet radio than Spotify.
Downside: It lacks Spotify's apps and the interface seems more attuned to one-off playlists than a real solution to replace your iTunes library. Also, this may be petty, but the logo looks like it was stolen from an energy drink or spray-can deodorant.
In short: A nice product that's easy to use. If you're tired of Pandora for whatever reason, we definitely recommend checking out Slacker Radio.
Price: Songs typically cost around $1, but many are available to stream for free.
What is it?: Google's foray into cloud-based music streaming, as well as their iTunes competitor. Google Play can store up to 20,000 songs from your computer in their cloud and allows you to purchase songs individually for streaming and download. It's also the place to buy apps for your Android phone or tablet.
Downside: Since it's still a song-by-song based system, it's going to be a lot cheaper to use a streaming service like Spotify for a complete library.
In short: If you'd like to own and stream your mp3s through the Google ecosystem, Google Play is worth a look. Ditching iTunes is going to be a tough one, though.
Price: $5 per month for the first 3 months, then $9.99 after that.
What is it?: Another cloud-based streaming platform that plays through a mobile app and from the web. It also matches your iTunes music library in the cloud. It used to have an mp3 store, but it was recently closed.
Downside: The interface isn't as nice as some of the other streaming sites like Rdio, and the Internet radio functionality isn't as solid as Pandora's.
In short: Rhapsody isn't bad, but it also isn't our favorite. Now that it has closed its mp3 store, it seems to be going through some growing pains.