Want to rock out, have a dance, or just play something in the background while you work? Well, good news - there are dozens of ways to find music to listen to online.
Whether you're a fan of folk or a devotee of disco, the likes of Spotify, iTunes, and Deezer are here for your listening pleasure. Let's take a look at the options.
Should I download or stream?
Do you want to purchase music for keepsies, or just listen to it online? There are significant pros and cons to both downloading and streaming, and most people do some combination of the two.
Downloading music means you buy and transfer music files to your computer, tablet, or smartphone to keep.
- You can listen from anywhere, even when you're not connected to internet - there's no need to worry about maintaining a stable internet connection when travelling, for instance
- You don't need to rely on your chosen service to have all the songs you want
- Listening on a mobile won't eat into your monthly data allowance
- Audio is better quality
- You own the tracks - it won't get taken down by your music player, and you're free to move tracks around, burn them to a CD, and so on
- Artists generally get more money for downloads than for streams
Streaming has very little to do with water and everything to do with listening to music online. Music files are played directly from the streaming service without downloading the whole thing.
- Streaming usually works out cheaper, especially as most services have a free option
- There's more variety and choice of music with the chance to discover new stuff
- It doesn't take up storage space on your devices - only the space of a single app or program (unless you download tracks for 'offline mode', of course)
- You can access the tracks you want from different devices without having to transfer files
- There are often ready-made playlists from DJs, artists, and other users
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Where can I download music?
If you want to permanently keep your music, remember to make sure there's enough storage space available on your device. For good-quality MP3s you'll usually need around 5-10MB per song. We'd also recommend connecting to Wi-Fi rather than 4G to do any downloading - music can gobble up a lot of your data allowance otherwise.
It's been the largest music vendor in the US since 2008, and the iTunes Store is still going strong. With several dozen million tracks, and options for independent artists to upload their music as well as big record labels, you're bound to find whatever you're looking for. There's also the added bonus of high quality audio formats and perfect syncing with your iTunes library.
The 'digital music' section of the Amazon website is a goldmine for music downloads. There's a huge variety - if the retailer sells a physical CD of an album, it's probably got it in MP3 form too. In fact, if you buy a CD through Amazon, you usually get an MP3 download of the album chucked in as well.
Not to be confused with Google Play Music All Access. In the Google Play Store, there's a section for music - an online shop where you'll find millions of songs available to download straight to your device from some of the biggest artists. The range available is fairly similar to that of Amazon, though there are fewer independent labels on board.
SoundCloud is a little different. Rather than being a place to download all your favourite albums, it's built for musicians to share their tracks, especially if they're small, unsigned, or independent artists. It's also pretty popular with DJs and experimental audio types. So while you won't find a huge library of big name tracks, youcandiscover some interesting stuff to download - including remixes, mashups, and DJ sets.
Where can I stream music?
Don't want to commit to owning those music files? Try a streaming service instead.
For a steady streaming experience, you'll need an internet connection that's up to the job. Most services recommend a download speed of at least 1Mb, which shouldn't be a problem on most home broadband packages. It'll also need to be stable - which, again, isn't usually a problem with home broadband, but it may be a bit of an issue if you're using 3G or 4G. Bear this in mind if you're planning on listening while you commute.
Streaming eats up data, too - up to 150MB per hour, depending on the audio quality. We'd strongly recommend an unlimited broadband package, or a mobile deal with unlimited data, if you're a big music fan.
Spotify is still the most popular music streamer, with a massive library of tracks and albums available. Most major and indie distributors are on board, with only a few notable gaps (Taylor Swift fans won't be satisfied here). With apps for almost every device, as well as a web browser version, it's easy to share playlists with friends and access your account from anywhere. If the audio ads on the free version get too irritating, there's always the option of a premium account - which also gets you offline listening and better audio quality.
Launched in June 2015, Apple Music is one of the newest streaming services. Nonetheless some artists already have albums on there exclusively - this is where you'll find that elusive Taylor Swift. There are 'millions' of tracks to listen to, though Apple are tight-lipped about the exact number, and it comes with the advantage of seamless integration with iOS, iTunes, and Siri.
Amazon Prime Music
Another new contender on the streaming scene is Amazon Prime Music - included in an Amazon Prime subscription. Its library is much smaller than most other sites, with only about a million tracks, but if you're already paying for Prime then it's certainly worth checking out - especially as you can access your Amazon music purchases from anywhere by storing them in the Amazon Cloud.
Deezer is a firm favourite among music streaming fans. It's got several million tracks available, a clean and modern interface, and the impressive 'Flow' mode that gets to know your library and play what you want to hear. With the Premium+ subscription, you'll get it all ad-free with offline listening - and there's even an option to stream in FLAC quality audio.
Google Play Music All Access
Not to be confused with the Google Play Store. Google Play Music Access All Areas is Google's streaming service with several million songs to listen to - and you can store up to 50,000 of your own in its cloud as well, even without a premium subscription. That makes for good syncing across your devices, particularly with offline listening too.
Rdio's library is pretty varied - it includes music from major record labels as well as from indie stores like CD Baby. It's based around discovering new music more than anything, with personalised radio stations, playlists, and recommendations. So it's great for finding new stuff to listen to, though not necessarily for finding a particular album you fancy hearing. Still, there's a decent free listening option (supported by ads) to give you a chance to find out if it's for you or not.
Jay Z's pet project has two major advantages: you can stream music at incredible FLAC-based quality, and it claims to pay the highest artist royalties of any streaming site. You'll get HD videos too, and the music library is pretty big - though there are still some gaps. Its main downfall is that it's one of the most expensive streaming services out there, but hey, that's what you pay for lossless audio quality.