Tech Talk: Which streaming service is right for you?

Music streaming takes a lot of the tedious organization of mp3s or CDs out of the picture. PHOTO: Malte Wingen on Unsplash

Most of us listen to and appreciate music in one way or another and thanks to music streaming, now is the easiest and most affordable time in history to enjoy music.

Tapes and CDs were the music medium of my childhood. Many readers came of age with records. The way we access, purchase, and listen to music has changed dramatically over the years. The iPod and other MP3 players revolutionized the music world by driving listeners away from compact discs and allowing them to buy individual songs or full albums digitally.

Music streaming started to catch on with the launch of streaming services such as Spotify in 2011. But it’s really only over the past few years that it has entered the mainstream. Music streaming users access millions of songs instantly through their computer’s internet browser or an app on their phone or tablet.

I remember looking through all of the CDs at Sound City and HMV when I was a teenager — I was not able to afford nearly as many albums as I wanted to hear. Fast forward to 2017 and I can now search for and hear almost any popular song ever recorded, instantly. New releases are available immediately for listening (although sometimes an artist will decide to debut their album first, for a limited time, on a specific platform).

You can save artists and albums to your personal “Music Library” and browse through them, much like one can with a physical music collection. If you don’t know specific artists or just want some music to fit your mood, there are also endless playlists available that cater directly to activities like cleaning, exercising, or dinner parties. Many streaming services also provide the option of listening to music from a specific genre, era, or year.

For some people, the $10 a month for services like Spotify, Apple Music, or Google Play Music may seem superfluous. With all the new technology costs like smartphone and internet plans, another monthly fee can sound excessive. There are many free music services, but they are almost all supported by advertising which will interrupt the music listening experience. In addition to having ads, these free services will often not allow the user to choose specific songs. YouTube has an extensive library of music, but it rarely offers full albums and isn’t a good option for on the go. You only need to listen to one new album per month (or the equivalent number of songs) to make any streaming service well worth the price.

For those with traditional stereo setups and their computers in a separate room, a standard audio cable is a quick fix to get audio from your smartphone, tablet, or laptop directly to your main stereo. A word of warning: once you’re away from WiFi, music streaming will eat up your valuable monthly data. Fortunately, there is the ability to “download” the music temporarily to your smartphone for listening away from WiFi without running up huge phone bills.

Alternatively, if you’re a music aficionado who listens to rare or local music, some of the services also offer the ability to upload your own music to your library so that it is available at any time via streaming. Google Music has the edge in this regard because there is no limit to how much music you can upload to your online music library. On Apple Music, the uploaded files take up space in your iCloud, which can cost extra money depending on how much you intend to upload. Spotify currently does not offer such a feature in the same convenient manner.

To those interested in easy access to music, I would definitely advise trying out the free trial period for one of the major music streaming services. Streaming takes a lot of the tedious organization of mp3s or CDs out of the picture and allows you to focus on the listening.

Alex Webster offers computer coaching and support for the Beach and Toronto East. Connect with him at www.thecomputercoach.ca.

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