If you find MP3's too expensive, confusing, or not worth the hassle, you need to know about a service that gives you unlimited access to millions of songs for free.
If you’ve ever listened to MP3s, you know they’re the best way to enjoy music. They’re digital, so you can fit thousands of songs on your cell phone. They’re on-demand, so you can play any song you have whenever you like. And they’re very high quality, indistinguishable from CDs to most people.
But finding, downloading, managing, and syncing MP3s between all your different devices can be frustrating and confusing at times. It can also be expensive. Many people I know, people who would love the freedom and portability of an MP3, stay away from the format entirely because either the concept of digital music is too difficult to understand, or transferring their previously purchased music into the new format would take too much time and effort.
Fortunately, there’s a cheaper, better way to get all of the advantages of digital music without the hassle or expense.
Imagine a program on your computer, with a matching app for your smartphone, that contains more than 15 million songs. You simply search for any song you want to hear, double click it, and it starts playing. Wouldn’t that be great? That new song you heard on the radio, you already have it. That tune you listened to every day for an entire summer in high school, it’s ready for you to play whenever you like. The music your grandparents listened to, the music your kids listen to, the music 18th century nobility listened to, all of it is in Spotify.
And how much does all this music cost? Nothing. It’s free.
As part of their introductory offer, if you sign up for an invitation on Spotify’s website, you’ll get six free months of unrestricted, unlimited access to a collection of music so massive you would never be able to gather it all on your own. My invite took about a week to arrive, but I’m finding the service well worth the wait.
After that six months is up, the deal is still pretty sweet. You can keep your free account, but will be limited to 10 hours of music per month and 5 plays per track. Spotify covers their costs by requiring you listen to about 2 minutes of ads for every hour of music, a fair trade. Or you can upgrade to a $5-a-month account that gives you back your unlimited streaming privileges and completely removes the ads.
To listen to music on an iPhone or Android device, you’ll need to purchase Spotify’s $10-a-month plan. For anyone who purchases music on a regular basis, you’ll immediately see the savings. A single song usually costs 99 cents, so anyone buying more than 10 songs a month will benefit.
Songs are normally streamed from Spotify’s servers, meaning you’ll need an Internet connection to listen to most of their songs, but any song can be marked for offline access by simply clicking a star icon next to it (and setting your starred tracks to sync offline). The song will be copied onto your computer or smartphone so that you can play it whenever you like without having to connect to the web or use any bandwidth.
You can also easily create playlists and share them with your friends, or mark them to sync to your computer for offline access. Or subscribe to a playlist someone else makes and groove to their tunes. I’ve found quite a few on ShareMyPlaylists.com. But Spotify’s not the only game in town.
Also worth mentioning is Rdio. The concept is the same as Spotify – unlimited music from a huge collection of songs, whenever and wherever you want. But there are a few differences. Rdio only offers a seven-day free trial (not six months), and requires you to purchase their service after that. There is no free tier.
They have slightly fewer songs, a little over 10 million, but still a massive catalog of music. Pricing is the same as Spotify: $5 a month for unlimited streaming to a computer, $10 a month if you want to stream to an iPhone or Android device as well.
Without getting too technical, Rdio has better audio quality than the free or $5-a-month Spotify accounts, but Spotify’s $10-a-month account gives you access to slightly better sounding music than anything at Rdio.
TechCrunch did a fairly in-depth comparison between Spotify and Rdio. If you’re thinking of subscribing to one of the two services, it’s worth a read. But to save you a little time, I prefer Spotify.