Understanding Online Music Services

There are many different ways you can listen to music online. You can purchase music through services like iTunes. You can listen to customized streaming radio stations like Pandora or iTunes Radio. You can subscribe to an online music service like Spotify or the new Apple Music. You can also listen to Internet radio stations like the new Beats 1 station from Apple.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: Understanding Online Music Services.

Hi, this is Gary with MacMost.com. On today's episode let's look at the different ways that you can get music online.

Now there is all these different ways that you can get music online. I find that a lot of people don't completely understand what the difference is between what the methods are. So let's take a look at them.

The first method of getting music online is to just buy it. An example of a service like this is, of course, iTunes. But there is also Goggle Play and Amazon and other services as well. The idea is that you can buy a song and then you download the file and you can then listen to the song as much as you want. There are no subscription fees. You don't have to continue to be a member of the service or anything like that. Typically, even if you loose the song you can go back to the service, log in with your account, and download it again. This, of course, could be more expensive if you purchase a lot of music because you can see as songs are about a buck or more you can just get ten songs a month and that is ten bucks which is the cost of streaming music services that we will look at later.

The second way we are going to look at to get music online is by using streaming radio. An example here is Pandora. So the way these services work is that you select a song, or an artist, or genre and then it begins to play music like that. So, for instance, I just typed in Rolling Stones and it started playing some Rolling Stones. It won't only play the Rolling Stones though on this radio station that I have created. A lot of people get this wrong. They think that well shouldn't it just play Rolling Stones songs. That is what I told it. But it plays music like that. It behaves like a radio station but one personalized for you. You are the only one listening to this particular music at this particular time. You can create multiple radio stations and you have to, of course, be online to listen to them because it is streamed live over the internet. You can skip but it is limited. You can't keep skipping songs all day long. You can only do a limited number of those.

There is usually a free version which has advertisements and a limited number of skips and some other features you don't get. Like perhaps you might not be able to listen to it using an app. Only on the web. So you can do that or you can pay a fee, usually an annual fee, not too much to get rid of the advertisements, have more skips, be able to have more features like listening on your iPhone and such. So these are streaming radio services. Another example would of course be iTunes radio which you get, not on the web, but in iTunes. You can do the same thing here. Create your radio stations, listen to the songs it picks for you, and skip some.

One of the things to remember about these services is that you always have the opportunity to give a thumbs up or thumbs down to whatever it is that you are listening to. So this will then allow you to further customize the station. So you may start off saying I want to listen to the Rolling Stones but then if it plays songs from a band you don't like you can give it a thumbs down and if it plays songs that you really like you can give them a thumbs up. Then it will further customize the station and the more you listen to the station and do that the better the station will get for you. But you can't decide exactly which song to listen to. You can't repeat songs that you like. You kind of just have to go with the flow and listen to what it gives you based on the criteria you give.

The third type of way to listen to music online is streaming music. As opposed to radio this means that you can listen to any song you want that is available on the service. So you can basically search for a song or artist and then decide that you want to listen to that particular song. You can listen to that song over and over again. You can build playlists of your own songs. You can listen to playlists that other people have made. You can basically build your own collection of music within this service.

So very different from radio because you can specifically listen to specific songs. You can go and select the Rolling Stones, look at all the songs from the Rolling Stones, put them on shuffle, and have basically a radio station of Rolling Stones songs. This also includes everything that is included in the streaming radio service. Because since you have all these songs available to you it is very easy for all of these services, like Spotify, to build in a radio function where you give it a song or artist and it suggests songs for you and plays them. The difference being that you can skip as much as you want because you have paid to listen to this service.

Now most of these services have a free trial version, like Spotify does. But then you pay per month for the full version which has the benefit of being able to listen online. Sometimes you are limited to the amount you can listen to with the free version. So usually it is about ten dollars a month to listen to streaming music. That is about what Spotify is and also that is what the new Apple Music, which will take over from Beats music which was a competitor of Spotify, will do for you. Just allow you to listen to whatever songs you want that are available on the service. It is kind of like having your own collection of millions of songs and listen to them whenever you want but you have to be online.

However these services, Spotify and Apple Music, will allow you to listen to music off-line. You can pre download some albums or some playlists and specify if you want to have them available off-line so you can listen to them say on an airline or while hiking. Whenever you can't access the internet.

Now there is a fourth way to listen to music online which is an actual internet radio station. This is different than streaming radio in that you are listening to the same thing everybody else is listening to. As a matter of fact you can get to these in iTunes. There is internet radio there and this has been around forever. You can basically select a radio station. A lot of these are real radio stations that simply have a stream on the internet. Some are internet only radio stations. They are from all over the world and they vary in music quality and, of course, you have to listen to them to see if you like what their programming is. This has been around since before all the rest of the above. This has been around since the mid nineties if not even earlier than that.

So this isn't new but it is going to get some more attention now because Apple's new Beats 1 radio station is just like these. It will be available through iTunes but it is sure to draw attention on the fact that you can listen to online radio stations as well as getting music and building your own collection or having a subscription to a streaming music service.

So there you go. You have services where you can purchase music. You've got services where you can listen to customized streaming radio stations. You've got services where you can subscribe and listen to any song that you want in a huge library of music and you've also got traditional streaming radio stations.

Hope you found this useful. Until next time this is Gary with MacMost.com.

Comments: 8 Responses to “Understanding Online Music Services”

    Gary Warda
    4 years ago

    Thanks! For clearing that up for me, all the choices get confusing especially when I have a library of over 500 CD’s

    4 years ago

    So many options and you have made it easy to understand. Thanks

    4 years ago

    Very helpful! As always, Gary, you’re the best!

    4 years ago


    Does Apple offer music that supersedes the quality of CD & Vinyl?

    I presume most portable playback devices are not geared to demand bigger high res. audio files.

    If Apple is not doing high resolution audio, is there another Music Service that offers a means of upgrading my existing iTunes collection to high resolution music files that would still be part of the Apple Eco System?

    Thank you.

      4 years ago

      Currently, music you buy from Apple is at 256kbps AAC format. Streaming music will be lower, as it needs to stream over the Internet in real time.
      Whether this is “high res” depends on what you think high res is. CDs are tech from the 80s, so before compression. That’s why they could only contain about 72 minutes of music whereas the same CD can hold many hours of mp3/AAC music. Vinyl is hard to compare because that is analog and not digital and it adds noise since vinyl records can’t be read by a physical device without some sort of imperfections.
      I’ve done the test where you take good headphones and play music at different qualities randomly and try to see if your ears can hear the difference. 256kpbs is way above my threshold so I’ll never miss out by using it.
      The streaming service Tidal has a premium membership where you can hear songs at a much higher resolution. I wouldn’t be able to tell, but maybe you can. That’s a streaming service. It looks like the industry is moving toward streaming and away from purchasing so you may have to switch if you want that sort of quality.
      I, and others, can go on and on about this. It is a huge subject. I’d search for some audio experts and read their stuff if you want to know more.

    John Batchelor
    4 years ago

    Thanks Gary well explained

    4 years ago

    Good explaination. There is debate out there about streaming. The streamee benifits from the low cost of the service; the streamer benifits from profits; the ? is whether there is a monetary benifit to the authors? Without the sale of CDs/vinyl/tape, is there enough capital generated by streaming services to warrant the composing musician a livelihood in the industry? If not: no authors, no music. Might this happen?
    (Prof. retired 30+ years, Berklee College of Music)

      4 years ago

      This is a huge subject. I could write pages about it. Many have. Lots of ways to look at it.
      I don’t think a change in economics will eliminate all of the artists. But it will shake things up. It has been for 10+ years now. Some artists will do better. Others will have trouble.

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