In June 1999, Sean Parker and childhood friend Shawn Fanning revealed a homebrewed business that challenged the way in which music reached music listeners worldwide. Shortly after Napster’s launch, music labels and artists alike assailed the file sharing service with numerous lawsuits concerning the pirating and leaking of songs prior to their commercial releases. Napster eventually succumbed to corporate rebuke and closed its doors in 2001. However, during its fleeting yet wildly successful run, Napster revolutionized the music industry and signaled the death knell to the album era. It gave rise to a whole new wave of music streaming services that learned from Napster’s rookie mistakes and took control of music distribution. Originally, iTunes spearheaded the revolution, but several other services lurked on the horizon. Today, many music enthusiasts have tossed aside CDs and records, finding musical refuge in the comprehensive libraries of one of the many music-streaming services on the market. Sean Parker rebounded from Napster’s decline, since finding his way onto the board of Spotify, a dominant service originally from Sweden. Most recently, Jay-Z joined forces with a slew of other chart-topping musicians to launch a music streaming service aimed at retaining the value of music and empowering the musician.
Since Napster’s demise, the corporate concept of streaming music has only gained traction in mainstream culture. CD sales have plummeted and iTunes-style downloads are in steady decline. For better or worse, music streaming services dictate the way the public experience music. Below is a breakdown of the top streaming services available that illuminates the positives and negatives of these increasingly powerful platforms:
Spotify is the music streaming service mogul. With services in 58 countries, investors from dominant corporations like Goldman Sachs and a user base of over 50 million, the brainchild of Daniel Ek has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the last few years. Due to Spotify’s popularity, the service is interconnected with social media, linking Facebook friends via shared playlists and popular songs in the user’s network. A feed lines the right side of the right side of the interface, broadcasting the tune currently trickling from each friend’s device. This way a user can see if their friends are belting out Les Miserables melodies or fist pumping to the latest Avicii single. Users can also send songs to each other via an integrated mailbox. The interface can be cumbersome, but is constantly receiving updates.
Spotify’s shortcoming is its notoriety in the music industry. Most recently, Taylor Swift pulled her songs from the service, claiming that it failed to give artists their due share. Whether this criticism applies solely to Spotify or all music-streaming services is a larger discussion. While Spotify touts the release of exclusive songs, its music library lacks the depth of some of its competitors. The service’s radio option, which finds songs similar to the selected song, flounders in comparison to many contenders.
Spotify comes free with advertisements. The premium service costs $10 per month for each individual, with a 50 percent discount for students. The company has continually ignored pleas for a family subscription option.
Rdio is an online music service created by Skype founders Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis. The service has become one of Spotify’s predominant rivals in terms of dynamism and value. Rdio caters to the true listener with a goal of enjoying oldies and discovering nascent melodies. Music enthusiasts worldwide (the service streams in over 60 countries) champion the service’s intricate new releases section that contains specified categories such as “This Week,” “Last Week” and “Two Weeks Ago.” This ensures that users stay on top of their musical game by refreshing charts based on their weekly popularity.
Rdio’s social networking capabilities falter slightly in comparison to its Swedish competitor due to its smaller user base. Unlike Spotify, Rdio is web-based and therefore requires users to open a browser rather than a specified software. While this allows access from multiple computers, it also meshes the internet experience with the service. Many complain that the Rdio tab or window can get lost in a busy browser. It is not a deal breaker by any means, but certainly an adjustment for those switching over from iTunes or Spotify.
Rdio is free on the web. The premium service costs $10 per month for an individual and $18 per month for a family subscription.
Beats Music attracts the same casual listeners as Pandora, a streaming service that creates playlists based on a listener’s preferences. But the advantage of Beats is that it has the same level of control offered by Spotify and Rdio. Unlike Pandora, Beats relies on humans to curate each playlist rather than robots, claiming that the human ear can pick up on subtleties that often go overlooked by computerized algorithms. When it comes to playlist curation, a category in which mega services such as Spotify falter, Beats delivers and then some. The service is also compatible with a large variety of devices and offers an offline mode.
Recently, Apple acquired ownership of Beats and intends to revamp the service by bundling it directly into iOS and employing iTunes’ titanic user database to attract subscribers. The collaboration, if done right, could revitalize Apple’s place in the music streaming industry and challenge Spotify and Rdio’s supremacy.
Currently, Beats offers no free service after the 14-day free trial. AT&T users are eligible for three months of free service. The premium option is $10 per month.
Tidal emerged on the music scene in 2009, but only came to the public’s attention when Jay Z bought the company for $56 million last month. Under the new ownership of Grammy clad musicians such as Beyoncé, Coldplay, Kanye West and Madonna, Tidal champions itself on restoring the value of music. How do they plan on doing this? Make listeners pay for high quality, fairly licensed music and pay artists more. Tidal will inevitably face the same problem as the streaming companies it criticizes: services do not pay musicians directly; they pay record labels who in turn control how much gets passed on to the musician. The star-studded collaboration hopes to elucidate the transactions between services, labels and musician through Tidal, thus empowering and rewarding the actual music makers. The service flaunts the release of exclusive content, most recently demonstrated by Beyoncé’s Tidal-only release of new single, “Die With You.”
Tidal is addressing an issue that has threatened the integrity of the music industry ever since the launch of Napster. And yet it is unclear how successful the venture will be. Aside from its emboldening credo and a few exclusive-content opportunities, Tidal does not offer much more than its competitors, who already boast a database of millions of devoted listeners. Critics also question the service’s ability to connect with independent artists that jam far outside the glitterati circles of the likes of Jay Z and Kanye West. Time will only tell if Jay Z and friends succeed in achieving their music distribution utopia.
Given that the service is grounded in the monetary value of music, Tidal offers no free service. However, users can test out the platform on a 30-day free trial, before committing to the $20 per month premium subscriptio