Navigating the stream of on-demand music

If you like discovering new artists, listening to music ad-free and having access to millions of songs, a music-streaming service may be right for you.

Rhapsody Streaming Music Service

By Heather Camlot

Music is a powerful thing. It can help us learn and recover from poor health; it improves memory and athletic performance; it increases productivity and lowers stress. Sure, we love the music we’ve bought and downloaded, but sometimes it takes a lot of effort to keep up with the latest tracks,  find new artists and part with well-earned money on something that may not be worth it. Welcome back stress, bye-bye productivity.

Follow the stream

A streaming music service may be the answer. In its most basic format, “An on-demand service is unlimited access to any song you want, as often as you want,” explains Jaimee Minney Steel, senior director of public relations for the Rhapsody music service. It offers a slew of features and flexibility that you can’t get from MP3 stores, traditional radio, or even Cloud services like Amazon Cloud Dive, Apple iCloud and Google Music (which only allow you access to music you’ve already downloaded, but on a multitude of devices). Namely, a streaming music service offers ad-free music, customization of your own playlist, artist suggestions by “intelligent” tools, social media integration to see what your friends or fellow music lovers are listening to, and access to millions of songs for a monthly price.

Determine your wants

As with any new technology, it can be confusing to the newcomer, especially when there are so many providers and so many features. When shopping for a streaming music service, here’s what to consider:

Catalogue: “Quantity and quality are both considerations. It’s not merely a matter of how many tracks a service has, but do they have the music you love,” says Steel. “Some services have more tracks, but may not have top artists, such as Adele or Arcade Fire, for example, which have withheld their content from free services. Be aware that there are some artists — such as The Beatles, Metallica, The Eagles and a few others — who have held back rights for streaming on any service.” 

Availability: “Figure out which devices you enjoy music on. Not all services are available on all Internet-connected players or smartphone platforms,” advises Steel. Some devices to consider: Smart TV, Roku, Sonos, iPhone, Android-based smartphone, BlackBerry.

Access: “When evaluating your plan, think about how many places you plan to use for music. The number of devices you have will impact the price point,” says Steel. On-demand services offer different levels depending on the number — and sometimes type — of devices you’ll be listening through: computer only, computer and one device, computer and multiple devices.

Discovery tools: Let’s face it, when your service carries millions upon millions of songs, it’s kind of hard to know where to start. But that’s part of the fun. Some services will build and adjust your playlist or personal radio station based on the songs you like to listen to, a feature called Music Discovery or Intelligent Radio. For example, Rhapsody has an in-house editorial team that creates playlists, music features and artist-related content to introduce members to new music. The team also hand-programs more than 300 genre-based radio stations and Rhapsody has a recommendation engine that surfaces new music based on your listening and the listening patterns of other people who also listened to that track over the past 10 years.

Social media integration: Some services allow you to discover music through members’ music profiles. Find and follow those who have similar tastes and see what else they’re listening to. Certain services also allow for Facebook and Twitter integration so you can see what your friends are listening to and share your picks with them.

Sound quality: Bigger may not always be better, warns Steel. “A high-quality stream may sound good, until you get your phone bill and find that you have gone past your data cap, or until those streams come through choppy due to a weak connection.” It all depends on how you stream your music. The highest bitrate going is 320kbps and that higher quality is noticeable if you’re streaming through your Sonos. On your laptop? Not so much. Along with 192kbps for computers, Rhapsody suggests the following rates for your devices: WMA 160 kpbs for downloads on MP3 players; MP3 128 kbps streaming, AAC 128 kbps for downloaded mobile streams, and AAC+ 64 kbps for mobile streams.  Another nice feature: offline caching, which means you can download songs to your device and enjoy them off-network, at a higher quality stream.

Find your service

As you narrow down the right services for you, give them a test-run first. Most offer some sort of free trial, either with ads or with a time cap. And don’t forget to evaluate the interface. What may seem like the best of the best feature-wise may provide a horrific user-experience – making that stress level shoot right back up.

Services to get you started:

First published December 1, 2011, on WorkLIvePlayCafe.com.

 

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