Over the last couple of months I suddenly developed an urge to sample several streaming music apps available for my Nexus 4 because, frankly, I was in the mood to discover some new artists to shake up my listening habits. I’ve actually been a Slacker Radio Plus member for a few years now (dating back to when I had a Blackberry) and I really love the service, but I also wanted to see if there were any new contenders in streaming music to rock my world. Pandora was already out of the running because of their switch from visual to audio ads; if I wanted to LISTEN to ads I’d just turn to regular terrestrial radio. I also wasn’t willing to dish out the funds for Pandora One since I have been hearing a lot of repetition in my current stations. So here is what I was looking for:
(1) A service that would give me the opportunity to discover new music and featuring as much diversity as possible (i.e. a generous catalog of albums and artists);
(2) A service that would allow ME to choose a song, artist or album to listen to on-demand – not just give me similar artists and rotate my choices in at random;
(3) The ability to download songs, albums and/or playlists for offline listening (I probably should have put this at #1 since I listen offline at my desk at work for 8 hours a day.)
(4) The ability to stream some of my own music when I am in the mood, if possible.
Sadly, no one service covers all of these items. After a couple of weeks of trial and error, though, I think I have a system that works for me. I call it “The 3 S’s” – Slacker, Spotify and Songza.
I am a huge, HUGE fan of Slacker’s cache system – which in their recent updates has had a name change to “downloaded music” and is part of their subscription services. Slacker is all about the stations: find an album or artist to use as a baseline and they will pull together a station consisting of similar artists in the genre that you can “fine-tune” with a “♥” to make a song a favorite (so you hear it more often) or a “Ø” (to ban the song permanently from that station). Since I’ve been fine-tuning my personal stations for a few years, they are just the way I like them with plenty of variety but also lots of favorites working their way into the rotation. But Slacker also creates their own stations by genre that provide a great starting point if you just want to discover new music – and you can cache/download these, too! And it is this last feature that keeps Slacker in my music stable; I like downloading multiple genre stations (Soft Hits, Soft Rock, Alternative Hits, etc.) for offline play that contain enough music for my workday with very little repetition. If I had the Slacker Premium option, I would be able to have stations dedicated only to my chosen artists, or that played songs on-demand. The one thing Slacker doesn’t do, however, is allow me to add my own library of music to the mix, which is why I haven’t dished out that Premium fee. And that’s where Spotify comes in.
Spotify is also a subscription service and my most recent discovery; I am still working my way through its possibilities. It allows me to create my own stations like Slacker by choosing an album, song or artist and then adding similar artists to the playlist. I can also sync tracks from my own purchased music to the app for listening – which helps for those tracks that are not available for streaming through Spotify. There are similar programs called Rdio and Rhapsody that are very similar to Spotify and can accomplish a lot of the same things, but they fell short when I tried to create a station around the epic music of Two Steps From Hell. Type in “Two Steps From Hell” in either Rdio or Rhapsody and all four of their albums show up – but there are no similar artists listed. Type it into Spotify and I see The Immediate, Future World Music, E.S. Posthumus, and other epic music artists/companies quickly listed as similar artists. Even soundtrack albums for major games like Halo show up. Perfect for artist discovery in one of my favorite genres. Where it loses out to Slacker, however, is its inability to download these artist stations to my device for offline listening (or, if it does, I haven’t been able to find it). It only allows me to sync playlists I have created myself song by song, which is not as user-friendly as Slacker’s station download options.
As an added bonus to my music streaming needs, I learned about a wonderful free service called Songza which is ad-supported like Pandora, but by small visual pop-up ads that do not interfere with my listening pleasure. While I don’t have the ability to download music or sync playlists – or even to play any of the music on-demand – Songza excels at helping me discover new artists with its “Playlists by Music Experts.” It also has a couple of little extras going for it. One of these is their “Concierge” option which helps me choose playlists by activity or mood, both of which change depending on time of day. So when I open up Songza I am greeted with something like this: “It’s Thursday evening. Play music for: Cooking, Working (No Lyrics), Working Out, Playing Video Games, Unwinding or Driving.” Click on an activity and Songza will then ask which category of music I want to focus on (Easy Listening R&B or Stylish & Eclectic Mixes sound good). Pick a playlist and I’m off. Another thing I stumbled across today was a station that had been created by Pencils of Promise called Today’s Studytime PoP Hits. The description stated that for every person who listened to the playlist, Songza would donate 10 cents to Pencils of Promise with a goal to build two new schools! Songza is a free service and they’re helping charities; how sweet is that?!? For my quick music fix needs, Songza has proven to be stellar and I’ve already discovered several artists I want to add to my stations on Slacker and Spotify for more in-depth listening.
So I’ve found a formula that currently works for me, but if anyone ever comes out with a service that covers all my bullet-points in one program I’d be in heaven. How about you? Do you use any of these services, or have you found something else that fits your music streaming needs?