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Music Streaming for Dummies: A Consumer’s Guide

Need help choosing a streaming service? We've got you covered

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All original artwork by Steven Fiche.

It seems just moments ago we were fumbling with CD players and adding iTunes gift cards to holiday wishlists, but now we’re in the brave new world of music streaming. The possibilities are supposedly endless, which means the possibilities are also vastly confusing. With two major services introduced this year alone, everyone from Taylor Swift to Prince having an opinion, and even rumors (now quashed) of Facebook jumping into the market, we understand if you’re boggled by these rapid developments in digital music. To offer some solace, here’s Consequence of Sound’s handy guide to nine of the major players in music’s latest digital landscape — we even created an easy and digestible shareable infographic!

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Click on ahead for the complete breakdown…

Amazon Prime Music

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Amazon Prime Music, which launched June 12 this year, is a natural extension of the already existing Amazon Prime service. If you are an Amazon Prime subscriber, then the good news is this service is essentially free (it’s included in the annual fee subscribers already pay). With its comparatively small catalogue, Amazon Prime Music has stayed under the radar so far. According to the service’s contract posted on Digital Music News, Amazon Prime Music holds more interest in offering an additional perk to its already flourishing (ballpark of 30-40 million) subscription base than competing with other streaming services.

Is there a free trial? // How long does it last?

Amazon Prime, which includes access to Amazon Prime Music, offers a free 30-day trial.

How much does a premium account cost per month?

Amazon Prime offers an annual subscription for $99/year, about $8.25/month. It is not available to invited members on a shared Prime account.

Are there discounts?

Students can take part in a free six-month trial of Amazon Prime. After that period, students still receive a 50 percent discount for the service.

How much music will you get access to?

Over one million songs.

What exclusive discographies will you get access to?

Rather than exclusive discographies, Amazon Prime Music has, so far, offered an exclusive holiday compilation album, All Is Bright. On the flip side of exclusives, Amazon Prime doesn’t include any music from Universal Music Group, and there is a supposed six-month lag on new releases.

What other perks are offered?

The largest perk is simply being an Amazon Prime member. This membership includes free two-day shipping and access to movies, TV shows, Kindle books, and of course, music.

How do they compensate their artists?

Small labels agreed to a one-year licensing offer to share a $5 million royalty pool, divided by a market-share formula chosen by Amazon, according to The New York Times. Larger labels agreed to one-time payments — which totaled about $25 million — in exchange for a year of access to certain titles. Universal didn’t agree to this payment plan. –Lyndsey Havens

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Apple Music

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Apple announced on May 28 it would acquire Beats Music and Beats Electronics for a grand total of $3 billion. Without skipping a beat, Beats co-founders Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre joined Apple to represent what has become Apple Music. The service officially launched on June 30 and wasted no time making headlines regarding everything from its poor payment policy to its impressive lineup of Beats 1 DJs, fronted by Zane Lowe. In addition to Beats 1, the service offers Connect (a social media platform connecting artists and fans) and, of course, countless curated playlists by everyone from industry tastemakers to Siri.

Is there a free trial? // How long does it last?

Apple Music offers a free three-month trial.

How much does a premium account cost per month?

An individual user account costs $9.99/month. The cost jumps to $14.99/month “for your family,” which includes up to six users. If you currently have a Beats Music subscription, that can be moved over to Apple Music.

Are there discounts?

No.

How much music will you get access to?

Over 30 million songs.

What exclusive discographies will you get access to?

The service includes first-time digital access to albums such as Swift’s 1989, Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, and most surprisingly, Thom Yorke’s discography, in addition to releases from Trent Reznor and Pharrell Williams.

What other perks are offered?

A simple Apple ID grants access to Beats 1 Radio – an exclusive 24/7 free global radio service – and Connect. A subscription allows users to access expert recommendations, save Connect content, and save Apple Music to your library for offline listening.

How do they compensate their artists?

A leaked contract showed Apple’s initial plan to refrain from paying royalties to its rights holders during its three-month free-trial period. Thanks to an open letter from Taylor Swift, that plan has since been modified. Apple Music will pay 71.5 percent of streaming revenues to rights holders, and Apple will pay 0.2 cents to rights holders for each stream during the free-trial period, reported The New York Times. –Lyndsey Havens

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Deezer

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Originally called Blogmusik and launched in Paris in 2006, Deezer became the international streaming service it is today after some bumps in the road, like a copyright infringement case and financial problems that prevented the service from paying licensing fees. Now the service is going strong with 16 million users in more than 180 countries, 6 million of them paying subscribers. Right now, Deezer is available in the U.S. only to owners of Sonos or Bose speakers and to Cricket Wireless customers.

Is there a free trial? // How long does it last?

Users can listen to Deezer for free, indefinitely, with ads and a limit of six skips per hour. The two paid plans offer 30-day free trials.

How much does a premium account cost per month?

Deezer Premium+ costs £9.99/month or €9.99/month. In the U.S., Deezer Premium+ is only available to owners of Bose SoundTouch or SoundLink speakers at $4.99/month. Deezer Elite – which offers high-fidelity sound – is available in select countries (including the U.S.) to owners of Sonos speakers at $14.99/month.

Are there discounts?

There are no discounted plans for Deezer, although the service has had promotions with various companies such as Cricket Wireless, Samsung, and The Telegraph.

How much music will you get access to?

Over 35 million songs.

Which exclusive discographies will you get access to?

At this time, there are no discographies exclusive to this service.

What other perks are offered?

Aside from features that other services provide – live music sessions, new music suggestions provided by an algorithm, lyrics and curated playlists – Deezer does not appear to provide other notable perks.

How do they compensate their artists?

There isn’t much by way of official data, but Digital Music News reported in 2015 that according to an independent label’s numbers for the month of March 2015, Deezer pays half a cent per stream. In 2013, Digital Music News reported that Deezer pays 0.81 cents per stream. –Karen Gwee

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Google Play Music

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Google Play Music All Access incorporated radio into its service long before Apple Music even existed. The service was introduced in May 2013, though an earlier version, Music by Google, launched in 2011. In order to stay competitive with newer services, Google Play Music acquired Songza (for about $15 million) in 2014, allowing for more creative and personalized playlist options.

Is there a free trial? // How long does it last?

Google Play Music offers a free 30-day trial.

How much does a premium account cost per month?

A premium account costs $9.99/month.

Are there discounts?

No. For a limited time in March, the service offered a $3 fee for a 3-month subscription, but this deal has since expired.

How much music will you get access to?

Over 30 million songs.

Which exclusive discographies will you get access to?

The service has no exclusive access to artists or discographies, though it does offer Google Play Exclusive Versions/Editions of select albums, such as Sam Smith’s In the Lonely Hour and Christina Perri’s Head or Heart, which include a stripped-down or acoustic bonus track.

What other perks are offered?

Google Play Music users can add their iTunes music libraries to the service, allowing for a more personalized experience. Additionally, users have access to Music Key, YouTube’s beta streaming service, which offers millions of ad-free music videos.

How do they compensate their artists?

Google Play Music’s current royalty rate is 9.1 cents per song, for songs up to five minutes in length. For songs that exceed that length, the rate is based on the track length with a royalty rate of 1.75 cents per minute (or fraction of a minute). –Lyndsey Havens

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Groove

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Groove is the very recent byproduct of some serious rebranding. On July 6, Microsoft announced that Xbox Music, a service that launched in October 2012, would now be known as Groove to end years of confusion (users often thought it was necessary to own an Xbox to use the service, which it wasn’t). The announcement aligns with the impending Windows 10 update.

Is there a free trial? // How long does it last?

Groove offers a free 30-day trial.

How much does a premium account cost per month?

A premium account costs $9.99/month, or users can pay $99.99/year.

Are there discounts?

No.

How much music will you get access to?

Over 40 million songs.

Which exclusive discographies will you get access to?

At this time, there are no discographies exclusive to this service.

What other perks are offered?

The service includes OneDrive, essentially cloud storage, that can hold MP3s and items from users’ iTunes libraries. These can then be accessed across various platforms: Windows devices, Xbox consoles, and/or Androids and iPhones.

How do they compensate their artists?

In 2013, it was reported Microsoft was paying more than any other streaming service, with a royalty rate of 3.6 cents. –Lyndsey Havens

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Rhapsody

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Rhapsody, founded in December 2001, is one of the earliest streaming services. In order to boost its user base, it acquired the OG peer-to-peer service Napster in late November 2011. Though interestingly, Sean Parker, Napster co-founder, is currently a Spotify investor and board member.

Is there a free trial? // How long does it last?

Rhapsody offers a free 14-day trial.

How much does a premium account cost per month?

The first three months cost $1, then the price rises to $9.99/month. Rhapsody also offers a family plan for $14.99/month, which allows up to five members on one account.

Are there discounts?

There are discounts available for T-Mobile users. T-Mobile offers Music Freedom, which means that if you use T-Mobile and have one of four specific plans, then you have access to Rhapsody at no additional charge.

How much music will you get access to?

Over 32 million songs.

Which exclusive discographies will you get access to?

At this time, there are no exclusives offered on this service.

What other perks are offered?

Rhapsody subscribers also have access to unRadio, the service’s ad-free radio. Rhapsody also has the unique option to only subscribe to unRadio for just $4.99/month. unRadio offers a free 14-day trial, without the added benefits of Rhapsody premier.

How do they compensate their artists?

As of 2015, Digital Music News reported Rhapsody’s paid an independent label 0.8 cents per stream for the month of March 2015. Not much else regarding Rhapsody’s royalty rates has been reported. –Lyndsey Havens

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Rdio

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Rdio was founded by Skype co-founder Janus Friis in August 2010, quickly becoming one of the two big companies dominating online radio, the other being Pandora. Unlike Pandora, however, Rdio gives users the option to download songs for offline listening on its mobile app. In the face of stiff competition in the U.S. from the likes of Pandora and Spotify, Rdio has also wisely chosen to focus its expansion into other markets such as India and Europe.

Is there a free trial? // How long does it last?

Rdio offers indefinite free listening to all stations with ads.

How much does a premium account cost per month?

In May, Rdio launched Rdio Select for $3.99/month, an ad-free plan for mobile users with no skip limits and high-quality audio. Rdio also offers Rdio Unlimited for $9.99/month, which includes unlimited mobile downloads and access to any album, artist, or song in addition to Rdio Select perks. The Rdio Unlimited family plan also gives users the options of paying $17.99/month for two Rdio Unlimited accounts, then adding up to three more plans for $5/month each.

Are there discounts?

Students pay $4.99/month for Rdio Unlimited.

How much music will you get access to?

Over 32 million songs.

Which exclusive discographies will you get access to?

At this time, there are no discographies exclusive to this service.

What other perks are offered?

Rdio does offer exclusive Rdio sessions with artists such as Ryn Weaver, Ty Dolla Sign and Mickey Guyton, as well as the occasional exclusive song premiere. Rdio also offers Label Stations, which are curated by record labels such as Domino, Def Jam, and Subpop, and occasionally by media entities such as our very own Consequence of Sound.

How do they compensate their artists?

Rdio pays artists on their Artist Program $10 for every user they attract to the service, keeping track using referral links. Otherwise, Rdio has no official data available for how much they pay per stream, although Digital Music News reported in 2013 that they pay less than a cent per stream. –Karen Gwee

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Spotify

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Who doesn’t know what Spotify is? The dominant streaming service launched in Sweden in 2008, garnering 10 million users in two years, then jumping to 75 million users in 58 markets in 2015. In its rapid expansion, it became the face of music streaming and, in so doing, also the target of controversy in heated debates about royalties, compensation, and artist’s rights.

Is there a free trial? // How long does it last?

You can access Spotify for free indefinitely, but with ads and without perks such as high-quality audio, offline listening, and unlimited skips.

How much does a premium account cost per month?

A premium account costs $9.99/ month. If you haven’t tried Spotify Premium before, you can subscribe for $0.99/month for three months. A family plan allows premium users to add up to four additional premium accounts, which are charged a discounted rate $4.99/month.

Are there discounts?

Students pay $4.99/month for Spotify Premium.

How much music will you get access to?

Over 30 million songs

Which exclusive discographies will you get access to?

Until recently, Led Zeppelin’s discography could only be streamed on Spotify with an exclusive streaming deal struck in 2013. The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Metallica too entered exclusive streaming deals with Spotify in 2012. However, with the advent of Apple Music, which offers the discographies of all three bands, it seems those deals are exclusive no longer.

What other perks are offered?

Spotify often offers exclusive audio commentaries from artists on their albums, such as Haim on Days Are Gone. Spotify also allows you to follow your friends and even artists on Spotify to access their playlists and – if you so wish – creep on their listening habits.

How do they compensate their artists?

According to Spotify, the service takes a 30 percent cut and pays artists between 0.6 and 0.84 cents per stream (an average calculated after Spotify takes into account different variables with a complicated equation). Spotify’s compensation methods have long been under scrutiny and have been criticized by artists like Taylor Swift, The Black Keys, and Bjork. –Karen Gwee

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TIDAL

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TIDAL was originally a product of Swedish/Norwegian company Aspiro that made its debut in October 2014. But the service only really started making waves (sorry) in early 2015 when Jay-Z bought it and launched it proper with a star-studded press conference in March. TIDAL’s co-owners and shareholders initially included Beyonce, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, Madonna, Daft Punk, Jack White, members of Arcade Fire, and more, but some of those relationships have been plunged into controversy. The service has also come under fire by musicians such as Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie and Mumford & Sons.

Is there a free trial? // How long does it last?

TIDAL offers a 30-day free trial.

How much does a premium account cost per month?

There are two different subscriptions: TIDAL PREMIUM, which costs $9.99/month and TIDAL HIFI, which runs $19.99/month. The latter subscription, as its name suggests, gives you access to high-fidelity, CD-quality sound. The plans are more expensive when purchased through the TIDAL iOS app ($12.99/month and $25.99/month, respectively), to match Apple’s fee. Family plans for both subscriptions let you add up to four accounts for half the price per account: so every additional TIDAL PREMIUM account costs $4.99/month, and every TIDAL HIFI account costs $9.99/month.

Are there discounts?

Students pay $4.99/month for the regular subscription and $9.99/month for the high-fidelity subscription.

How much music will you get access to?

Over 30 million songs.

Which exclusive discographies will you get access to?

The most notable exclusives come from the notoriously techno-phobic Prince, who recently pulled his music from all streaming services but TIDAL.

What other perks are offered?

Although TIDAL gives you access to its shareholders’ music, most of those discographies are not exclusive to the service (see Jay-Z and Jack White). TIDAL’s shareholders have released other exclusive goodies on the service, however, such as The White Stripes’ first ever TV appearance and Daft Punk’s 2006 film Electroma. Most exciting, though, are the new albums and videos released first through the service, such as Nicki Minaj’s music video for “Feeling Myself” and Lil Wayne’s Free Weezy Album.

How do they compensate their artists?

In May, it was reported that TIDAL pays an average of 1.2 cents per stream to rights owners, and Jay-Z has said that the service only takes a 25 percent cut. Grimes is one artist who has come out in support of TIDAL: in a now-deleted social media comment, Claire Boucher called the service “100% artist-friendly.” –Karen Gwee

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