There has never been more music to listen to, nor have fans ever faced greater choices on how they’ll listen. While YouTube Music and Spotify take up most of streaming’s bandwidth, deep-pocketed rivals such as Apple Music and Amazon Prime are making a push for your eardrums, and disruptors from Tidal to Qobuz hope to stand out by tweaking or improving the listener experience.
So which is best? Well, that depends a lot on your needs. Are you mindful of artist payout rates, or more concerned about your own wallet? Do you crave a top-shelf audio experience? Do you care about podcasts? Is there ever a reason to bust out Pandora?
Consequence is here to help. Our streaming guide ranks eight of the best and most popular streaming platforms on a wide variety of criteria, from the easily quantifiable (how much does it cost?) to more poetical concerns (how good is the sound of the drum break on Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight?”). Read on to find the platform most suited to your needs. — Wren Graves
There’s an array of pricing tiers on Spotify — a free account comes with ads, and a student account (the cheapest ad-free paid option) costs $4.99 a month. From there, a standard individual account runs at $9.99 a month, and a family plan with six accounts is quite a deal at $15.99 a month. Spotify also recently launched a tier perfect for couples called Duo, which keeps accounts separate but runs as one combined payment. The first two months are free, the following two months are $9.99, and official pricing kicks in at $12.99 a month.
Yes! Spotify is actually one of the most well-known platforms for podcasts, and offers features that introduce users to similar pods they might enjoy.
Well, Neil Young said music on Spotify “sounds like a pixelated movie.” Spotify’s audio quality isn’t the very worst option, but it certainly doesn’t elevate or prioritize the listening experience.
How Good Does the Drum Break on “In the Air Tonight” Sound on This Service?
Pretty solid, but mostly because it’s a great drum break. Spotify gets no credit!
This is where things get really rough for Spotify. It’s notoriously one of the worst options for artist payouts, with the latest data from a 2023 report from Ditto Music reporting $0.003 – $0.005 per stream on average. Per stream! Apply that to a reasonably streamed musician — let’s look at Gracie Abrams, for example. Her song “I should hate you” has been streamed 4.1 million times, but applying that streaming rate equates to a total payout of $1,230, which has to be split under publishing requirements. Think about smaller and emerging artists who have never cracked a million on a track; artist payouts are not something people can depend on here.
Perhaps the best thing about Spotify is its algorithmic capabilities. Throughout the year, the Discover Weekly playlist is able to get deep on new music a user might enjoy, and often gets it right; the Release Radar keeps people in the loop on musicians they already enjoy. Spotify is able to blend taste profiles between artists and listeners, allows people to download their playlists and listen offline, and generally makes things fun for the user. Then, there’s the marketing gem that is the annual Spotify Wrapped adventure, something people look forward to engaging with and sharing. Hype builds to extreme levels towards the end of the year, and social media is flooded with screenshots of user data and playful analytics.
Once again, that artist payout is an enormous downside to Spotify’s model. There are so many great things about the platform from a user experience perspective, but it’s not necessarily the place to go for anyone who likes to support their favorite artists with their wallet.
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Are obsessed with lists, algorithms, and data insights about your own habits. — Mary Siroky