Apple always has some new trick up its sleeve for its annual Worldwide Developer’s Conference (WWDC). Yesterday’s WWDC event concluded with the unveiling of Apple Music, a new streaming service that will integrate your personal iTunes with Apple’s music picks.
This new subscription-based service from Apple has a few elements that add up to a unique listening experience. But how does it stack up to the other streaming music options that have come into our lives in the past one, five, or even 15 years?
First, a look at Apple Music, which debuts on June 30. Next, a comparison of some of the other major players in streaming music, so you can decide where it’s smartest to spend your cash.
What You’ll Get From Apple Music
Apple Music’s coolest feature might be For You: When you click the Music button on your iPhone or open iTunes on your computer, For You will suggest new artists or tracks based on what you’ve listened to recently. Apple insists the music will be hand-picked: “Anytime you want to find out what’s going on in the world of music, our experts are there to give you their take on the freshest and most relevant stuff around.”
Apple Music also includes access to Beats 1, a 24-hour radio station with studios in LA, New York, and London, and a refreshed docket of Apple Radio stations. You can also personalize your own stations by selecting an artist or genre and responding to the songs you like or dislike. And with Connect, users can see and hear content posted by artists, regardless of their status with a record label. “Unreleased demo tracks, an acoustic version of the latest hit, a video shot in the studio — it’s right here and straight from the source,” according to the Apple Music site.
Apple acquired the Beats Music subscription service last August, and it looks like Beats subscribers will roll over to Apple Music during the trial run.
Apple Music launches on June 30, and anyone with iTunes (on your computer, phone, watch, etc.) can sign up for three months for free. If you love it, a membership will cost $9.99 per month, or $14.99 for a family plan of up to six users.
Other benefits of memberships include unlimited skips on Apple radio stations, and the chance to save content to play when you’re offline. A membership works across your multitude of devices.
If you want to stick to the free version, you’ll still have access to Beats 1 radio and ad-supported streaming stations. Android users will get their turn at Apple Music in the fall, an unusual offer for Apple, which doesn’t usually support Android.
How Does Apple Music Compare to Other Streaming Music Options?
Music fans probably already have one or two of Apple’s competitors for streaming music bookmarked on your computer or handy on your phone. Each one’s a little different, with varying prices to match its offerings.
Pandora’s been around since 2000, which means there’s likely someone in your office who has 15 years of stations curated by artist, song or genre playing in their cubicle. You can stream Pandora all day for free, as long as you don’t mind hearing a short ad every few songs. Use your skips wisely: you only get six per station per hour, and you max out at 24 skips per day.
Pandora One costs $4.99 per month for ad-free listening and better audio quality, or $54.89 if you pay up-front for a year.
Spotify has gained popularity for allowing you to play your friends’ playlists along with ones you create; you can also choose to listen solely to music by one artist. Spotify Free lets you to listen all day with ads, with a skip limit of six times per hour on your phone or tablet.
New Spotify users can try Spotify Premium for three months for $.99 for online and offline ad-free listening, unlimited skips, and higher sound quality. After the trial, Premium will cost you $9.99 per month, unless you can grab the student discount ($4.99/month) or family plan (50% off extra accounts).
Backed by Jay Z, Madonna, Jason Aldean, and a plethora of other artists, Tidal launched this spring with 25 million songs and 75,000 music videos available for streaming. There’s no free version of Tidal: after a 30-day free trial, choose the standard plan ($9.99 per month of $8.49 per month if you pay for six months at a time) or Tidal HiFi, with lossless, high-fidelity sound, for $19.99 per month ($16.99 per month if you prepay for six months). Membership includes access to Tidal X, a series of members-only streaming concerts.
Google offers radio stations by mood, activity, artist, or curated by its experts for unlimited listening. Stick with Google Play Music Standard for cloud storage and playback of up to 50,000 songs from your personal library. After a 30-day free trial, the $9.99 All Access subscription offers personalized stations, unlimited streaming and unlimited skips.
Google bought Songza in 2014, but its service remains intact and separate: playlists based by mood and genre. It’s free and features unintrusive advertising (you’ll see one short video ad at the start of about half your sessions), but if you plan to listen all day, you’ll have to keep a steady rotation of playlists to so those relatively short playlists don’t get stale.
Amazon Prime members have access to Prime Music, featuring curated Prime Playlists that can be played alongside personal collections of music purchased or streamed through Prime.
And the best part? Prime Stations offer unlimited skips. If you’re already paying $99 per year for Amazon Prime, it’s worth checking out its music selection — and if you’re not, you could give it a shot for 30 days for free.
The Final Word on Apple Music
OK, it’s definitely not the final word — we’ll wait until at least July to pass judgment on Apple Music.
But for now, here’s our advice: If you have a bevy of Apple products and love iTunes, check out the free trial come June 30.
If you simply want to sift through a few playlists to listen to when you’re at work or cleaning the house, you might want to stick to the free versions of the streaming service you already use. And if you’re looking to make money while listening to music, we’ve got a few ways for you to do that, too.
Your Turn: Which is your favorite streaming service? Will you try Apple Music?
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Lisa Rowan is a writer, editor and podcaster living in Washington, D.C.