A new tune

Danny Gorog
27 July, 2012
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The one-two combination of the iTunes store and the iPod helped re-establish Apple as a leader in the technology industry. Since Apple started selling music via iTunes in 2003 alternative music services have come and gone.

Apple’s premise was, and continues to be, that consumers want to buy and own their music. But many competitors have tried to topple Apple in the music game by offering subscription services that let you pay a fixed monthly fee to access to vast collections of music.

Consumers, however, haven’t reacted well to these and many businesses set up to offer music via subscriptions have fallen by the wayside.

But recently, the combination of the App Store, Apple granting some apps permission to run in the background, plus fast and cheap access to data, has meant a swag of new start-up streaming music services are once again changing the way consumers listen to music, and threatening Apple’s music business – which generated revenue of over $2 billion in the most recent quarter.

In general, most streaming solutions offer a basic free package but require a subscription if you want to access these services on your mobile (or other devices like a Sonos).

Paying for a premium account also lets you download and store music locally (via the site’s app) on your iOS device. Perfect if you want to access the music while offline, or you’ve got a limited data plan and only want to stream music via Wi-Fi.

Unlike purchasing music via iTunes, as soon as you stop paying your subscription to a music subscription service, access to your music disappears.

It’s also worth noting that you can subscribe to one of these services and continue to use iTunes too. In our experience, however, having the convenience of a streaming service makes listening to music on your iOS device much more fun. And, in terms of pricing, streaming services are a pretty good deal.

A hit album on iTunes costs $16, while a monthly subscription to Rdio, for example, costs $13. So Rdio pays for itself if you plan to buy an album per month. It’s also more convenient than iTunes because you can try music you might otherwise not have tried.

And this leads to another great feature of streaming solutions; the ability to see what other people are listening to. You can choose to follow your Facebook or Twitter friends and see exactly what they’re listening to at an album or artist level.

You can even choose to subscribe to their playlists, and use group wisdom to quickly find the most popular artists and albums.

We’re fortunate in Australia to have a number of competing services including Rdio (pictured), Spotify, JB Hi-Fi Now and MOG, to name a few. All of the services have varying-sized catalogues of music, slightly different pricing – but around $8 a month (web only) or $12 a month (unlimited) – and different apps.

As of this writing, Rdio is my preferred service. I’ve tried Spotify and JB Hi-Fi Now and while both are great services I prefer Rdio because the iPhone and iPad apps are easy to use and reliable. In my testing Rdio also seems to have a very comprehensive library of music (it claims 12 million tracks). Lastly, a favourite feature of mine from Rdio is the ability for the app to look at your iPod collection and mirror this in Rdio – this way you’ll have access to lots of your music through the one app.

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