An in-depth rundown of the top 10 free music streaming services around, including the best and worst features of each.
Free music streaming services are growing in popularity these days, especially as people grow more wary about using illegal P2P programs. Free music streaming services have also become an important way to simply discover new music, and filter out what you like from all the clutter and noise out there.
Here’s a list of what I think are the top five free music streaming services out there right now, and what are the best and worst features of each. I’ve also included details about upgrade options if you want to expand or enhance your experience, but otherwise all of these services are FREE.
Spotify is a stand alone desktop app that lets you play unlimited free on-demand music by your favorite artists. Unlike Last.fm or Pandora which only allow you to stream genres of music, Spotify lets you pick and choose whatever song you want to play without having to pay a dime. Add the music stored on your PC to leverage it into an even larger music library based on your music as well as that of Spotify.
Spotify will connect to your iPod, iPhone, and Android devices so you can also take your music everywhere you want to go.
Coolest feature? Spotify’s social networking integration with services like Twitter and Facebook. Spotify uses Facebook to find other friends who are using Spotify, giving you access to any playlists that they have created and made “public.” Users can also make public a list of their favorite tracks and artists.
Pandora’s not bad if you’re looking for a radio station and not a jukebox. Enter the name of an artists, song, composer, or genre and it does the rest, compiling a playlist for you to hear. Pandora has a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” feature to let it know which types of artists, songs, or composers it should play more or less of. Create playlists to share with others, or share links to favorites songs via Facebook, Twitter, and via eMail.
Cons? Sidebar ads and a 40 hours p/mo cap on music streaming. For $36 p/yr you can upgrade to the Pandora One premium service. It’s a standalone desktop application that is ad free (though Adblock does the trick for free as I mentioned before with Grooveshark), has higher quality 192Kbps audio, and unlimited monthly music streaming. Curiously enough its licensing restriction still prohibit music on demand AND Pandora One cannot be used outside the US.
Coolest feature? Pandora has streaming comedy channels! Choose from more than 10 different genres of comedy to listen to.
Last.fm is one of the more popular free music streaming services around, and also the one to choose if you’re looking for a radio station and not a jukebox. What sets Last.fm apart from Pandora, however is that you can fine tune your listening experience by adding multiple artists (up to 3) or tags (classical piano or 60s jazz). Mix your own music library and new music discovery with the help of the Last.fm Scrobbler or use to just keep the music selection limited to that which you already know and love. Last.fm also has radio stations to choose from if you’re not sure what to listen to.
Cons? Ads, ads, ads! The most annoying are the periodic video ads you’re forced to watch. For $3 p/mo you can upgarde and remove ads. The upgrade also allows you stream Last.fm on the smartphone mobile app. Sadly, the upgrade still DOES NOT allow music on demand.
Coolest feature? The Last.fm Scrobbler music library scrobbler. Basically what it does is keep track of what you listen to on your PC and then adds it to your Last.fm profile for the purpose of streaming similar-type music. Don’t forget their free music downloads page either!
Never been a big fan of Slacker, but have many friends that swear by it! For the free user it’s a radio station like Pandora and Last.fm where you can listen to music based on artist, song, or genre. With Slacker you can choose the “Create Custom Station” feature to add music, rate songs and otherwise fine tune your station(s) as you go along. It’s also available as mobile app, but you’ll need to upgrade if you want to cache your favorite stations to play on the go.
Cons? Sidebar and audio ads, though both are removed by subscribing to one of their upgrade packages: Slacker Radio Plus $3.99 p/mo, and Slacker Premium $9.99 p/mo. The upgrade allows music on demand.
Coolest feature? I know the feature isn’t free, but the news radio option that comes with the upgrade packages is pretty cool and definitely sets it apart. Also distinct about the upgrade is that Slacker will store up to thousands of songs for your stations that you can listen to and personalize without a wireless signal of any kind for play on your smartphone on the go.
This Is My Jam is a rather unconventional music stream service. It has all kinds of picks that run the gamut of musical genres. Users are asked to choose one song to share.
“That song that’s been stuck on repeat, that one you love,” says the site. “Personalize it and share it with the world. This is your jam, and it’s yours for up to seven days.”
You can change it whenever you want, but you can only share one.
You can browse charts based on emerging, mainstream, remix, genre, and best of the previous year. Create playlists of selected music and share with family and friends on Facebook and Twitter.
Cons? The list of available music is limited to the musical tastes of other users.
Coolest feature? You can listen to a real eclectic mix of music, on-demand!
TheSixtyOne is a free music streaming site that is geared towards listening to undiscovered artists. Apart from streaming songs users are also asked to vote for their favorites which are then bumped up the “top” and “hot” charts. You can create playlists to save for later or to share with family and friends.
Features a “Moods” option that allows you to listen to music based on one of 12 moods: mellow, party, happy, trippy, crazy, smooth, sad, rocky, love, funny, remix, and covers.
Cons? Indie-music only.
Pros? Indie-music only, and the “Moods” playlist feature (recommend trippy).
7. Hype Machine
The Hype Machine, or Hypem for short, follows thousands of music blogs from around the world and collates them into a single location for users’ listening pleasure. The Hype Machine tracks a variety of MP3 blogs. If a post contains MP3 links, it adds those links to its database and displays them on the front page.
Users vote on tracks to boost them in popularity on the homepage.
Cons? Not exactly pleasant to use, somewhat difficult to create playlists.
Pros? Tons and tons and tons of awesome free music.
Shoutcast is a free radio streaming directory that offers tens of thousands of different free Internet radio stations for people to listen to. The genre’s offered are extensive.
You’ll need Winamp to listen to shoutcast radio stations, but it’s a pretty lightweight and functional free music player.
Cons? You don’t get to pick the music, the DJs do.
Pros? Nearly 54,000 free Internet radio stations to choose from at the current moment.
Jamendo has been around for a while and many people swear by it. It’s royalty free music with currently some 346,866 free music tracks to stream or download at your leisure.
“Jamendo is the world’s #1 platform for free and legal music downloads,” it says. “Available in seven languages, it offers the largest catalog of music under Creative Commons licenses. For artists, it’s an easy and efficient way to publish, share and promote their music, and also to make money, through ad revenue sharing and commercial partnerships.”
Cons? The selection of music isn’t what I would call great. It’s limited largely to unknown indie bands looking to make their music freely available to gain some exposure.
Pros? Free music that you can download and add to your personal music collection.
8tracks is a free internet radio service created by people, not algorithms. It’s as easy as choosing a genre or tags.