The best music streaming service for you might be the one you’re already using. But what if it’s not? Every service brings something different to the table.
One thing’s for certain, though. Streaming is here to stay, having made 13% growth in 2017, and a boggling 42% growth for 2018 in the first six months alone. Whether you want to experience the music of others or distribute your own original tracks, it’s clear that streaming is something modern music heads should think about.
So let’s not waste time. Here’s a breakdown of the best music streaming services for 2019 according to who you are, where you are, and what you want to do.
First, let’s talk popularity.
Best Music Streaming Service by Popularity
In the United States, Apple and Spotify fight for the top spot, with Pandora and SoundCloud struggling for a distant third place:
For North America, USA Today’s Jefferson Graham laid out his picks in their Talking Tech section back in May. At not even two minutes long, it’s worth a watch:
In Europe, not even the mighty Spotify can take down the undisputed King of Free Music, YouTube. Nobody else even comes close:
Meanwhile, in the rest of the world, it looks roughly like this, with several streaming services lots of music fans won’t have heard of.
The numbers don’t lie, so if you’d rather go with the flow than make your own way, the above illustrate what people are using in your general area. (Not that it means the choice is right for you).
To decide which is the best music streaming service for your particular needs, read on.
The Big Three For Best Music Streaming Service
Many people think the “big three” in terms of music streaming have the largest amounts of available songs, but that’s not all they’re packing. While Spotify swings a staggering amount of music, it also works easily on just about anything, while Apple and Google both cater to the wants and whims of those who use their phones and applications.
The all-around accepted leader in streaming is Spotify. $10 a month or free with ads, Spotify has far more than 30 million songs and provides surprisingly entertaining playlists. These lists come tagged with activities in mind like car trips or working out, and there are podcasts available, too.
The most important reason Spotify has this spot all sewn up, though, is that it doesn’t cater to one device (Apple) or another (Android) but works just as well for users of both.
There’s no reason to go on about the benefits of Spotify, though, because really that’s about it (and you’ve probably used it, already, anyway).
Syncing your own music to a Spotify library can be a pain, though.
40 million songs is a lot, and Apple’s got them. Notably, Apple often gets popular artists to release music as exclusives on their platform. The app runs on MacOS, iOS, Windows and Android. But it really runs best on an iPhone. Some sources rank Apple Music as the absolute worst in terms of compatibility. Look out if you’re going to use it with a desktop computer, too — its integration with the iTunes software can be annoying as heck. (On the other hand, iTunes will be no more come March 2019).
Bottom line, Apple Music may be best if you’re on an iPhone. Otherwise, perhaps not.
GOOGLE PLAY MUSIC
Google Play Music also has 40 million songs. But also, if you have lots of your own digital music, GPM may be for you. Play Music lets you upload 50,000 of your own songs to the cloud, then it organizes your uploaded stuff with streamed songs so you can listen to both, no problem. The mobile app is super easy to use, too, because — well, because it’s Google. If you’re not on Android, though, it’s not as streamlined.
Bottom line, Google Play Music may be best if you’re on Android. Otherwise … yeah.
The Best Music Streaming Service by Genre
Urban: Hip-Hop, R&B
Owned by Jay Z, Tidal has ties with major hip-hop artists and can be expected to deliver the goods in all things urban to include rap and R&B. It also tends to get exclusive rights to music by genre giants like Beyonce — so hip-hop fans should consider Tidal among their options, because Tidal considers fans of hip-hop over all others. It’s also true that Tidal has had some legal issues since Kanye swore his “Life of Pablo” would never be on any other service, then released it two months later elsewhere besides Tidal. But he released different versions on those other platforms, and anyhow that’s just Kanye. No reason not to consider Tidal one of the best hip-hop sources online, if not the best one.
Bonus: Tidal also openly claims that it streams the highest-fidelity music of any service, so if you have a nice pair of headphones, this might make a big difference to you.
According to EDMSauce.com, it’s Spotify. If you’re a serious beathead, though — and especially if you’re an artist, yourself — then Beatport takes our pick. Beatport has been billing itself as an electronic music hub for more than five years now, regularly releases exclusive EDM tracks from popular DJs around the world, and even promises DJ software integration in 2019.
Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, or QQ
If you like to listen to the music which is most popular right now, then it’s only logical that the best way to access that music is via the most popular streaming platform in your area. For most of us, that’s going to be Spotify, Apple, or YouTube. If you happen to be in Asia, try QQ Music.
For classic rock (that is, rock that is neither pop nor metal), your best bet is to pick a station you like on Slacker or iHeartRadio. You’ll find curated stations for any subgenre you can imagine from bubblegum oldies to alternative rock.
It’s been said that metal music has the most devoted fans of any music genre, so it makes sense that somebody would create a platform specifically for metalheads who never listen to anything else. In November of 2017, Billboard reported that Gimme Radio and Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine were going to do just that. Since then, they’ve added DJs such as Randy Blythe (Lamb of God) and Johan Hegg (Amon Amarth), not to mention instituting a membership tier and on-demand programming. You’d be crazy to go anywhere else for your metal.
Country music listeners haven’t had many choices for streaming in the past, but starting late in 2017, Amazon started to change that. According to the Press Herald, “Amazon says it’s seeing results. Its listeners stream twice as much country music as the industry average, according to the company, and ‘Top Country’ is its most popular station.” Director of Amazon Music Ryan Redington said, “We do have a really strong focus on continuing to grow the country music business.”
Not unlike country, classical suffered tough times until somebody noticed a bunch of serious music fans being left out. Also late in 2017, Primephonic arrived to pick up the slack. Primephonic has a team of six musicologists and classical students who carefully categorise each and every piece of music that’s uploaded. This means you can search for music by composer, nationality, era, and titles in any variation of language and get the right song. For example, Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen is also called The Ring Cycle. Primephonic knows they’re the same.
A year later, Primephonic has launched their “2.0” streaming service for the US, UK, and Netherlands. It features everything the original had, plus side-by-side track comparison capability, 24-bit lossless sound quality, and more.
The Best Music Streaming Service for Listeners
Best for Audiophiles, Adventurers and Explorers
As one of the pioneers of music streaming, Pandora really does the job when it comes to predicting music you’re going to like. Give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to whatever it’s playing for you, and as you do so it learns what you’re likely to enjoy. Many true music adventurers have loved Pandora for a long time.
Founded on the decades-running Music Genome Project which informs its song recommendations, Pandora also features Next Big Sound. In Pandora’s own words, “Next Big Sound helps artists and their teams use Pandora to understand performance, grow audiences, and fuel strategy.”
If you love to hear new music but you’re not really into Pandora, you might try Slacker. It has a huge variety of stations dedicated to pretty much anything, including non-music options like sports and news radio.
Most importantly, Deezer boasts more songs than most with a gigantic 40-million-song library (Spotify has only about 35M). It also plays music differently by default, giving you a taste of all your favorites at random.
SoundCloud is another platform for real music explorers. It even has a dedicated Explore tab specifically for the purpose. With over 76 million listeners monthly, SoundCloud has a few social-network capabilities and allows users to upload their own original tracks, too, making it a key utility for music artists as well as music fans. Just ask Chance the Rapper, Post Malone, XXXTentacion, Lil Uzi Vert, and Lil Yachty, all of whom got their big break via SoundCloud, among many others.
Best for Ease of Use
Groove’s most obvious trait is its beautiful interface, which makes using it on your device a real treat. It’s a subscription service, but it does offer unlimited skips and offline play. Oh, and you can easily request music they don’t offer, which is pretty cool.
Best if You Have Lots of Your Own Music
If you like to upload your own music, Amazon lets you buy more storage in case you hit their ceiling. Also, if you’ve bought music, they don’t limit your transfers to other music-playing devices. Over time, that can be a big deal. How many phones will you have in your life? The big bonus, though, is that if you’re one of their Prime customers, you get 20% off Amazon Music Unlimited, which according to Amazon, gives you access to more than 50 million songs.
Best Music Streaming Service for Free
Nobody needs to tell you that YouTube is a killer music streaming service. The playlists made by millions of users mean that it’s always around with something you’d probably like to hear, and since it’s free, well, it can be hard to beat. What’s more to say?
Best Music Streaming Service for Musicians
Musicians may have many different perspectives, wants and needs in their music streaming platform. We’ve tried to account for all of them. Consider, for example, that while some sites pay more than others, you may make more money as an artist through a lower-paying site if they have a higher traffic and you get greater plays or sales.
With that said …
According to Digital Music News, streaming services pay artists very differently, as this graph illustrates:
Highest Traffic, Volume
For the streaming providers with the highest volume, see this graph of numbers from the USA in March of 2018, in millions, via Statista:
Best Social Networking
As noted before, SoundCloud is hard to beat in terms of its usefulness to makers of original music. Make your tracks, upload them, share them with other artists, compete in contests for awards and bragging rights, and listen to the music of the world, too, all in the same place.
In the Atlanta Institute of Music and Media’s top-five list of social media sites for musicians, SoundCloud is the only one that fully functions as a music streaming service. They write of it, “SoundCloud is one of the most well known websites in the music community. Many new artists utilize SoundCloud to upload and share their music with friends, family, and fans with the hope of getting recognized by someone in the industry.”
While YouTube doesn’t have a robust social media aspect like SoundCloud, it does have the capacity for commenting a-la Instagram. Even if people mostly troll in comment threads on YouTube, musicians can still get a decent idea of what people think about your music or videos.
In the End, It’s All About You
With these facts and figures, the discerning music fan and the meticulous music artist will be better informed as to which streaming service is the best in 2019. The bottom line is, though (and will likely continue to be) that only you can match one of these great services to your own, particular wants and needs.
Some customers will want a streaming service with more listeners than any other in their area. Others will want a streaming service to pay them the most per-stream. Yet others won’t care about either of those things, but rather that the program is easy to use. And so on, and so forth.
In any case, all the above makes it pretty clear: music streaming is here to stay.
Why not get in on it?