By now most of you, like me, have had Apple Music downloaded on your iPhone, with the latest iOS update. Pretty presumptuous of Apple to just stick it on our phones, don’t you think? Personally I would have preferred to have been asked first. Turns out, Apple not only wants us to buy its phones, but they also want us to pay for streaming music content as well. Just to sample Apple Music during the three-month trial period, you have to select and agree to a payment plan (either individual for $9.99 a month or family for $12.99) that kicks in after the trial period ends.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am not willing to pay $120 a year to listen to streaming music. (Okay, okay, $119.88.) Fortunately, we don’t have to pay anything. There are a number of good free options available. The purpose of this post is to share my notes on the free music streaming sites and, I hope, to encourage others to share their own notes with me and others as well.
First, some explanation. The D&O Diary’s preference for free music streaming is due not only to the fact that, basically, I am cheap, but also due to the fact that I never recovered from the notion popular in the early days of the web that information on the Internet wants to be free. (More on my view about how the best things in life and on the Internet are free can be found here.) For the record, I back up my notions with actions; the D&O Diary, for example, is free. Always has been and always will be. Moreover, there is the irreducible truth that there is no reason to pay for something that you can get it free.
One more piece of background. My musical preferences may differ from those of many other readers. I prefer to listen to classical music when working, driving, or relaxing. I listen to classic rock when I am exercising. So I am not looking for the latest cutting edge music. (It will come as no surprise to those who know me that I am not into chasing the latest fashion.) My assessments of the various music services below are largely based on their delivery of classical music, except where otherwise noted. My assessments may or may not be relevant in connection with other musical genres.
As far as I am concerned, Pandora is the “old reliable” of the online music apps. I have set up a list of classical music stations, indexed by composer (with a bias toward the Baroque era). The app’s “shuffle” function affords a pleasantly mixed assortment of music. There are two problems with Pandora, though. First, because I only use the free services level, the music comes with periodic commercials (which, annoyingly, are set to play much more loudly than the music). Also, even within the shuffle function, the range of music that plays is confined narrowly to the categories I have selected. There is no extension of the range on a “you might like this” kind of basis.
My latest discovery is the Google Play Music app. I am not sure why this music app has not gotten much publicity, at least that I am aware of. I have to say that it is by far the best streaming music app I have found. First, the curated music selections are terrific. The “stations” are indexed by genre. Within the Classical Music genre, for example, are a wide range of stations, built on themes such as “Classical for Study,” “Tea Time Classical,” “Mello Cello,” “Virtuosic Violin,” and so on. Within each curated station, the musical range is pleasingly diverse. And – best part of all – no commercials, at least as far as I can tell (after listening now for several weeks), at least on the classical music stations. So The D&O Diary gives Google Play Music two thumbs up.
Another new music app I recently downloaded is the NPR Music app. The app includes an archive of all NPR stories about music, as well as videos, concert footage, album reviews and so on. But the best part is the app’s list of NPR music stations indexed by musical genre. This feature allows me to listen to my home NPR music station when I travel, as well as the NPR classical music station close to our lake house in Michigan when I am home. The list of stations also includes some high-definition radio channels that play music only – no interruptions, say, for All Things Considered and so on. My personal favorite HD radio station is the Kent State University station, WKSU-HD3, which plays only classical music. (For those who are interested, there is an NPR News app as well.)
Some readers may be wondering why I haven’t mentioned Spotify. There is a reason for that. I know that Spotify is all the rage and sets the standard for online music streaming, but the fact is that it doesn’t do classical music nearly as well as the other apps I have mentioned. Also, I not a subscriber, so when I listen to Spotify, I get commercials. In my experience, Spotify leads the league in frequency of commercials.
There is one other app worth mentioning, that is Rdio, which is another music streaming app. In general, I like Rdio, it has a good range of curated radio stations, both for classical music and for classic rock. The curated stations actually make it slightly preferable in some way over Pandora, but like Pandora, the listening experience includes commercials.
For a long time when I listened to classic rock while working out, I relied on a selection of classic rock stations from around the country on the I Heart Radio app. That works fine, and in fact I still use the I Heart Radio app from time to time. But several months ago I discovered the Simple Radio app, which works about the same as the I Heart Radio app, but with one important difference – in addition to a range of classic rock radio stations from around the U.S., the Simple Radio app includes a wide range of classic rock radio stations from Europe. The difference is that instead of hearing the same basic set of songs over and over ago, I can listen to a broader range of artists and a longer play list for the featured artists. I also find it interesting just to listen to stations from all over the place. My favorite stations are from Rotterdam, Strasbourg and London. The music is great. And the best part of all is that it is free (of course, when I am listening to a conventional radio station, I do get the radio stations commercials).
So that is my review of the streaming music applications. I hope some of you have found this helpful. I hope others of you that have experimented more widely than I have will share you suggestions with me and with other readers, using the blog’s comment feature. If others think I have wrongly criticized Apple Music or Spotify, please chime in as well.