Okay, you’ve been putting it off forever, but this year you’re finally going to do it: you’re going to cut the cord and get into streaming music.
Music streaming is simple enough once you get into it but wrapping your head around it all can be a challenge. With all of the options for streaming services, web radio, and other Internet-based music, it can be hard to figure out where to start or which streaming options are best.
Smartphones are great because they are portable, they have plenty of storage space, and they have access to all kinds of streaming apps. However, what if you want to carry more music than you have room for or if you’re looking for a new way to enjoy wireless music with the help of the internet, streaming could be just what you need.
With this guide, you’ll be on your way in no time.
What Is Streaming?
Streaming services work on a very simple principle. They offer music, on-demand, that streams over the Internet. Various services have different interfaces and types of music systems available. For example, Pandora Internet Radio offers the option of suggested stations that learn to play what you like. However, they have also joined the likes of Apple Music and others that allow you to stream your own created playlists and songs so that you only listen to the music that you want to hear.
You need some kind of smart device to stream music because it requires an Internet connection. Today, however, that could be a tablet, a laptop, a smartphone, or even a smart home assistant speaker like the Amazon Echo or Google Home. Beyond that, a good pair of headphones or speakers are all that is holding you back from enjoying your music whenever you want.
Most streaming services offer free and paid memberships or subscription plans for users. Free platforms often have limited features or require the use of ads, but this can vary from one platform to the next. The best way to learn about music streaming is to look at the different services and what they have to offer.
Keep in mind that because of the way that laws and regulations work in the music industry, some platforms may not be available in all countries or areas. Most services are heavily restricted when it comes to location so that they can keep up with the laws and regulations. Therefore, they may only be available in certain regions. Many services today, including Apple Music, are global streaming services.
Spotify was among the first streaming services to offer the chance to curate your own playlists, aside from industry giants like Google Music and Apple Music. Spotify has a user-friendly interface, an extensive catalog of available music, and better device compatibility than a lot of services. There is a free platform available that has recently been improved, making it among the best free streaming services available today. Upgrading to premium increases the number of playlists that you can create and how you can enjoy your music.
Google Play Music is a great choice for users who want to use the ad-free service offered by YouTube Red. This platform is also popular among users with Android devices who want to include their personal music library in their streaming list. Many internet streaming services don’t offer integration with your own music collection. Google Music is also compatible with the Google Home smart speaker. Cloud storage seems endless and you’re really only paying a small fee to get rid of ads.
Apple Music is one of the most popular streaming services, and it is also one of the most comprehensive services on the market today. This platform offers the opportunity to combine all of your streaming music with CDs that have been uploaded, Apple radio stations, and other sources of music. Apple Music offers integration with Siri and Apple smart home devices. This service offers free use of the online music library, but in order to access most streaming services or listen freely offline, you will have to upgrade to a paid membership.
Amazon Music remains a popular choice in streaming simply because It’s an Amazon product and some people are dedicated to their brands. Amazon Music allows users to stream music or purchase songs for download. This service is also preferred by people who happen to already be Prime members because they can keep everything incorporated on the same account. Amazon also provides this free to Prime members. It does have a smaller library and fewer features than other services, so keep that in mind. This service is ideal for those who want casual streaming with less effort. Their new Amazon Music HD with high-res files (available in the US) is a welcome new feature, too.
The selling point of membership with Tidal is that users with premium membership also enjoy higher quality bandwidth, which means that you will be able to take full advantage of better-than-CD-quality sound. Tidal was launched in 2014 and is partially owned by Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Kanye West, and other artists. This service is available in 52 countries and comes with a 30-day free trial for offline listening. There is a new section on the app dedicated to HiFi members looking to stream with MQA encoding, which means you enjoy the closest feeling to that analog vinyl sound on modern technology.
Pandora Internet Radio allows users to listen for free as long as they are willing to listen to ads. The app also sponsors ad-free hours with an extended advertisement. Until recently, Pandora only offered a radio station that was curated for you based on your music tastes. Now, it also offers a streaming service where you can listen on demand. This requires a paid membership, which will also remove ads from the site.
YouTube Premium gives users access to YouTube Music, where they can stream all of YouTube’s content, enjoy background listening, and enjoy ad-free songs and videos with a paid membership. Because it is owned by Google, members enjoy Google perks, as well. The music and videos are separate on this app, however, and there is no desktop app available. Users can access it from the mobile app or an internet browser. Thanks to the inclusion of the YouTube library, this is one of the most comprehensive services available.
Web radio is a specific type of streaming. Unlike the services listed above, web radio apps and stations specifically play radio stations. Some include local stations that you would hear on the radio, while others are entirely new Internet radio stations. Web radio occurs in the form of pre-recorded mp3 files, or more commonly, live broadcasts that are streamed into an app or website over the Internet. The perk of Internet radio is that it can be listened to from anywhere.
The other major benefit of web radio compared to other forms of music is that you can listen instantly. You don’t have to wait for something to download music onto a hard drive or try to figure out how to get your favorite stations when you are out of town.
Finding Your Favorites
So, if you want to look up some of your favorite local (or out of town) stations on web radio, how do you find them? It’s really easy these days, thanks in part to the popularity of internet radio and advertising it on traditional radio. All that you need to know are the station call letters or the dial number. If you’re looking for an internet station that you’ve heard about, you can usually just search it by name.
Another option for finding stations is to listen to the advertisements on live radio. Usually, whenever there is a station plug, they will also promote whatever Internet radio app they use to stream their station online for fans. For example, a lot of regular stations use the Radio.com app or the iHeartRadio app. Some stations will even have full commercials about the web radio service that they use.
A third option is to check out TuneIn Radio. This is a great way to find your local station.
The bottom line? If you search, you will likely find it. There's something surreally comforting about being in a foreign country but still being able to listen to the sports scores and traffic reports from your town when you get a little homesick.
Popular International Channels
Here are a few popular global web radio stations that you can check out to get a sense of what’s out there:
- WLTW 106.7 Lite FM: This New York-based station offers a variety of music from modern day pop to 80’s rock and everything in between. The app only shows the three most recent tracks, but it does offer some song lyrics, as a bonus. This station is owned by iHeartMedia.
- NSB Radio: This is among the best party radio stations on the Internet. The station offers dance, techno, dubstep, house, and other related genres. the station also broadcasts live daily.
- Kool 97 FM: If you like old-school and new-school Caribbean music, this Kingston, Jamaica channel is sure to transport you. A little reggae brightens up any dull day!
- RTE Junior: Have little ones in the house? How would you like to have a wee lovely Irishman telling them a story every day? This children's channel from Ireland has lots of features that will delight the youngsters (who will undoubtedly know how to change every device in the house to this station, because kids are that good with technology.)
- SomaFM: This San Francisco station is great for those who love indie music. This is a commercial-free station that offers a variety of listening options. There is also a sleep timer option.
- Otto's Opera House: If you love Opera, then this Zug, Switzerland channel will soon before a favourite. It plays Opera 24 hours a day, encompassing three centuries of the genre.
- KEAN 105.1 FM: This country station calls itself Texas’ best country radio station, playing everything from top hits to classics. The station runs on a mobile device or browser. The only big issue is that when you’re listening in the browser you have to stay on the page or the music stops.
Digitizing Your Collection
Now that you know a little more about Internet radio and music streaming, you probably want to get your existing music on the same platform. Fortunately, digitizing your music is a fairly simple process these days. Most computers have a CD-ROM drive that is capable of reading and ripping music from the data. Those that don’t can be outfitted with an external drive that can be hooked to the computer via USB. Then, you simply choose a program to import the music and get to work.
There are a number of programs that you can use to copy a CD to a digital format. You can use the simple media player or music service that came preinstalled with the computer, in a lot of cases. You can also invest in high-quality copying and ripping programs that will ensure sound quality and integrity. Some people who aren’t very computer savvy even choose to hire someone to do the digitizing for them. There are plenty of services available, or you could even ask a family member or friend to do it for you.
The biggest question you need to ask is whether you’ll store your music on the cloud or on your device’s storage. Local storage is ideal for offline listening, as well as for situations where signals may not be very strong. Hikers, campers, and others who spend a lot of time in remote areas may prefer to have their music directly on their device. If you have a really large music collection that you’re going to rip at full resolution, you’re going to be storing over 100GB of data – possibly well over that, and that could get costly with a cloud service. On the plus side, though, cloud services offer the security of redundant backups so you can recycle all those old CDs once and for all.
Multi-Room Playback and Other Streaming Perks
Once you have all of your music accessible from your network or the cloud, it’s time to turn up the volume and enjoy your hard work. Another benefit of streaming as opposed to listening to CDs is that you can enjoy multi-room playback when you have an ecosystem like the AxiomAir in your house, which allows you to add and remove speakers from a group. You can also enjoy it when you invest in a smart speaker that is compatible with your device via Bluetooth. In both cases, you can turn on your music in one room and hear it in every room of the house simply by telling the system to turn on all of the speakers.
The Big Question
So you know you can have your music, your way, anywhere you have an internet signal. And if you don't, then you can play your music from a source you've saved your music to, like a thumbdrive or other storage device.
But do you have to buy new speakers to enjoy this sort of newfound musical-world-at-your-fingertips?
Fortunately, the answer is 'no'! With a device like the AxiomAir Transformer, you can make any pair of speakers available wirelessly, and they will have access to Web Radio, streaming services, a USB drive full of music - you name it. It's available in horizontal or vertical configurations, and it's easy to use - plug it into an available input in your existing wired system such as 'Aux', and that's all there is to making that input an AxiomAir. Use the AxiomAir App to play music or connect via Apple Airplay or Spotify Connect among other options.
If you get your Transformer set up and fall in love with the convenience of controlling music from your phone, tablet, or laptop, you can add more wireless speakers to your home, and they'll become part of your AxiomAir network.
Streaming Is Now
Many people will still try to tell you that streaming is the future of music. Considering that there are over 70 million smart speakers and more than 200 million smartphones throughout American households, streaming is already happening and it is taking hold very quickly. Of course, it’s about more than music. Most streaming services also offer talk radio, podcasts, audiobooks, and other non-music stations, giving users the chance to listen to whatever they want, whenever they want.
Have you dipped your toe into streaming music and the delights of web radio? Let us know any favourite stations, streaming platforms, great podcasts or sources for audio books in the comments below.