It used to be that a music collection was something you owned. Whether on records, CDs or MP3s, you had albums that were yours.
But 2016 marked a dramatic shift in how Americans listen. For the first time, revenue from streaming music services eclipsed that of the decades-old model in which listeners purchased individual songs and albums.
Streaming technology — which works on your computer, tablet or smartphone, and in some cases through your TV or your car stereo — might sound intimidating compared with buying a CD and pressing play. But it's easy to get the tunes flowing. And what you're giving up in lack of ownership, you're gaining in access. In just a few minutes, you can listen to practically any album that comes to mind.
Artists range from mega-popular (the Beatles) to obscure (your great-niece's indie band). And you can listen to albums without regret. Remember the fear of buying a record at a store when you had only heard that one hit song? With streaming, if you don't like the music, just click on something else.
Sign up for a free version or free trial to see how a service works. It's easiest to start on a computer. Search for artists you like, and save songs and albums in your music library. Playback is easy. The "buttons" look like those on a CD player or iPod — play, skip forward, skip back, repeat and shuffle. After that, download the service's app to your phone; log in, and all the music you saved will show up there, too.
You can make playlists (generally as simple as finding the song you like and dragging it to your playlist menu) or listen to playlists created by artists or by music geeks who work for the streaming service. Most services also offer a "radio" option, in which you enter an artist, song or album you like, and a computer algorithm creates a custom "station" for you — playing that artist and others with similar appeal.
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Here are some options for better sound:
- Buy a Bluetooth speaker. You can connect your computer or phone wirelessly. Most speakers also can connect with a cable.
- Stream to your home stereo. Get a cable to run from your device's headphone jack into the stereo, or buy a Bluetooth receiver.
- Stream from your TV to a home-theater system. Find the app for your music service on your TV screen and log in.
In Your Car
Some late-model cars have in-dash music apps, but all should have a USB connection or auxiliary input so you can connect to your phone. Another option may be to connect via Bluetooth. See the owner's manual or ask your dealer to set it up. If you like going wireless but your car doesn't have Bluetooth, you can buy a Bluetooth receiver (around $20) that connects to your auxiliary input jack. Drive carefully.
4 Popular Services
All offer tens of millions of songs and generally cost the same ($9.99 a month for one user or $14.99 a month for six), with some differences.
- Spotify: A free version is available, with advertising between some songs and limited functionality.
- Apple Music: A free trial is available for three months.
- Amazon Music: Discount rates are available for Amazon Prime members. A 30-day free trial is available. There's also a version with a smaller song library included with a subscription to Prime.
- Pandora: Also available are versions that operate like custom radio stations, with less functionality, for $4.99 or free.
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