The Dream of Music Streaming

We all dream of finding our favorite music whenever we want, wherever we are, and however we choose.  We expect a fair price, that musicians are treated well, and great tools. How will this dream be achieved?  Which one service can meet all of our expectations?

Right now we like Spotifythey are the best!  We also like: Rdio, Rhapsody, Tidal; and Pono.

We are disappointed with Apple Music.  Surprisingly, it runs at a lower “bit rate” (which may affect sound quality) than Spotify: 256Kbps vs Spotify’s 320 Kbps.  Why would Apple do that?   Sadly, its not innovation.

Spotify Has Become the Standard

For 2015 (and probably longer) the obvious leader is Spotify – and with good reason.

Spotify is cool.

No matter what platform you are on (Android, iOS, or Windows) you cannot go wrong with Spotify as your base. Spotify has the most intuitive look and feel, a great free level to start off with, a large catalog, and also has a higher quality stream (bit rate) than many music streaming companies.  So for now start/stay with Spotify; let the market evolve, and then check-in every few months to see what is interesting and worth trying out. Rdio and Rhapsody are also good services to consider – we like what they offer, large catalogs, and they have good user interfaces.

Looking forward, in the future, HRA (High Resolution Audio) music is coming in a big way. Despite some bad press we think Tidal has real promise (higher quality, unique musician content, and they pay out the most to musicians of any service, on a per-stream basis). The terminology can be confusing; Tidal is Lossless CD-quality music and some call that HD (High Definition) Music.  Tidal is not HRA; for true HRA music, which means ‘better than CD quality’, there are several services; checkout Pono – the sound quality is impressive, and their catalog is really growing.  The bit-rate of CD’s was set long ago, before computers and media were as sophisticated as they are now; its not hard anymore to have a higher bit rate, which allows capture of more of the subtle details in music – and some HRA can even approach the quality of Vinyl.

Spotify has an amazing feature that will match the rate you are running, with a song that has the same rhythm; the same number of beats!  That is impressive, and can help anyone who is into fitness.  You don’t have to talk out loud (like with Siri) to make it happen, either.


Change Now… or Later?

For most people, it might be easier to just stay where you are right now.

If your current service gives you the music you like – if its working for you – then why change? Don’t get fooled by massive advertising.  Music streaming is becoming a mature market so all of the services offer a reasonably good value.  For many people, once you get skillful at navigating your current site, finding playlists, sharing your love of music with friends and so on, its just going to be easier to stay with what you know.

If you are going to switch, just switch to Spotify now – and then over time, try one of the HD music services.

Don’t abandon CD’s: if you stop buying albums, and use only streaming, then you are going to be paying for music for the rest of your life – don’t forget that!  For your most favorite music buying albums still makes sense.

Just Getting Started?  Do This:

  1. Signup for the best streaming deal right now: the free level of Spotify
  2. Keep buying Albums for your favorite artists
  3. Buy Download or CD?  I prefer to buy the CD; you can use it in the car, and also RIP it to your computer.  Use the FLAC format to preserve the full CD quality, which keeps the album information too.  You can find free Ripping programs on   This plan gives you the best of all worlds.
  4. Experiment with HD music, like Pono, in your living room and with high-quality headphones.

Our Vision for Music Streaming

We have a vision of where music streaming is going in the future – this will include better and better curation, closer contact with artists, better discovery for new music and new artists, better payments to artists (so they keep producing), and more choice.  It is likely that no one service will fit everyone’s needs and moods; you may find that several services are what work for you – one for playlists, perhaps another for curation that fits how you enjoy music.

Choice matters.  A good example of that is XM in your car.  You have a lot of channels to choose from; that  is what makes it work.  XM could have even more channels, where each genre had multiple flavors.  Choice is key.

As music streaming evolves, with new services started and new features appearing, we will follow it all and teach you how to get the best value.  Besides Spotify’s other advantages, if you want to upgrade to Spotify’s Premium level, right now its only 99 cents for 3 months.  Hard to beat that, especially when you consider the overall quality of the service.

Pono has over 2 million songs now in HD format, which is more than I expected – they are starting to get some momentum.  This is the wave of the future – so early adopters, take notice!   The challenge for any higher quality music is this: it makes no difference if you play it back on phone speakers, laptop speakers, the average car speakers, and so on.  To really hear the difference and make the extra cost worthwhile you need higher quality headphones or a good home audio setup.  Many people are unaware of just how good music can sound in their living room.

If you care about music quality, HD music options are out there.  Unfortunately, not from Apple, Google, or Amazon; for some reason the largest companies focus on small refinements – they don’t take on the risk of true innovation.

New Services are Launching

But new does not necessarily mean better.

Everyone now has curation, and everyone has playlists.  You will see a lot of press and advertising about new services launching but truthfully, you probably don’t need them at this time. Right now, most streaming services have the same basic catalog (of 20 to 30 million songs).   There does not appear to be any significant innovation out there in non-HD music right now beyond what a service like Spotify already has.  Only Spotify seems to bring it all together in one cohesive package.  The big question is, can anyone else do as well?  Or even better?

Apple has entered the music streaming market, building off of its Beats acquisition, integration with Siri, a new radio station, and services for Android as well.  It should be a solid service, basically similar to many other streaming sites.

In terms of quality, Apple Music tracks max out at 256Kbps verses the higher quality 320Kbps of Spotify.  Its quite surprising that Apple would debut a service that runs at a lower quality.  And note, even at 320Kbps you do not have HD music; so why would Apple debut a brand new service that runs at a lower quality level?  What is the point, really?

So has Apple done enough to differentiate itself?  There is no free level for people just starting out in music streaming; their music catalog is similar in size to others (meaning, not the largest), they are paying musicians a lower percentage than Spotify, and they have no HD music (like Pono).  This makes Apple Music basically just another “me too” music streaming service.  It is not yet available on Android, either; hopefully it will be.  There will apparently be some ‘artist engagement’ but Tidal is likely to lead in that area. So basically, it is hard to see how this kind of offering will grow market share against Spotify.

If you are addicted to Siri, you might need the new service; no one else ‘needs’ it.  Siri is nice, but you can find voice activation in Android too; Google Now also has some basic voice functionality.  Amazon has a wireless speaker called Echo that has just been released for general sale that also have some voice command capability.  Siri might be a little better but both Google Now and Echo will get better over time.   This feature is likely to not matter; its not clear if people want to find music this way.  If I am wearing my headphones and out in public, I do not want to be talking out loud, to my phone, over and over; I prefer to type, for privacy and for good manners.  Siri is not perfect either – it can make mistakes – for example even during the big demo for Apple Music at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference, Siri got it wrong.  Right on stage!

In terms of musicians, Apple’s terms have upset some Indie record companies (see recent New York Times Article).   Perhaps Apple got spoiled with the huge success of the iTunes download service.  Will Apple be able to take market share away from Spotify and Pandora?  Perhaps from Pandora, which is showing some age now – but taking on Spotify, Rdio, or Rhapsody Apple does not appear compelling enough for people to switch away.

What about Google?  Google announced a new free music streaming service a few days ago, trying to beat out Apple’s thunder – but few  people seem to care.  It does not offer anything new; once again, better to just stick with Spotify. The main use of Google services seems to be Youtube, which has a lot of free music.  Google will probably be a leader in song storage if that is important to you.  Beyond that we don’t see anything compelling in music services from Google at this time.  Part of Google’s problem, in our opinion, is they do not do enough marketing.  Google has launched services in the past that failed – they launch but do not do enough traditional marketing to sell consumers on the value.

Higher Definition Music: HD & HRA

Tidal is the dark horse and the service to watch, we are getting more and more interested in Tidal. They suffered some bad press at launch; but that only means they are musicians first – and maybe that is a good thing. They have the most artist-focus of any service.   Tidal claims to pay the highest payment (per stream) to artists of any service, higher even than Spotify – if that is true, then Tidal becomes more interesting to anyone who really cares about musicians.  If Tidal had a free tier, to try things out (like most services do), we would be more strongly recommending it. Tidal does have a $10 tier, which is equivalent to the premium tier at many companies – and Tidal also claims it will have exclusive content that no other service will have – due to its strong artist relationships.  They place more value on higher quality music which is a good thing – but its not actual HRA (High Resolution Audio); it is ‘lossless’, so what that means they do not use compression. Basically, listening to Tidal is identical to listing to the original music CD; that is called HD Music.  They really ought to offer FLAC-based HRA music.   The challenge for them is, their monthly cost is double of what the premium level is at most companies, and their catalog is a little smaller than some.  Do you want to pay $20/mo for music when you can get almost the same qualityf at Spotify?

Above Tidal quality are some true HRA services.  Historically this has never worked in the market and even now it will be a struggle – but the time is coming soon for this to work. One example is Pono Music, founded by Neil Young; we will do a detailed article soon on HRA music but for now, it is a small – but growing – market.  The best audio format seems to be FLAC; it can run at CD-Quality (“Lossless”) but also can be used for higher-quality levels, at higher bit rates – true HRA music.  FLAC takes less space than other HD/HRA formats and does not lose any album information like artist name and album name, like some formats do.  In the past Apple did not support FLAC which is also of concern.  FLAC seems to be the right way to go.

Spotify runs at a higher bit rate than Apple, Pandora or Rhapsody so once again, while not HD/HRA, we feel that Spotify is clearly the choice as it hits the sweet spot of the best overall combination of features.  The more we learn about music streaming, the more problems we see with Pandora, unfortunately.   To learn more about audio formats, CNET has a good article on FLAC Vs MP3.

Avoid Weaker Offerings

We recommend you avoid the weaker services.  This includes those with a smaller catalog like ROK Music, and Amazon music.  It also includes those with a cumbersome user interface, like Samsung MILK.

There are over 100 music streaming companies.  Many of them are actually repackaged services. If you find a great deal, then go for it.  But if you are serious about music, you probably want to avoid the smaller services – they will have weaker curation, fewer services, and no unique artist relationships.

In the past we have been fans of Pandora.   In the first few years, Pandora had the best UI (User Interface) and just seemed comfortable and easy.  But lately Pandora is showing its age.  The website has not evolved much; go do a direct comparison of either the app or the website for Pandora and Spotify and you will see how much better Spotify is.  Spotify appears to pay out more than Pandora to musicians, and Spotify runs at a higher bit rate ( = Higher Quality) than Pandora.   Pandora also has one of the smallest catalogs.  They are cheaper, for their paid tier; that seems to be their only advantage now.  It would seem that Pandora is falling behind, and thus they are no longer on our favorites list.

Streaming is the New Radio

Traditional radio is similar to streaming; you do not own the songs.  The web has an enormous number of ‘radio stations’ to choose from.   Radio is attractive as a model for cars, where music streaming has had strong growth. Apple will be introducing a new radio station soon but its hard to see how just one station will get traction; radio stations each need a genre, and fans pick their station based on genre first – like Country, or Rap, or Alternative Rock. It does not seem that a single Apple radio station will make much difference.

XM is the leader in car streaming, and is available in the home as well on satellite receivers like DirectV.  XM does a great job of having multiple streams, based on Genre; they have lots of channels and that means lots of choice.  A Radio Station service I would love to see would be something like XM at a free level (with occasional short ads), with a paid tier that had the same diverse channel lineup but no commercials and live, human curation.  Why isn’t Apple giving us that!

Some Companies are not as Artist Friendly

We think any streaming service, to succeed, must have good artist relationships – and that starts by caring about artists.  Some companies just do not seem to “get it”.

Google for example has put strong pressure on Indie artists in the past (see this Slate Article), which makes you wonder if Google will use similar tactics in the future.  For Google, it seems to be about money first.

Even Apple, which is coming very late to the streaming market, is reportedly paying out only 58% of its income from Indie artists; this is lower than Spotify (read more here).   We have all seen how Apple treats Taylor Swift well, but every musician is important – including the Indie artists; not just the rich & famous ones.  Spotify says it pays out about 70% of its income to artists; that is impressive – and Tidal claims to pay more, per song played, than anyone. So we see, once again, that Apple is not at the cutting edge.

Rhapsody also has a strong focus on being artist-friendly and a strong reputation.

Amazon is disappointing.  Amazon includes its music streaming as part of Prime – which is a great deal, if you are already paying for Prime. Beyond that though. its hard to understand why anyone would get the Amazon music service.  Amazon has a much smaller catalog than some of the other major music streaming companies, because they do not include Universal Music Group – the world’s largest label.  Now, why would Amazon do that?   It must surely be about money, what other reason could there be?  So how can Amazon ever say they are artist-friendly if they do not fully support musicians being fairly paid?   Amazon music is certainly not a compelling offer, when it has less choice.  Spotify has more choice, more features, and other advantages.


Spotify is the best choice.   Start with the free level and see if that meets your needs.

I see the other streaming services being niche-oriented: you might try Amazon music if you already have Prime, or you might try Apple Music if you are addicted to Siri.   Otherwise Spotify is better.

HD/HRA music is cool, it costs a little more but is worth it if you have high-end headphones or a great sound system at home. Rdio and Rhapsody are also worth considering with good catalogs, curation, and a nice user interface.

Please share this article

Feel free to send this article to all your friends, and to post on social networks.   Lets get everyone up to speed on music streaming, whats out there, what is best, and whats coming  up.

NOTE: This website is not associated with any music streaming service.  We have not received any investment money from anyone and we are not obligated to any company in any way.  In other words, we are completely independent, and any opinions expressed are entirely our own. Also, this market is undergoing rapid change; so, while we do try hard to be accurate, if you see anything that needs updating in our site, please send us an email.

The Music Industry is Changing

The Music industry is going through considerable change.  The long-term goal is for fans of every income level to enjoy music – and yet to have artists (and Labels) get paid fairly, so that they can continue to make great music.  The larger companies trying to enter the music streaming market obviously have big advertising budgets but that does not mean they have better services.

Spotify still looks like the best service out there.  Remember, music streaming services all have the same basic catalog – so just get the best deal you can find.  Its certainly hard to beat free!  Music streaming truly is the New Radio.

For Now Just Stay with Free Services

We think that the free music streaming services like Spotify and Pandora offer tremendous value. Until the paid services can come up with a better business model, your best move right now is to stay with the free music streaming services.   This sends a message to the industry: “You Need to Improve”.   If you really need to skip songs you don’t like, just get Spotify Premium – because right now you can get 3 months for just 99 cents.  That is an amazing value!

The Future

We are working on a comparison of all the music streaming services.  Many of them are very similar, and have nearly identical catalogs; typically, 30 million songs.   We are wondering if we should summarize every music streaming service there is – or just focus on the best ones?   Our current thoughts:

1) We recommend: Family Plans (which many services now have) give the best value for families that do a lot of music listening; Spotify might have the best free service overall, and the best curation.  We like Pandora, it has good curation and a good user interface.  Rdio is unique – it has a larger catalog than the others so you have more choice.

2) To Avoid: Stay away services that have an awkward user interface (like Samsung Milk), and avoid services that have a smaller catalog (like Amazon music).   What surprises us is how little attention has been giving to curated music services for business.  A typical business that wants background music is very likely to use a free music streaming service, since there are no truly compelling reasons to do otherwise; is anyone working on this?

Whats Coming Next?

There are now well oer 100 music streaming services.  Many of them are equivalent to each other; in fact, with most having the same overall catalog, one can argue that almost all music streaming services are equivalent.  Where is the differentiation!  Going forward, we believe that (1) Over the next year or two, there will be a consolidation.  Most (if not all) of the music streaming services are losing money, surely that cannot go on forever; (2) Curation will continue to improve, having more context not just for what you personally listened to before but more cues from the time of day, the season, weather, whats going on around you, etc; (3) the music industry will start to realize that a song is a vehicle for many other things (promoting albums, posters, concerts, clothing, memorabilia, and so on), and this might be the real value for most music- but most streaming services make very little effort to add value in this way.

What is your opinion?

Feel free to send us an email with your thoughts and ideas, or put your comments below.   Keep enjoying the music streaming experience!

The Promise of Tidal & HD Music

HD music seems to be forever about to arrive, but never gets traction.  We are excited about the various HD music services, such as Tidal Hifi (Lossless), and higher definition services like Pono. Tidal offers a lot of promise – but there is still much work to be done.   In this blog post we will discuss some things Tidal could be doing better.

Unlike much of the press, we are still optimistic about Tidal.   Many things there are fixable.   But they have to get their act together soon, the window of opportunity always closes quickly.   Here are our thoughts, in no particular order:

  • The price tiers are wrong.  There needs to be a free level to ‘sample’ the service, and there needs to be a discount if you pay upfront for a whole year.  Here is one of our ideas: offer a less expensive ‘New Release’ channel, so people can see just how well Tidal works and just how great new releases can sound; music discovery is a big driver of interest.  Also I would give a discount to musicians and songwriters, and add business services.  Every audio and video store in the world could have a Tidal account at some fair price level for better music in their stores.   I have other ideas here as well; in general the price tiers need to directly match with the dynamics of each market.
  • The home page on the website has uninspiring text, almost awkward.    What does “expertly Curated Editorial” even mean?  Its weak; it sounds like someone is describing a newspaper back in 1980.   Who is the audience – and how to you speak to them?   What image do you want to evoke?  I could hire one college student to write better text.
  • ‘High Fidelity’ or just the word ‘fidelity’ is not the best wording.  It sounds ‘old school’ but in a bad way.  It would be much better to just call it “HD Music”; that gives the user an immediate image.  Words like ‘Hifi’ were on your grandparents equipment in the 1950’s.
  • Where is the social media marketing?  A little bit is not enough.  Its been weak.   Down in the trenches, this is where it really happens in business: the great companies will focus on the details, will do the hard stuff.  Tidal needs to go after each market that will enjoy HD music, even if its small, to get growth.   For example what if you gave Dentists a combo deal, a good price for music at their home and office?  Those types of customers will pay forever if they like it; that’s the real gold in any subscription-based business.   You go after specific markets with marketing & pricing that fits.   Tidal could do Buzzfeed-style social marketing, but include real content from real music artists.
  • The logo is terrible.  Uninspiring, and appears to be something done by a beginner.   I could hire one high school kid who is into graphics and get something better.  You could spend $5 at one of those web logo sites and do better.
  • What is the value proposition?  You need a hook to draw people in.   The story is not being told well.
  • What is the temptation?  I feel no temptation here.  Does the Tidal home page make you feel tempted?  No one will pay $20/mo if they are only mildly curious.   There needs to be some kind of impact.  Where is the impact?
  • Give fans an ‘HD Music Experience’.   What will draw a Rihanna fan to Tidal, really?   Its not compelling right now. What if a Rihanna fan got more with their Tidal subscription – a kind of HD Music Experience in EVERY way – there ought to be an artists page with autographed stuff (at a discount for Tidal members), CD’s (at a discount for Tidal members), a meet-and-greet (for a fee) option at concerts to meet her and more.  What if Tidal gave the best HD Music Experience of any music streaming service?
  • Every Tidal subscriber could be automatically entered in a monthly contest to meet one of their favorite artists; you use their playlist to see which artists they like.   You pick 1 or 2 or 5 every month, and play that up – put it out on social networks!  If Tidal is so tight with artists, then it would be a very natural thing to connect artist, and fan.  What if Tidal did that better than anyone?
  • Where are the new artists?  The struggling artists?  The home page at has nothing about that.

Finally, I have some other ideas for music streaming – but will reserve them for private discussions with music streaming companies.

In summary: the key concept is Platform.  Tidal needs to own the HD Music Experience: for audiophiles, for a Dentist who wants a package deal, for a Rhianna fan who wants to feel closer to her, for struggling artists who want to get a foothold, for platinum artists who want to maximize marketing, and for labels that want a better model.

Raise your game, Tidal.


Uninspiring Tidal Logo

The uninspiring Tidal Logo

Streaming Profits Top CD Sales

For the first timeLogo MusicStreaming Mar 2015 ever, music streaming profits in the US topped CD sales.   People are moving away from CD’s and towards streaming services like Spotify, Pandora, and Beats.

This data comes from the Recording Industry Association of America.  Streaming revenues in 2014 came to $1.87 billion, up 29 percent year-over-year, while CD sales fell 12.7 percent to $1.85 billion.  Downloads are still the largest, at $2.6billion, but that also declined slightly.  Free streaming, which is ad-supported, drew in $295million.   Revenue from vinyl records continues to grow, with a 50% rise in 2015.  What stands out also is that the music industry in 2014 saw its fourth year in a row of growth; it grew 2% in 2015.

So Apple has good timing – they are about to announce how they will be using/rebranding Beats, which they bought in 2014. Apple leads by far in download style sales; if they can find a way to make it work for streaming, they will really dominate the music industry.  Their iTunes Radio failed to gain much traction, so that is why they are trying again with Beats.  The rest of the music industry should be more concerned than they are – Apple’s huge installed base in iTunes gives them a significant advantage.  Some point out that Google has a large user base in Youtube music but those users do not pay for listening – and the vast majority are not going to change those habits.  Therefore Apple is in a much stronger position than Google.

It is still an open question how the industry can find a more equitable payment model so that artists are more fairly compensated.

What all streaming services need to do is accelerate their efforts to gain more market share.  The music industry is very similar to the mobile industry in that only a very few companies even make profit; the non-profitable streaming companies do not have a sustainable business model.

In the near time, these trends will continue: streaming up, downloads and CD sales falling, and new streaming services launching.   Going out beyond that, we will start to see streaming services closing down or merging (under duress).  Very few will survive.

For users, its simpler for right now to just stay with Spotify or Pandora.    Most of the other streaming services have not shown any significant differentiation.  Amazon has a smaller music catalog than most, so you probably want to avoid Amazon Prime Music. Other than that, most companies have the same catalog, and most companies do too little to significantly differentiate.

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