The best music streaming service in 2017

The best music streaming service in 2017

There’s a variety of music streaming services to choose from in 2017, and each one has its ups and downs. This article takes a close look at the best available options, and picks a winner.

Of course, the actual best choice for you is subjective. Your personal needs may be different than mine. But, this is my blog, not yours. My opinion is the only thing that matters around here. :)

Before we jump into it, let’s take a moment to appreciate how amazing music streaming services are. It’s incredible to have over 30 million songs in your pocket. It would be far better if the artists got paid more (and I mean substantially more). But still, never forget how amazing these services are.

Free vs. paid

Many of the services outlined in this article have both paid and free tiers. The free versions are typically supported by ads. This article focuses on the paid versions. Why? Well, tap water is free. If you want to know what tap water tastes like, don’t read a blog post about it — visit a nearby sink and start slurping.

You can try all of the paid services that are covered in this article without charge, because they all offer free trials. You just need to be vigilant about canceling at the end of the allotted time or you’ll get charged for the next month.

Transcendental aside

As a child of the 1980’s and a young adult of the 1990’s, my relationship with music feels different today than it did in the past. I tend to favor underground music. Music that isn’t obvious. When I was growing up, you couldn’t find this music in stores. Locating it required extensive hunting.

When I finally found something I liked, it was always a revelation. The music would hit me like a freight train. It turned everything upside down, and I couldn’t get enough. I would then do everything in my power to see these musicians live, but 99 times out of 100, the act had long since disappeared.

Today I can turn on a music streaming service, have it play throughout my home with excellent sounding Sonos wireless speakers, and it will just run non-stop for hours on end. Boatloads of fantastic music is played back-to-back, and it’s wonderful. But, it also becomes a backdrop. It’s like sweet smelling air. Great music becomes the oxygen you breathe all day and night, but you almost forget it’s there.

It’s different now. It’s better, but new discoveries never change my life. Oh well.

Important tip for Apple users

If you use an iPhone, iPad, or an iPod touch, do not sign up for any of these services using the apps on your device. The only way you should sign up is by visiting the music service’s website, and doing it from there.

Why? When you sign up through an app on an Apple device, you pay 30% more, because Apple gets a 30% cut on the transaction. So, instead of being $10 a month, the service is going to be $13 a month. This unnecessary higher price will continue month after month. Avoid this mistake at all costs.

With that out of the way, let’s get to it…

Apple Music

Apple Music is an optional premium music streaming service that’s baked into every current iPhone. It’s also available as an app on Android. While it has some great playlists and the artist channels string together consistently good music, it still suffers from being a bit buggy and slow — two years into its existence.

The overall design of its user interface has improved greatly since it was first introduced, but Apple Music still doesn’t have an obvious Play button, which I find confusing.

Apple Music acts as a section of iTunes software. This fact alone makes it worth avoiding. iTunes was already completely bloated before Apple Music arrived. It acts as a music file library, an Apple device syncing station, a place to rent movies and TV shows, a place to back up apps, etc. Cramming Apple Music into it was a mistake.

I love that Apple Music has a staff of human beings that compile custom playlists. I don’t like letting computer algorithms choose the next song. Why? No matter what you do, you’re always four songs away from Coldplay. Or, when you use Amazon Prime Music, everything devolves to Christmas music after twenty minutes (even in July).

If you’re an expert user of iTunes, and you pay for services like iTunes Match, perhaps Apple Music is the best music streaming service for you. Apple also strikes deals with some recording artists to offer exclusive music that only Apple Music subscribers can listen to. So far this has all been music that I don’t care about at all, so this isn’t a factor for me.

As much as I love Macintosh computers (and I love them dearly), I do not recommend buying a subscription to Apple Music. It’s just too confusing.

Apple Music Pros:
3-month free trial time
Some of the playlists are excellent

Apple Music Cons:
It’s contained within iTunes, which makes it endlessly confusing
iTunes is completely terrible
Lacks an obvious Play button
It can be slow and buggy
Doesn’t have Admonishing the Bishops by Thinking Fellers Union Local 282

Is it the best music streaming service in 2017: No

Google Play Music

Google Play Music logo in early 2017

Google offers more than one music streaming service. Here they are:

  • Google Play Music
  • YouTube Red
  • YouTube Music

Right at the start, we’re already in a swirling pit of confusion. Just know this: if you subscribe to one of these services, you get the others for free.

I did free trials of all of the services in this article in the past, and I tried them again on a family member’s phone during the writing of this post. But I didn’t try any of Google’s offerings a second time. Why? When I did my free trial of YouTube Red, I was charged for the second month, even though I made sure to terminate the free trial several days in advance.

Needless to say, that left a bad taste in my mouth.

YouTube Red is an interesting service, because it removes all of the pre-roll ads from YouTube videos. I watch a fair amount of YouTube, but not enough to get me to pay for this service.

A significant number of people love Google’s music services. If you spend a lot of time watching YouTube videos and you hate the ads, and you want a premium music streaming service, Google’s wares may the best choice for you.

But if you ask me, I don’t recommend Google’s music services. They’re just too convoluted. Instead of offering one, clearly-defined service, Google offers a scattered assortment of apps. They can’t even decide on a name (Google has changed the names of these services more than once). The whole operation makes me feel uneasy, and their logo looks like a Dorito.

Google Play Music Pros:
Buy one, get three
No more ads on YouTube!

Google Play Music Cons:
The names (and everything else) are confusing
Nacho cheese design aesthetic
They stole $10 from me
Doesn’t have Admonishing the Bishops by Thinking Fellers Union Local 282

Are they the best music streaming services in 2017: No

Amazon Music Unlimited

Amazon Music Unlimited logo

Amazon Music Unlimited is the youngest streaming service in this article, debuting in the latter half of 2016. I’m a big fan of Amazon in general. I’m amazed how easy it is to find and buy stuff on their website, and how quickly they’re shipped to my door. I also love the Amazon Echo. I have one in my living room, and I want more.

Unfortunately, during my free trial, I didn’t fall in love with Amazon Music Unlimited. Like all of the services outlined in this article so far, the downfall for me was confusion. It also lacks many of the artists that I want to listen to (for example, Swirlies). The entire Swirlies catalog is on Spotify.

I have an Amazon Prime membership, which I use primarily to have purchases shipped to my home more quickly. This membership also includes Amazon Prime video (a service similar to Netflix), free electronic books through Prime Reading, etc. It also gives me access to Prime Music. This is a separate service from Amazon Music Unlimited.

Before I started paying for a premium music service, I used to listen to Prime Music using my Echo Dot plugged into my Sonos Play:5 speaker. For listening to some quick jazz music or classical, it was an okay option. But the selection is definitely lacking in Prime Music.

Some of the channels on Prime Music are outright terrible. They have a “Folk Music” channel, and it’s loaded up with the most godawful stuff I’ve ever heard. And as I mentioned earlier, if you listened to Prime Music long enough, you eventually just hear Christmas music, regardless of what month it is.

I tried the free month of the Amazon Music Unlimited Echo plan, which is a special deal for people who own an Echo. It’s only $4 a month. But, my main problem was that I never knew what library I was listening to. I would ask Alexa to play something, and I couldn’t tell if it was coming from Prime Music or Music Unlimited. In essence, I wasn’t sure what I was paying for.

I like to use Amazon to purchase things, but when it comes to listening to music, I want to use something that feels special and personal. The thing I use to get diapers to my doorstep isn’t it.

Amazon Music Unlimited Pros:
Lower priced service for the Amazon Echo
Lower price for Prime members ($7.99/mo instead of $9.99)

Amazon Music Unlimited Cons:
Unclear if music is from Prime or Unlimited
Lacking lots of artists I want to listen to
Instead of being clearly defined, there are several confusing options
Doesn’t have Admonishing the Bishops by Thinking Fellers Union Local 282

Is it the best music streaming service in 2017: No


Tidal logo

Remember when I said that artists deserve to be paid a lot more when their music gets played on a streaming service? Well, Tidal was created to improve this situation. The company is owned by Jay Z and several other extremely successful musicians. They claim that 75% of your subscription fee go to paying royalties to artists. They also claim to pay far more to artists than Spotify.

This is all very noble, however, when I did my free trial of Tidal, I was not wowed into becoming a customer.

I found that the Tidal interface had an agenda. I spent a lot of time with the app searching for and playing specific kinds of music. However, Tidal seemed to spend a great deal of energy trying to get me to check out artists that I had no interest in.

There were clearly artists being hyped in Tidal, and no matter what your tastes in music may be, these artists are going to be put in front of your face, over and over again.

I want a music service that works hard to understand my tastes, even though my personal tastes are eclectic and all over the place. I love vintage reggae. I love 90’s indie rock. I love metal. I love actual folk music. I go for minimal techno sometimes, and I need a gangsta rap fix every now and again. Give me 80’s hardcore or give me death.

Tidal kept suggesting air-brushed, radio-friendly, contemporary hip hop. I like some juicy Biggie Smalls on occasion, but I never want to listen to what they were pushing.

On one hand, I feel guilty for not liking Tidal. They claim to be fighting the good fight to get musicians paid. On the other hand, I just didn’t like it. The other hand won.

Tidal Pros:
Claims to pay musicians more $$$
Not owned by a behemoth tech company

Tidal Cons:
Prioritizes the promotion of specific artists, regardless of your tastes
You’re paying for lots of exclusive video content which I have zero interest in
Something about it just feels icky

Is it the best music streaming services in 2017: No


Spotify logo

All of these music streaming services are very similar to one another. They all feature millions of songs. Their user interfaces look and operate differently, but they’re all essentially doing the same thing. They’re all very similarly priced.

But, there is one service that offers something truly unique. Spotify was one of the first major music streaming services, and it rose to popularity rather quickly. It has a free tier that a great number of people use. So, it’s older, and a lot of people use it frequently. What’s good about this? You likely have a bunch of friends on Spotify.

Admittedly, it isn’t much of a social network. But, you can easily follow old friends, and they can follow you back. You can see stuff that they’ve listened to recently. It sounds like simple stuff, but, when it comes to finding new music, this little feature is incredibly powerful. Plus, it’s just nice to see familiar faces and listen to great music.

I find that Spotify does an impressive job of getting a sense of what I like to listen to, and suggesting music that I end up playing and enjoying. Apple Music is the only other service that came close to doing this well, but it was clear to my ears that Spotify did a much better job of it.

Every week Spotify makes a customized set of songs for you to listen to called the Discover Weekly Playlist. As someone who is picky about music, I am always surprised how much I like these playlists. Simply put, you need to check this out.

I like a lot of obscure music, and sadly, I often search for stuff only to discover that it isn’t available on Spotify. But, it seems like Spotify has a lot more obscure music than any of the other services I tested.

This isn’t complicated. I tried a bunch of premium music services, and Spotify was my favorite. This is the one I recommend.

Spotify Pros:
Excellent music suggestions
You can connect with and follow a bunch of your old friends
Seems to have more obscure music than the other options
You can stream music from the mobile app to Sonos speakers
The logo so terrible it’s endearing
Not owned by a behemoth tech company
Doesn’t have 1989 by Taylor Smith

Spotify Cons:
Should be paying a lot more royalties to artists
Doesn’t have Admonishing the Bishops by Thinking Fellers Union Local 282
Doesn’t have 1989 by Taylor Smith

Is it the best music streaming services in 2017: Yep

Thanks for reading this post! If it was helpful, you can help me out by using the links below before you buy something at Amazon or B&H Photo. I appreciate it!

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Writer, musician, photo taker and video maker. When not writing somewhat longish articles for this blog, I write incredibly short things on Twitter: @SamMallery

8 thoughts on “The best music streaming service in 2017”

  1. Not complete without at least reviewing Pandora. The review of Amazon Music neglects to mention that for an extra $25/year if you already own a bunch of mp3 tracks you can upload to the cloud and listen thru amazon music on the go. I think the upper limit is 250 thousand tracks. I have a bunch of voice tracks (audio books & lectures) for which i’m planning to set up their metainformation (album name, track name) so I can upload them to the Amazon cloud in accessible fashion and download on the go. Try doing that with another streaming service.

  2. Sam,
    I above many others can relate to how horrific it is to be taken advantage of, bullied, “robbed” by companies that “get-away-with-it.” Whilst I can attest to only two of the companies mentioned above and would add that Apple has the very best, most helpful, easiest to deal with customer service, I have to also state that Google, with a simple* call to customer service, will gladly have refunded that charge. As a journalist* you should investigate all claims more thoroughly in the future being that, hopefully one day your writing is more famous and lucrative, you can be held responsible for “defamation of character” when stating things like being robbed. Otherwise great post thank you for sharing and love to see a list of songs available for each platform to do a more in-depth comparison if possible. Much success.

  3. Sadly all these services are pretty lousy for an avid classical music fan like me. Search doesn’t work well when looking for composer and album. Additonally (for example Spotify) sees movements of one symphony as different songs. Searching just for composer usually gives huge, muddled list of movements from concertos, symphonies etc. Problems get even bigger with popular composers whose works pop up as modern versions and variations by pop artists.

    Free versions are totally useless for classical music because of ads between movements or pushing of pop artists songs between movements. Because paying doesn’t help and gives only lousy user experience, I have opted out from these services.

    I’d gladly pay for streaming service tuned for classical music fans.

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