The days of using those things called compact discs are nearly over; music has become almost entirely digitized. Why major retailers still have CD sections is baffling. When you stroll through the CD aisles, it's almost like going back in time to around 2002; CDs from artists like Shania Twain and Slipknot collect dust as customers blissfully pass by.
Music piracy took the forefront in the music industry for quite a few years and almost everyone remembers Kazaa, Limewire, Bearshare and other p2p (peer-to-peer) networks. Then came torrenting music, not without help from programs like Utorrent and BitTorrent, which a few uninformed stragglers out there are still using.
But even those are becoming unnecessary. Even children have smartphones and other devices now, where the ability to stream music for free is nearly endless. There is almost no incentive at this point to illegally download music. Why risk getting freaky porn viruses if you can confidently stream what you want to hear for free through legitimate services?
There are dozens of streaming services out there, but the few that seem to be most widely used are Pandora and Spotify. Grooveshark, Songza and Last.fm are a few other noteworthy services, too.
Perhaps you're still in the stone age and using your super-awesome five-disc CD changer stereo, if so don't fret, all you need is an internet connection.
I've tried a good portion of the most popular streaming sites, but new ones seem to pop up too frequently to keep up. Each one is set up with a different, quirky interface designed to appeal to users in a way that another service doesn't.
For instance, Pandora and Spotify both offer the ability to listen to music for free. However, the way they present that ability is entirely different.
Pandora, still the leader in worldwide music streaming, is set up through your browser or a smartphone application.
Pandora, the sort-of "OG" (original gangster) of free-music-streaming sites, launched in 2000, prides itself in its ability to tailor a radio station to exactly what you want to hear, and they do this through using complex algorithms that they comprehensively call the Music Genome Project.
"We believe that each individual has a unique relationship with music - no one else has tastes exactly like yours. So delivering a great radio experience to each and every listener requires an incredibly broad and deep understanding of music. That's why Pandora is based on the Music Genome Project, the most sophisticated taxonomy of musical information ever collected," a statement on their website says.
When you go to the site, you enter an artist, composer or genre to create a station. Instantly, songs that Pandora thinks are similar to what you entered will begin playing, and from there, you can give a song a thumbs-up or -down if you like it or don't, and it will continue to improve the station that way.
Spotify, a Swedish company, is different. Instead of visiting a website, you must install the Spotify program, which is a music player set up similarly to Windows Media Player or iTunes. Instead of making a station (although you can do that too), a benefit that Spotify has that Pandora doesn't, is that you can find a particular song or artist you want to hear at any given time.
As of December 2012, reports say Spotify has a catalog of approximately 20 million songs.
There are different ways that people use streaming sites, too.
Desktop-wise, many people have switched to Spotify and abandoned Pandora due to the ability to make your own playlists with specific songs. However, Pandora still seems to dominate the mobile-world, and that is most likely because, although Spotify's desktop version is cost-free (although you can upgrade to avoid advertisements), their mobile version costs money for that aforementioned benefit of playing specific songs and making playlists. The "Spotify radio" is free on the app though, but that's only for users in the U.S. (Apparently, we really aren't willing to pay for their service while everyone else is.)
People seem to still prefer Pandora's app though, considering it has over 50 million downloads on Android's app marketplace with a 4.8 out of 5 rating, while Spotify has only over 10 million with a 4 out of 5 rating. Many cite Spotify's radio as being inferior to Pandora's in its ability to tailor an appealing radio station to a user's taste.
Songza, along with a few others like Stereomood, are built around finding music that appeals to a specific mood. Songza gets really specific to your mood; you can find playlists created by users that are for "A Weekend Dance Party" or "Relaxing (No lyrics)," "Songs from Apple Commercials," and tons more. You can even browse through genres, specific decades, cultures and more.
I tend to switch back and forth between Spotify, Songza and Pandora, depending on the situation.
While on my laptop, I enjoy using Spotify if I'm looking for something specific. (Yesterday I looked up Of Monsters and Men's discography and discovered, thanks to Spotify, that I love them.)
If I am literally too lazy to think of something specific, which happens often, I will switch to Songza's website (songza.com) and find a playlist that appeals to my mood. (I seem to always choose something to help me work, like "Energetic Classical" or "Classical for Studying.")
In the car, Pandora is still my favorite avenue for music. Their app on my phone is easy to use in a rush, and it works so well in appealing to my taste that I don't have to constantly try and change it to hear songs I like.
Whatever the avenue used, there's tons out there. No need to feel guilty pirating music anymore and worrying about viruses, and in these difficult economic times, who has the extra cash for musical pleasure when you can get it for free? Musicians still receive royalties from streaming sites, so contrary to the beliefs of some, it's certainly not stealing; your favorite artists are still getting paid.