Spotify vs Pandora vs Rhapsody vs the new streaming music service of the week. I've already written about the best free music streaming services, and there are several popular paid options with additional features if you're willing to spend a few bucks a month.
Spotify vs Pandora: on-demand vs radio
There are a lot of streaming music services out here, so I'm going to focus on the five most popular. Of these five, Pandora stands out as the only one that doesn't offer on-demand access to specific songs or albums. Instead, Pandora operates as a radio station tailored to your tastes. Pandora One, the paid version's name, does away with ads for $4 per month, but is still limited to 6 skips per station per hour and 12 skips total per day. However, Pandora One is also less expensive than other options. Despite these limitations, Pandora is the most popular streaming music service in the US.
Pandora is a great for discovering new music, and once you have a few playlists set up it's easy to use for 'set it and forget it' listening. Getting those playlists set up to your tastes can be a laborious process though because of the skip limits. (Hint, use multiple devices to avoid the 12 skip per day limit.)
Spotify is currently the king of on-demand streaming and the second most popular music streaming app in the US. The basic version of Spotify offers free ad-supported on-demand streaming on computers and tablets and shuffled streaming on mobile. By upgrading to the premium version for $10 per month you'll also get access to on-demand mobile streaming, higher quality streams, and an offline mode. Spotify also includes a radio mode similar to Pandora, but without the skip limit. Spotify's on-demand model is perfect for creating playlists of your favorite songs or listening to full albums. The free version is so good I haven't been compelled to upgrade to the paid version.
Other options: Rhapsody, Beats, Google
These three options are very similar: they all offer on-demand access to their entire music catalogs with offline modes, cost $10 per month, and none offer a free ad-supported version.
Google Play Music All Access has a big streaming catalog that is mixed with any of your own music you upload to the service. You can upload up to 20,000 songs for free and access them from the mobile app or any computer (which I highly recommend doing if only to back up your music for free). They also have radio features where you can create a station from any song or artist, and they will create playlists for you based on your preferences. I find these playlists and stations to match my tastes and are a quick and easy way to play music without manually creating your own playlists.
Beats Music and Rhapsody both operate very similarly to Spotify. Beats places an emphasis on professionally curated playlists, while Rhapsody places an emphasis on discovering new artists and new releases. Beats also offers a family plan to AT&T Wireless customers for $15 per month that allows access for up to five people on ten devices. Both offer free trials.
What about iTunes Radio?
iTunes Radio also has a paid option. A $25 per year subscription to iTunes Match removes ads from iTunes Radio as well as allowing you to store up to 25,000 songs in iCloud. This is a nice option for Apple diehards, but I'm happy with Google's free cloud offering.
There are a lot of paid music streaming services, these are just the five most popular. They are all very similar. Pandora stands out as the most affordable option, but without on-demand streaming. The others all offer on-demand access to large music catalogs for $10 per month. There isn't much to differentiate these services other than small things like curated playlists or different streaming formats. They all offer free trials. Try them all and see which you like best. Perhaps you'll find that none of them are worth paying for and Spotify's free service is good enough.