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If you have a computer, smart phone, tablet, or digital home audio system, then accessing millions of songs is as simple as knowing what website to visit. This guide will walk you through the strengths and weaknesses of the best music-streaming services on the Internet, so that you can find the service that works best for you.

The Best Free Music-Streaming Services
Because they embed advertisements, Rdio, Spotify, Pandora, and even YouTube make millions of songs available at your fingertips for free.

Rdio
The free streaming service offered by Rdio is user-friendly and gives listeners a greater freedom to choose how to play their music than other free services. Users may choose individual songs, create playlists, or stream whole albums. Rdio offers easy sign-up through Facebook (or you can make a new account with your email address) and provides personalized recommendations of genres, albums, and artists based on your listening history. Rdio also allows users to connect and share music tastes through social media.

No. of Songs: 20 million
Quality: Good (192 Kbp/s)
Price: Free with advertisements

Spotify
Spotify has been at the forefront of audio streaming for years and offers both free streaming with advertisements and a subscription service for ad-free unlimited listening. The free streaming service makes it easy for users to choose individual songs and search for artists, but its interface is not intuitive for new users, and does not support streaming whole albums. Users create playlists of music they want to hear, but the system automatically shuffles these songs. You may find this frustrating if you want Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band to start with “Sgt. Pepper’s,” not “Lovely Rita.” The feature that sets Spotify apart is its integration of social media for sharing music trends among users. You can follow what your friends are listening to on Spotify, or you can follow the tastes of celebrities or famous musicians.

No. of Songs: 20 million
Quality: Excellent (320 Kbp/s)
Price: Free with advertisements

YouTube
YouTube provides a surprisingly strong free music-streaming service. Because YouTube is not specifically designed for music streaming, it can take a bit more snooping to find exactly what you are looking for; but on the upside, YouTube provides a larger variety of music and recordings than any conventional streaming service. With a simple YouTube search, you can find almost any song, as well as concert albums like James Taylor playing at the BBC studios in 1970 (Hint: this is a video you might want to watch, not just listen to!).

To stream songs in a row, all you need to do is find a playlist that you like, which may be a whole album, a playlist designed by a YouTube user, or an artist mixer. To do this, simply go to YouTube.com and search for the music that you want to hear. When the results load, click on “filters” under the search bar. This will unlock a fold-down menu. Under “type,” select “playlists” to confine your search to playlists, which play multiple songs or an entire album without interruption.

No. of Songs: A whole lot!
Quality: Depends on the particular video
Price: Free with advertisements

Pandora
Pandora is a veteran of the free music-streaming scene, but unlike the services listed above, Pandora is an online radio service; Pandora does not play specific albums or playlists. When you select a song or artist, Pandora generates a “station” that begins by playing your request, and then plays related music. You can continue to narrow the scope of your station by adding more artists to better describe what you want to hear and by rating the songs that play. Though you cannot go ahead and stream the album Tapestry, Pandora instead introduces you to unasked-for music that has been analyzed through Pandora’s “Music Genome Project,” and matched to be similar to what you already like. I started a station based on Paul Simon and Neil Young, and Pandora played me songs by those artists along with the Beatles, Van Morrison, James Taylor, and related artists that I had never heard of. Note: Even if you dislike a song, you may not want to skip it: Pandora stations limit users to six skipped songs per hour.

No. of Songs: 15 million
Quality: Good (192 Kbp/s)
Price: Free with advertisements

Next Page: Best Subscription Services

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  • Kelly March 17, 2015 at 6:18 pm

    Great!

    Reply
  • elsa j March 13, 2015 at 3:33 pm

    terrific article – thanks so much

    Reply
  • Ruth Nathan March 12, 2015 at 10:35 am

    So useful. Everyone at my gym is plugged in, so since there’s no one to even say hello to, might as well listen to music. It will be fun to try all of this out, but the beauty is in knowing where to go and what to do.

    Reply
  • Lynne March 11, 2015 at 11:00 pm

    Thanks for clarifying music streaming. I never knew that you could stream a playlist from Youtube. Thanks

    Reply
  • Jeden Dvatre March 10, 2015 at 1:35 pm

    A very useful article; much information well presented.
    Agree with anonymous about the need for information about those other strange and incomprehensible web things.

    Reply
  • C-Dog March 10, 2015 at 1:27 pm

    I like to rock that Groove Shark.

    Reply
  • Anonymous March 10, 2015 at 12:58 pm

    Great information. Would love to see WVFC do a similar explanatory piece on Instagram, Twitter, FaceBook,Pinterest, Snapchat, Tumblr, Vine.

    Reply
  • Roz Warren March 10, 2015 at 12:48 pm

    There’s nothing wrong with listening to CDs.

    Reply
  • Andy Johnson March 10, 2015 at 11:07 am

    Great! This was a very useful summary of information I have been trying to piece together. Thanks! I appreciate the information on the quality. Question: how much quality are you losing by using these services compared to listening to CDs? Yes, I still listen to CDs.

    Reply
  • Suzanne Fluhr March 10, 2015 at 10:59 am

    Amy, this is very useful information for certain dinosaurs—like moi.

    Reply
  • Roz Warren March 10, 2015 at 9:36 am

    This couldn’t be more useful or timely. Thanks!

    Reply