Q: Is streaming music better than downloading? A: It depends. . .
It mostly depends on preferences (and your budget). I will explore some reasons that some folks might prefer streaming over downloads below. I also encourage everyone, who has not already done so, to try a streaming service; Spotify is my recommendation because you can try out their premium service for 3 months for $.99 – you can also do a 3 month free trial of Apple music.
Some of the important preference considerations are:
- What is your desire for new music? (i.e., discovery) – for some this is an addiction. How much is enough? Silly question old man, you can never have enough new music.
- What is your budget? Some premium streaming services cost $10 to $20 per month and playlists and availability stop after you drop your subscription. How many songs do you normally purchase per year? Do the math and compare.
- Do you enjoy social interaction with friends? In other words, do you want to listen to what your network of friends is listening to? Do you want to share some of your favorite new songs?
- Do you already have a substantial collection of CDs, vinyl, or downloads? The main reason to ask this question is that you may already own the vast majority of songs that you prefer (probably not if you are under 30)?
- How well do you tolerate listening to algorithm based playlists, based on your detected preferences? Streaming services utilize computer or curator based methods to develop playlists of songs you might like based on your previous song selections.
- How well do you tolerate listening to new and/or different songs that you haven’t heard before? With 97 million songs (and counting) already recorded, there is a good chance that you will not like many (probably most) of those 97 million. How much time to do you want to spend listening to songs that you ultimately don’t like? Life isn’t short but you are dead for a really long time. . .
- Do you strongly prefer one genre? Most of the provided public playlists focus on a specific genre (e.g., pop, country, rock, etc.). It should be relatively easy to program a playlist that includes the latest pop hits (i.e., top 40).
- Do you value convenience? Some prefer streaming services because it does not require any setup – select your desired public playlist and hit shuffle – this person does not have the time nor the inclination to setup their own playlist – much easier to listen to one already setup.
- Age – are you under 32 years of age and enjoy experiencing new technology? If yes then a streaming service might be your best bet because research indicates that people over 32 have likely already developed their musical preferences and are unlikely to develop new preferences. For example, if you hated reggae in your 20s, it is highly unlikely that your preferences would change and in your 40s you now enjoy listening to reggae music.
- Does it bother you to hear the same song frequently? Daily, weekly, monthly? Some prefer songs they like and have heard before – for some it is comfortable to hear a song they already know and like and many like to sing along (my favorite is Meghan Trainor’s “NO” – that’s a joke for those of you that know my musical preferences).
- Are you an audiophile? Most streaming services are lower fidelity than downloads but Tidal HiFi claims to be on par with CDs but believe that is $20 per month.
Now that I have listed some important things to consider, let me share my perspective on my recent Spotify trial. Spotify has a large catalog of available songs and public playlists to choose from. I have listened to a number of these public playlists that suited my tastes (e.g., acoustic rock). I find that it is very handy to have the premium service in order to be able to skip tracks that do not suit your taste. I found that most of the playlists included numerous tracks that I did not care for, therefore I skipped quite frequently. This also depends on who is listening – I am frequently with my family and can’t listen to heavy metal in their presence. I found myself asking why am I spending so much time listening to songs that I don’t really like? – “life is ours, we live it our way” (Metallica).
I estimate that 80% of the time I prefer to listen to songs I already know and like. The remaining 20% of the time I like to “discover” songs that I have not heard before that I might like.
Using some of my 20% time I listened to some of my friends playlists. I found myself frequently skipping tracks that “weren’t my cup of tea” but did “discover” several tracks that I really liked that I was previously unfamiliar with.
I found it easy to import my existing playlists from iTunes into Spotify but did notice a number of tracks were greyed out and unavailable – believe there is a manual fix to this issue but didn’t have adequate motivation to explore a possible remedy.
Spotify does offer a free version of it’s service but this requires listening to ads and severely limits the number of skips you can use per hour.
My conclusion is that Spotify premium is a nice service but is a luxury, not a necessity. It was personally much more useful as a discovery tool as well as a nice way to interact socially with other friends on Spotify. I found myself skipping too frequently and gravitating back to my library of songs that I already knew and enjoyed (I have 45 playlists in iTunes that I normally listen to).
I also listen to the radio frequently – primarily 91.9 (Christian), 106.5 (alternative), 102.9 (classic rock/pop), and 107.9 (current pop). Having said that, I am sure that many folks will have vastly different preferences to mine and will conclude that streaming services are a good value. To over-simply, I estimate that younger folks (especially under 30) will gravitate to streaming for convenience, music discovery, and to socially interact with their network.
Footnote: Youtube streams 60% more music than all the other streaming services combined. Youtube pays artists a share of ad revenue vs. a per song fee like Spotify and Apple. Many artists do not feel the Youtube model is fair.