Prater: To stream or not to stream

Columnist Nia Prater explores the good and the bad between the new way to listen to music.

I love music streaming websites.

I was never one for pirating songs. Plus, knowing the way I listen to music, my receipts would rival the amount on my student loans if I actually bought every album I wanted.

So, while I make some room on my college student budget for a CD pre-order, I satisfy my need for new music by streaming some tracks online. But with so many online music sites available, how do you know which one to use? Well, I’m going to go through the pros and cons of two of the biggest names in the running, Pandora and Spotify, while also taking a look at a lesser-mentioned site called Songza.

Let’s start with Pandora Radio, arguably the site that started it all. Founded in 2000, Pandora consists of different stations that you can choose from. You can pick a particular artist to listen to and the station will play songs by that person as well as songs by other artists that have similar characteristics. You can also personalize the station even more by giving songs a thumbs up or thumbs down and Pandora will play more of things you like and less of the things you dislike.

Pandora is also very good for finding new music. Since it filters its stations to your preferences, you’ll often find songs and artists you haven’t heard of. It’s more accessible for a casual listener since they can simply focus on what they like, rather than having to sift through tons of stuff they don’t even recognize.

Pandora was my go-to site and I still use it, but it has its issues. Unless you’re willing to shell out $3.99 a month (or $36 a year) for Pandora One, you have frequent commercials to contend with. Also, I found that some stations can get really repetitive, especially if it’s based off a lesser-known genre or newer artist that has less material.

Let’s move to Spotify. One of the more recent sites on the scene and one of the most popular, Spotify has an extensive set-up. Users can stream music by the song, album or even the artist. It’s rather like going through your iTunes, if your library had nearly any song you could think of. Spotify also seems to get newer albums very quickly. (Part of the reason I got it was to check outJay-Z’s “Magna Carta Holy Grail” without having to buy or download it.)

Spotify users can also listen to stations based on artists or specific tracks like Pandora. However, here you can create your own playlists that you can listen to, as well as discovering previously created playlists. You can access Spotify through your internet browser, but the program can also be downloaded directly onto your computer (again, think iTunes), so that you can listen to all your favorites from your desktop. You’re also able to go back and play a song over again, something that’s impossible on Pandora.

Though its impressive music catalog is a definite positive, it can also be a negative. For the average listener, all the choices could be very overwhelming. If you don’t have many favorite artists and you’re just trying to sample music, this might not be the best place to start. It’s more of a service for big music fans that want all their preferred groups at their fingertips.

Spotify also has commercials on its free service, though I find them to be less disruptive than Pandora’s. They offer two paid options: their $4.99 a month plan which gives you the same features as the free service minus the commercials and their $9.99 a month plan which gives you no commercials and the opportunity to stream your music from your phone or tablet in addition to online and from your desktop.

Last, but not least, we have Songza. Though it pre-dates Spotify by a few years, I didn’t find out about until a few months ago. Songza operates strictly through playlists. When you first click onto Songza’s main page, you’re given the option of using their “Music Concierge” which gives you certain options for the time of day. For instance, if you go to the site on a Monday afternoon, it might suggest playlists to boost your energy or for hanging out.
If you choose not to go for that, you can explore the site deeper for more options. You can select playlists based on different eras of time or even by your mood. You can even find mixes for certain activities like for doing housework, barbecuing or studying. The types of music featured are a wide range. You can float from “Indie Apartment Party” to “Contemporary Bhangra Beats” without any worry of commercials.

It’s a really neat little site and I still use Songza, but I must admit that it loses its appeal after a while. Playlists and mixes are all fine and good, but you’re out of luck if you only want to listen to one artist or an entire album.

There’s no real fool-proof way to determine which streaming website is the best for you. It all comes down to your own personal preference. I say try them out and see which one fits your listening patterns. You could always do what I do, and rotate using all of them. I mean, they’re free. What do you have to lose? Happy listening!

Nia Prater can be reached at

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