Looking for a New Sound? Free vs. Paid Music Streaming Services Complete Guide

Are they really worth the subscription or is the hype just white noise?

Online Music Streaming Services Complete Guide Paid or Free Music Streaming Services

Finding new music today is easy, whether you aspire to listen to something different, if you are looking for a new sound, favorite artist or are just bored of your current music selection. There are so many easy-to-use music streaming services and we want to help you find the one (or two!) that suit your needs and your budget. Music can be streamed online or in an app when you are on the go, but remember to be careful of your data usage if you aren’t already paying for offline music streaming perks.

Here’s our breakdown of trending music streaming services and their free vs. premium features…

We wanted to know: Are they really worth the subscription or is the hype just white noise?


8tracks Music Streaming ServicesOther than the name, not too much of this online music streaming site echoes its vintage namesake. This online set of “tapes” centers itself on user-generated mixes and lets you search based on what you are feeling, by genre, artist or activity. Are you feeling “rock,” “instrumental,” “happy” or “study?” Choose the specific tracks you would like to listen to on the web or through their app.

One feature unique to 8tracks is that they limit the number of song ‘skips’ per hour – making fast-forwarding almost as laborious as on an old 8 track tape – but for copyright reasons. Find a favorite playlist, create your own mix to share (with at least eight tracks) or just listen away!

All the functionality in 8tracks is free. Users who pay for 8tracks Plus do not see any ads across all their platforms.

8tracks Cost: Free vs. Premium: $25 for 6 months ($4.16/month)

Google Play Music

Another reminder that Google is a giant in the world of tech: They acquired Songza in 2004 and as of January 31st, 2016, it has been merged into the Google brand. A hard goodbye for all the Songza lovers, but the good news is that the new music streaming service, Google Play Music, boasts a few similar features:

Listen to different tunes by selecting a radio depending on the time of day, your mood or your current activity. For an example, Thursday afternoon suggestions may be “Boosting Your Energy” or “Working to a Beat” whereas Friday morning may offer “Singing in the Shower” or “Waking up with Energy.” You will also be recommended to different selections depending on your recent listening activity.

Without a subscription, you will navigate around ads (that you can skip after five seconds) each time you select a new radio, you can skip a maximum of six songs per hour and have select listening limitations. You will see sections such as top songs and new releases, but will not have access to these songs or radio channels – instead you will be recommended to something similar.

If you are looking for specific songs and artists it might be a good idea to get a paid All Access subscription, which is comparable to an online TV streaming service such as Netflix. Subscribed users receive on-demand music streaming, offline streaming, the creation of custom playlists and an ad-free experience. Time to tune in – the only question here is: Are you willing to pay the price tag for your music?

Google Play Music Cost: Free vs. Premium: $9.99/month


SoundCloudsoundcloud Music Streaming Services is a social sharing platform and music streaming service where anyone can share sounds they have created by putting them, well, in the cloud! A place to discover new tracks and share them, it is for both music curators and listeners who are looking to find new sounds and artists. You might not find the most popular songs and mainstream artists here, but you will find the following features:

  • Explore trending music and audio
  • Search directly for tracks, artists and users
  • Create and listen to your own playlists (shuffle them as well!)
  • Follow your favorite sound curators
  • Browse by genre

Maybe the best part is that this music streaming service is all free and also commercial free. Depending on your taste in music why not give it a try!

SoundCloud Cost: Free all the way


Spotify Music Streaming ServicesTo use Spotify either as a Free user or a Premium user, you must create an account. This decision is up to you, it can be viewed as a hassle for some and a great road to personalization for others.

Let’s say you choose not to pay. The Free subscription provides limited features, but you do have the ability to listen to their music streaming service without a time limit and can shuffle playlists. Of course, there are a few drawbacks to this option. Free users can only skip a few songs, cannot listen to music offline and face restrictions as to what they can listen to and when. We might argue that the largest difference with Spotify Free is the ads which are played in between songs. For Free users, this is the feature that encourages us to prefer the paid, Premium subscription of this music streaming service.

So would a Premium subscription be worth the monthly fee? One Digital Care team member is a subscriber, so we have some first-hand experience. Premium feels like a bottomless music collection – you can save unlimited albums, songs and playlists to your account, and download them for offline listening. There are no ads or restrictions, and you can even share custom playlists with friends and other Spotify members, giving it a fun social sharing aspect.

Spotify Cost: Free vs. Premium: $9.99/month USD (+ 30-Day Free Trial)

Apple Music

Apple’s answer to Spotify Premium is Apple Music, which was released summer of 2015. You can take advantage of a free 90-day trial since it is still a new offering. While we have no direct experience with this app yet, it appears to offer open access to iTunes much in the same way that Spotify does to its vast music collection. You also have access to their Beats 1 Internet radio, a social platform called Connect that allows users to interact with bands and singers, as well as Radio – which echoes iTunes Radio in part, if not in whole. One cool pricing feature it the family membership, which allows up to 6 users per household to access the paid subscription.

Apple Music Cost: $9.99 – $14.99/month (+ 90-Day Free Trial)


Music streaming services pandora radioPandora is a longtime fan favorite – if you live in the United States, Australia or New Zealand, that is. Otherwise, you can’t even access the platform. If you are geographically eligible, Pandora made its name by allowing users to personalize their streaming music by building custom “radio stations” based on genre, artist, songs or moods, and selecting out songs by “up voting” or “down voting” each choice until the station only plays your ultimate collection. A free account will get you a long way – up to 100 personalized radio stations. They have a great selection of comedy channels too for talk radio fans. Pandora One is their paid subscription, which removes all ads, gives you more song skips and longer listening without timeouts.

Pandora Cost: Free vs. Premium: $4.99/month or $54.89/year USD

After choosing the music streaming service that fits with your lifestyle ask yourself: will you be a free or subscribed listener? Share your take on paying for music streaming services (or which one is your favorite!) in the comments below…

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