It's no secret that music can make your work day more pleasant, but it can also make you more productive. According to research, people that listen to music while they work are more likely to complete tasks quickly, and come up with better ideas.
Music streaming services are a great way to access a giant library of music without having to buy tracks individually, or store them on your local computer or smartphone.
In this article, we will take a look at some of the most popular music streaming services (available in the U.S.) from an angle of productivity.
In order for any service to improve productivity, it has to work without a lot of interaction required on the part of the user. Pre-compiled playlists, artist and song-specific radio, as well as few commercial interruptions which can break the listener's concentration. We will concentrate on five options presently available that have these features.
Spotify is a value powerhouse. It covers all the bases you might expect from a music streaming service, and because it doesn't rely on track sales to turn a profit, you have access to its entire 20-million track library from the onset.
Spotify offers a lot of its value to free customers by offering its library and playlist feature to desktop and mobile users at no charge. You can listen to as many tracks as you want, and only the occasional ad will interrupt your listening experience.
If you are willing to pay $9.99/month, you can use your Spotify subscription on any device, uninterrupted. You can also hear music at higher quality (up to 320 kbps), and even take your music abroad and listen to it from anywhere in the world.
This chart outlines some of the capabilities of Spotify, along with the limitations of its mobile app.
|Mobile Free||Tablet Free||Desktop Free||Unlimited||Premium|
|Full Library Available||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Create Your Own Playlist||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Browse Public Playlists||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Time/Track Play Limits||Unlimited||Unlimited||Unlimited||Unlimited||Unlimited|
|Play / Organize MP3s On Demand||No (Shuffle Only)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Play Mode||Shuffle||On Demand||On Demand||On Demand||On Demand|
|Take Music Abroad||14 Days||14 Days||14 Days||Yes||Yes|
|Uninterrupted Listening||No||No||No||Desktop Only||Yes|
|Enhanced Sound Quality (up to 320kbps)||No||No||No||No||Yes|
|Hardware Device and Spotify Connect||No||No||No||No||Yes|
One feature that lets Spotify stand out against its competition is Offline Mode. This mode allows you to save tracks to a device and listen to them without an Internet connection. It's handy for frequent fliers that don't want to cough up extra money to pay for Internet service on a plane. It's also great for anyone that listens from a phone with limited monthly bandwidth.
Spotify has an incredible playlist library, including some playlists that are created by leading artists in their genre. Spotify has even assembled playlists that are specific to a mood. If you want to focus, there's a playlist for that. Need to energize during that 2pm slump? There's a playlist for that, too.
User-created playlists are also very popular and easy to browse through. You can subscribe to a playlist and receive updates as the person assembling it adds new tracks.
Do you have a specific artist or track that you love listening to? Spotify has a very Pandora-like radio feature that allows you to start a radio station based on your tastes. Just navigate to the artist or track you want to use as the base of the station and click Start Radio.
iTunes is arguably the single largest and most easily recognized brand in online music purchasing, but it also has a music streaming component to it that works very well. You can search for a specific artist, genre, or song and start a station based on this pick. iTunes has the advantage of having the largest music library (27+ million songs) in the business, and that means you can be pretty specific in your search.
The downside of iTunes is that it doesn't allow you to just pick and artist and song and play it on demand. This is a feature that we love on Spotify, but you won't find here because Apple makes its money off selling individual tracks, and making it available for free would go against its business model.
The UI isn't the best. iTunes hasn't had many updates in its interface since its introduction over a decade ago. While it doesn't look like the rest of the options in this list, it is still fairly easy to use. The learning curve will be minimal for most new users.
If you want to skip the ads, you can subscribe to iTunes match, which enables you to take any tracks you purchased somewhere other than iTunes and add them to your iTunes library in the cloud, complete with 320 kbps matched tracks from Apple's own library. This service will run you $24.99 / year, which is still cheaper than Pandora One.
iTunes radio is only available on iTunes and iOS 7+. As a music streaming service, iTunes' offering is best compared to Pandora than to any of the other on-demand capable services out there. By comparison, it works very well. Unfortunately, its limited support for additional platforms and lack of browser-based streaming puts it at a disadvantage.
Pandora changed the world of Internet radio when it launched, and it continues to be one of the most popular music streaming services in the world today.
Pandora offers a free and premium service called Pandora One. As a free user, you can create new stations and listen to music all day long, but you will have to deal with commercial interruptions. You are also limited to the number of tracks you can skip at a given time.
Pandora One gives users an improved 192 kbps stream and unlimited listening and track skip options. You can also use the dedicated desktop app which makes accessing Pandora and controlling media playback a little easier.
Pandora has a smaller library (~1 million songs) than other services on this list.
Google Play Music is an excellent choice for anyone that has a large library (20 million songs) of existing music, and wants to take advantage of not only having it in the cloud, but also being able to add tracks from Google's exensive library, as well. For $9.99/month, users can enjoy All Access, a Spotify-like service from Google.
Google makes your library (and its own) available to you wherever you are, and you can download tracks for offline listening should you be on a plane or otherwise away from a reliable Internet connection. Google's tracks are at a high 320 kbps quality and can be played on Android, iOS, Windows, or through the Web via a modern browser.
Beats Electronics, which has recently been acquired by Apple, has created Beats Music, a music service that blends the on demand qualities of Spotify with the flat UI design of Google Music.
Available at $9.99/month, the user gains access to Beats' 20-million song library, including some big exclusives made available through the service. Spotify has some exclusive content, too, but these are generally limited to performances and live tracks where Beats tends to grab some big names and studio recordings for its exclusive offerings.
Like Google Play, Beats streams at a high-quality 320 kbps.
Upon signing up, you are given a two-part test by Beats to determine your musical tastes. The first part allows you to pick and remove specific genres from your preferences list. You can click music styles you like, double-click the ones you love, and remove the ones you'd rather not have appear in your recommendations list.
You are then taken to a page with a collection of artists that match your music preferences. Select at least three that you like from this group, and you are ready to receive your recommendations.
For me, I stated that I really liked alternative, rock, and kinda liked metal and pop. The recommendations page I got was filled with pretty heavy metal bands like Slipknot. It came close, but didn't quite hit the mark based on what I indicated.
Beats Music is a great service, and it is sure to become an influencer on iTunes music as these two services fall under the same parent company.
These are just a handful of the options out there right now. Amazon has added music streaming to its Prime service, Rdio is an excellent platform for music discovery, and MySpace continues to feature music from both mainstream and independent artists.
Have a favorite music service you would like to share? Leave us a comment below and let us know!