Missed Out on the Spotify US Launch? Try These Alternatives
It’s been about a week since the much-celebrated US launch date of the streaming music service Spotify. In that time, countless reviewers have gushed about how awesome it is, with some even claiming it will single-handedly save the music industry. So, what is Spotify, exactly? Spotify is a piece of software that looks a lot like iTunes. To the left of the screen there are folders and playlists. In the center, a list of songs. You can search, re-arrange, and play music like you would in Windows Media Player or any similar program. Except this music isn’t yours, exactly, and it isn’t on your computer. Instead, it’s a collection of 15 million songs that will stream to your computer on demand. The basic service is free and ad-supported, and for $5 a month you can get rid of the ads. For $10, you can take the music with you on your smartphone.
That’s all well and good, but there is a catch: Spotify is, for now, invitation only. So unless you’re a music critic or fanatical early adopter, you’ll have to just sit back, wait, and admire the hyperbole.
But there’s no reason to wait without music. Below, you’ll find a list of free, streaming music services that will keep the silence at boredom at bay in the meantime. Some of these are actually quite similar to Spotify itself. Enjoy.
At first glance, Grooveshark might be mistaken for Spotify. Both have an enormous collection of songs that stream on demand, and both bear some resemblance to iTunes. They even have similar price points with Grooveshark charging $9 a month to stream to smartphones.
In one way, at least, Grooveshark even has an advantage: You can play music from Grooveshark from within your web browser without the need to download any software, submit an email address or, of course, wait for an invitation.
There are drawbacks, of course. For one, Grooveshark has fewer songs, though exactly how many songs Grooveshark has is subject to debate. Their library is full of duplicate recordings. The other big drawback? Grooveshark doesn’t exactly have the blessing of the recording industry. While it’s still a ways off from being forcibly shut down, major companies are hesitant to associate themselves with Grooveshark. This is why the Grooveshark app was pulled from the iOS App Store.
Though considerably less well-known than either Spotify or Grooveshark, Cantio has the potential to be a real contender. The layout resembles both of the above, but with a slightly more slick, Mac-like interface. Cantio also plays millions of songs, right from your browser, free of charge.
Cantio has one clear advantage over Grooveshark; they are not in danger of having Big Music close their doors. Rather than hosting the songs themselves, Cantio opts instead to cleverly play the audio from videos hosted on YouTube. If anyone wants to make a claim of copyright violation, they’d better take it up with YouTube’s parent company, Google. Good luck with that.
But Cantio isn’t perfect. While it’s free to use, there isn’t the option to stream music to mobile devices. The music in the library is a bit spotty, too. Lots of tracks are low-quality live recordings, and there are plenty of glaring omissions. At least there aren’t any ads.
Turntable.fm has been earning nearly as much buzz as Spotify, and with good reason. Turntable.fm will not only play just about any song you want; it will play these songs in an innovative and addictive way.
When you fire up the site, you will be asked to either join a room or create a new one. If you create a new room, you can select songs from a sizable library of music, or even upload your own, then play it as a kind of radio station. Others can join in, rate your selections, and pick the next song to play. If you join a room, you’ll likely find the party already in full swing.
What really makes Turntable.fm is its fun site design. Users create avatars that dance a little bit more enthusiastically when you rate a song positively. When it’s your turn to pick a song, the avatar takes the DJ’s seat behind a laptop. There’s also a built-in chat system that produces little word bubbles for the avatars.
It remains to be seen whether Turntable.fm will attract the wrath of the record industry, but so far it seems fine. For now the only obvious drawback is that you need to have a friend on Facebook who is already a member in order to join. It’s not quite as strict as Spotify’s invitation requirement, though. If you don’t have a friend who’s already on there, you probably won’t have much trouble finding one.
And the Rest…
If you don’t need to play every song in existence, you’ll probably do well to try Pandora. Pandora is the online music-player to beat. It will make custom radio stations based on a song or artist selected by the user, then play that music continuously. It is free and ad-supported, even on smartphones.
Hype Machine is another solid choice. This site aggregates free music that is posted to a wide variety of music blogs. Once you find a few blogs that you like, Hype Machine can generate custom radio stations. Hype Machine doesn’t have the breadth of Pandora, but it’s especially good as a new music discovery tool.
If, after all these options, you still just have to have that Spotify account, do not lose hope. You’ll get your invite eventually. Or, if you want to cut in line, you can try these sneaky Spotify tips from Lifehacker.
Have your own favorite streaming music service? Please share in the comments.