State of Music Streaming Services in 2017

For me computers and the internet have always been primarily a way to discover, obtain and listen to music.

There are many platforms still trying to own this space. While Spotify has established itself as a winner of the streaming wars, Apple Music has quickly grabbed about half as many users and every other player has jumped into the game as well (save for Facebook and Microsoft).

I use and pay for several music services and am glad to see that there is differentiation in content, UX and feature sets that make it worth experimenting with each. 

Here's a breakdown of where each shines and comes up short. I've excluded Apple Music since I do not use iOS. In all cases except for Soundcloud, I'm using the premium or ads-free version because this is a hard requirement for me when listening to music.

Spotify

Strengths

Stellar and always improving UX. 

Best organization for OCD collectors: library with multi-layered playlist folders.

Automated creation of recommended playlists: Release Rotation and 5 Daily Mixes. This delivery mechanism means you don't have to go looking for recommendations - they are right there in your app waiting to be played. 

The only service with a truly social listening component.

Weaknesses

Search sucks, especially on mobile.

No way to listen to your music files. There is a hacky way to move files from your computer to your phone, but not make them universally available.

Best for

Anything social. Dj'ing a party with friends, sharing tracks or albums, making collaborative playlists. 

Google Music

Strengths

Excellent search (duh, google). Search will auto-suggest titles that may not have even been released yet to provide similar content.

Same library as Spotify as far as I can tell.

The best radio. When you start a radio station for a song you are already playing, the app will continue playing the song and initiate an excellent radio station. This is my go-to discover-similar flow. The caveat is that you need to have an input song/artist/album in mind.

Upload 50,000 of your own songs and listen to them on any device. This is the standout feature that makes me have to pay for this. I have lots of concert mp3s and ephemeral, internet releases that no longer exist on the web, and this is the only way to access them.

Weaknesses

Web app is clunky and slow compared to native and mobile apps.

Sharing is brutal. The only other person I know on the service is on my family plan and when we share links they sometimes go to the play store to buy the album. I will sometimes find something I want to share, pull it up in Spotify and share there.

Best for

Exploring a new genre or artist you just found out about. Preserving your otherwise lost mp3s.

Youtube

Strengths

Like Google Music, the recommendations are great. You can play a video and let the "related videos" auto-play for what seems like days.

Massive library of legitimately uploaded new singles, out of print obscure records and video footage.

Weaknesses

There is just too much content and you need input or a recently played video to find the next piece.

Like the others, it requires a paid subscription for ad-free playback, but also for background playing on your phone (without keeping it on the screen). This means there's no good way to test Youtube as a music player without upgrading.

The Youtube Music app for Android is confusing and doesn't work as well as the regular app. Not sure why it exists if I can background play music from the original app.

Best for

Concert footage, music videos and out of print records.

Amazon Prime Music

Strengths

Decent web app that's quicker than Google Music.

Upload your own music.

Weaknesses

Upload your own music is limited to 50 songs. The rest will count towards cloud storage subscriptions.

Generic playlists. I recently got: "Top Pop Songs of 2014" and "50 Great 70s Rock Songs". Ugh.

Best for

Nothing I can think of.

Soundcloud

Strengths

Unique content: dj sets, genres made up on the spot.

Radio and recommended content is great.

Listening history is super useful.

Strong social element: reposting and commenting.

Weaknesses

Like Twitter, needs careful curation. My feed is unplayable due to disparate genres and lengths.

Streaming underperforms the other services.

Album teasers suck, especially in feed.

Best for

Partying or listening to last night's dj set.

Bandcamp

Strengths

Exclusive collection that is not available on streaming.

Thriving community of artists, critics/listeners, and staff members.

Browsing by genre, staff picks or charts.

Brings back the digital collection you can buy once and access anywhere.

While all can be streamed there are also options for physical or digital lossless.

Weaknesses

Web player is OK. Since you typically browse albums as separate tabs, it would be great to have a unified player like Soundcloud.

No casting option.

Not for mass appeal.

Best for

Internet "crate" digging on a saturday morning.

Graffiti

I’ve always loved graffiti. It’s mesmerizing to look at; this language of (often repurposed) symbols and alien text of tags. It’s full of interesting contradictions. Cartoony and juvenile, but often gravely serious. Publicly accessible art, yet vandalism.

Whenever Kash and I are visiting a city we head straight for the grungy, previously abandoned - and thus now trendy - areas to see the graffiti.

Here's an assortment of my graffiti photos.

 Wynwood, Miami - 2016

Wynwood, Miami - 2016

 Wynwood, Miami - 2016

Wynwood, Miami - 2016

 East Village, NYC - 2016

East Village, NYC - 2016

 East Side Gallery, Berlin - 2015

East Side Gallery, Berlin - 2015

 Five Points, NYC - 2013

Five Points, NYC - 2013

 Five Points, NYC - 2013

Five Points, NYC - 2013