Your One-Stop Digital Music Shop

The GRAMMY magazine digital listeners/buyers primer offers you a lay of the virtual music land
October 20, 2011 -- 10:17 am PDT

(The following is an excerpt from "Got Music If You Want It," a feature published in the fall issue of GRAMMY magazine that details legal digital music outlets spanning various categories. To read the feature in its entirety, click here.)

A little less than a decade ago, there were essentially two choices if you were a consumer of digital music: then-illegal sites such as Napster and Apple's iTunes.

Today, there are dozens of legally sanctioned outlets serving up digital music in all kinds of varieties and offering various subscriptions and fee structures. There are Internet radio stations that stream music by genre, download stores where you can buy from a selection of millions of tracks, ad-supported free streaming services, mobile listening options, and even sites that are virtual music social networks.

This is all good news. Music fans truly have more choices, with fewer restrictions, than ever before to enjoy the music they love.

But is there bad news? Maybe. Like many growing industries, there are few standards out there, and products that may or may not be around a few years from now.

Our goal with the GRAMMY magazine digital listeners/buyers primer is to provide a lay of the virtual land, with a select list of services in various categories to give readers a sense of what they do well, not so well and the chances they'll be doing it by the time you lease your next car.

It's not an exhaustive list, but it does attempt to cull the main players, and will hopefully introduce you to a few options you haven't yet tried.

The virtual music store is open. Take a browse around.

(Note: Inclusion in the music services listing does not imply an endorsement from The Recording Academy.)

Streaming Services:


What it does
: Blends a subscription-streaming music service with a music-focused social network and blog that concentrates heavily on music influencers

Why it works: Fantastic mobile app sets the bar for on-the-go streaming. Aggressive integration into car audio systems

What doesn't quite work: Might be too complex for the average music fan or those new to the digital environment

Ease of use: Overall, MOG is one of the slicker interfaces out there for both its Web and mobile app, and even features a new HTML5 Chrome extension

Odds it will exist in five years: Fair. For all its plusses, MOG has struggled to find an audience

What it does
: Pretty much what every other music subscription service does...lets users stream or buy music online and via a mobile app

Why it works: One of the better deals around — offering $5-per-month, Web-only subscriptions that also include five free downloads per month

What doesn't quite work: Smart phone app is a little basic and simple, no real social features to speak of, clunky search results

Ease of use: Simple and safe strategy. Plus: easy to use. Minus: dull

Odds it will exist in five years: 50-50. Rhapsody has finalized a deal to acquire Napster, leaving its future up in the air

What it does
: Subscription music service with a presence on home computers, smart phones and Apple's iPad

Why it works: Smart blend of social networking and streaming music, allowing users to follow each other's listening history, create collaborative playlists and share songs via Twitter

What doesn't quite work: Social features are hindered by a lack of mass adoption

Ease of use: Relatively simple, but some users have complained about “too many clicks” to find and connect with friends

Odds it will exist in five years: Iffy. Rdio launched with much fanfare, but has met the market with a whimper

What it does
: Subscription-streaming service, Internet radio, curated playlists, and music recommendations

Why it works: Strong editorial voice and recommendations. Compatible with many in-home media systems

What doesn't quite work: Mobile app is slow. Doesn't integrate well with users' existing music libraries

Ease of use: Basic functions are relatively straightforward, but overall the interface is unnecessarily cramped and truncated

Odds it will exist in five years: Good. Rhapsody has survived since 2001 and has seen a steady increase in subscribers

What it does
: Lets users stream music on both a subscription and ad-supported free basis online and via mobile phones

Why it works: Limited free tier is a smart customer acquisition strategy that is unique among streaming services. Easy playlist-sharing features

What doesn't quite work: No editorial or music recommendations to speak of. Catalog has noticeable gaps (hello Beatles…)

Ease of use: Designed to replicate the iTunes user interface, which is both familiar and intuitive

Odds it will exist in five years: Good. Ten million users across Europe and approximately 2 million in the United States since this summer's launch 

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