A beginner’s guide to online music streaming

Remember back in the day when if you wanted to enjoy music, you had to be among the privileged ones that own a phonograph or a Gramophone? I suppose not. How about the Walkman? No? iPod then? I bet you do. The iPod pioneered a trend we are all far too familiar with, storing digital music on our pocket devices so we can enjoy them wherever, whenever.

Smartphones have come a long way and we now use them for virtually everything in our lives. They come with headphone jacks (at least they used to) and tons of onboard storage for all the songs we would like to carry with us. But that’s not quite enough. We want to listen to different tunes at different times and on different occasions. Yes, we could carry as much of our different types of songs on our phones but that brings up another issue. Having too many tracks makes it rather difficult to sort through. So why not let someone else do it for us. Enter the world of online music streaming.

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What is Online Music Streaming?

The basic idea of music streaming is leveraging the power of the web to deliver music on demand to its users. It is a way of delivering sound—including music—without requiring you to download files from the internet.

But then this music isn’t free. The makers of this music have to be paid for their work, right. Music Streaming there is not a free service. Most platforms that offer music streaming service require their users to pay some amount for access. The ones that don’t require payment do support ads so they can generate the revenue to reimburse the artists.

What are some of the Online Music Streaming Platforms?

The most popular services globally include; Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play Music, Pandora, Deezer among many others. Locally, Songa by Safaricom and Boomplayer by Transsion, the company behind brands such as Tecno and Infinix are good examples.

The music industry is governed differently in different parts of the world. This means there are a lot of laws and regulations by governments and authorities that differ from country to country. As such, availability of these platforms relies heavily on these local regulations. This means most of these services are heavily geo-restricted and are available in only a few regions.

Also Read: Spotify debuts in Africa with a launch into the South African market

How does Music Streaming work?

To the geeks out there, I am sorry in advance because I am about to simplify this down to a fault. The music streaming service provider stores a decent size collection of music on their servers. This music is classified and sorted by various criteria including Artist, Album, Genre, Year of release, Mood among many other criteria. A user then signs up, pays the applicable fees and has access to millions of tracks that he/she is free to search and listen to online, often through the platform’s app.

How do I get to start streaming music?

To be able to stream music, first, you need to pick a service that is available and fully supported in your region. In this neck of the words, your options are rather limited to a handful of international platforms like Apple Music and Deezer, and your more local ones like Safaricom Songa for those of us with Safaricom as our carrier.

Most of these services do have apps that work on the major platforms available. For mobile that means iOS and Android. For desktop, Windows, and Mac, although some do offer desktop clients for Linux Operating systems.

How much does it cost?

Well, different platforms offer different rates for their monthly subscription. Most of them, especially the international ones will have you part with a little under $10 per month for unlimited access. As mentioned earlier, however, some do offer a free version of their service with limited functionality, with ads.

One might also have to account for data charges as streaming does require some decent bandwidth. We are getting the songs from the internet after all. While some carriers offer data plans that are tailor-made for these specific needs, most will still charge you the normal rate. As such, for a while music streaming has been viewed as a luxury for people without data issues. Using Wi-Fi or an Unlimited data plan could help cut down this expenditure. Users on data plans with speed caps could still comfortably stream music, provided the speed limit imposed is higher than the streaming bitrate.

Understanding Bitrate

The quality of music from the streaming platform depends on the bitrate. This can be thought of as the amount of detais in the sound being streamed. 320kbps is the highest supported quality on most platforms although 256kbps and sometime 192kbps are also acceptable. Unless you are an audiophile, this won’t matter to you so much. Just try to avoid anything lower than 120kbps, that is often complete garbage-town quality.

320kbps means that, for a seamless streaming experience with zero buffering, you will need an internet speed of at least 320kbps. Streaming at 192kbps means you can comfortably maintain a stable stream with a speed limit of 256kbps.

Which Streaming Services can I try?

Well, as mentioned, there are tons of music streaming platforms out there, the best of which we have listed above. But then most of those are either not available in this part of the world or require a fee to access. Here is a short list of those that you can try out if all you want is to have a feel of the concept, see how it works. Please note that they might have a few too many compromises or limitations.

  1. Deezer-You can take advantage of their 2-week free trial to test the waters on music streaming as a whole.
  2. Songa by Safaricom– Safaricom users might want to check out this one. It offers a 15-day free trial and really affordable plans with easy payment methods.
  3. SoundCloud – For all your mixtapes and all the up and coming artists, try out this free platform.
  4. Jango Radio is a lightweight Pandora rip off. It boasts of custom-made radio stations
  5. AccuRadio is similar to Jango but features a more appealing User Interface.

Also Read: a Quick guide on how to get Spotify in unsupported regions

*While these links are to the Play Store, there are iOS versions on the App Store and in most cases, a web-player too.

Are you into music streaming? Which music streaming platform do you use? Tell us in the comments.

Featured Image Courtesy of Audiofrica