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Best free music streaming apps

by Justin Herrick | October 22, 2017October 22, 2017 11:00 am PST

Not everyone needs to pay for music streaming. There are plenty of free alternatives, and many of the popular paid services have free tiers as well. You’ll get the same selection of music but usually without the on-demand capabilities. Free music streaming also requires you to listen to advertisements because, after all, somehow all that content has to be paid for. It may not even be playlists that you’re after. A few services offer access to live radio stations. With that said, you have more than enough choices to go free and still enjoy great music.

Before you subscribe to any service, check out the list we’ve put together here. We’ve picked the very best apps for iOS and Android that you can use to stream music on your devices for free.

Spotify

A fair amount of people don’t realize this, but Spotify does indeed have its own free membership. It’s just very bare. You might not immediately see value in Spotify Free; however, it’s what has allowed Spotify to grow into the world’s most popular music streaming service. All of Spotify’s great technology is still present with a twist.

Spotify will let you pick playlists and stations but you’re limited on skips and will have to sit through ads between every few songs. It’s not too bad, though, because Spotify’s algorithm is among the best in the business. The songs suggested for you are unique, and you even get a personal playlist made every Monday.

Basically everything you do on Spotify Free will be in shuffle mode, meaning you’re not getting much choice as to what you listen to. But again, it’s the algorithm that keeps the music in your ears fresh and enjoyable. And, while limited on them, you are getting skips to use on a daily basis.

With Spotify Premium, you’re paying $9.99 per month for a familiar set of features. A paid subscription to Spotify unlocks ad-free listening, unlimited skips, offline playback, on-demand listening, and high quality tracks. Students get an even better deal in which Spotify Premium and Hulu are paired together for $4.99 per month. Do you need all that? Maybe, but we’re pushing free choices today.

Because Spotify is the most popular, nearly every connected device you have will be compatible. That’s a big advantage. You can easily use Spotify on your phone, tablet, television, sound bar, and other devices.

Download: iOS, Android

Google Play Music

Don’t overlook the music streaming service from Google. Play Music is actually really good. Unfortunately the company doesn’t give it proper attention, and that’s why you rarely hear about Play Music in any conversations.

The idea behind Play Music is that your mood, activities, and tastes should shape what you’re listening to. Google leverages its machine learning for music streaming as well. Play Music understands who you are, where you’re located, and what things you like before serving up tailored playlists and stations.

If you’re struggling to get through the workday, Play Music can suggest the Broadway Bangers playlist to boost your energy. If you want an instant throwback, check out the ’70s One-Hit Wonders playlist on Throwback Thursday. These playlists, however, are unique to you. Anyone who’s never listened to the type of music in the aforementioned playlists won’t see them suggested. You’re only getting suggested content based on what you’ve already listened to, and Play Music is always changing the song selection with the same or similar artists.

You can pay for premium access to Play Music and get ad-free, on-demand access to a library of 40 million songs. Yet we’ve found the recommendations of playlists, stations, and songs on Google’s music streaming service to be so solid that the limited number of skips with occasional ads is very tolerable.

Play Music also lets you store up to 50,000 songs from your own collection for free. That’s handy for people who downloaded music over the years and don’t want to lose a single song.

Download: iOS, Android

iHeartRadio

When modern smartphones became a thing a little over a decade ago, two companies received all the attention in music streaming. iHeartRadio and Pandora became the go-to services for anyone seeking to fulfill their music-related needs. Pandora fell behind due to rising competition, but iHeartRadio’s parent company infused the platform with live radio stations to keep it relevant. iHeartRadio was and still is a service built on custom stations as well as traditional ones.

The parent company, iHeartMedia, owns the largest number of radio stations in the United States. Thousands of FM and AM stations from your area and beyond are built into the iHeartRadio app. On top of that, you get to create personalized stations from a library of millions of songs. Just tell iHeartRadio the genres and artists you like, and the rest is handled automatically. So you quickly go from listening to Z100 (WHTZ) in New York City to jamming out to your own classic rock playlist.

iHeartRadio’s premium subscription comes in two forms, and neither of them seems worth the money. If you really think you should spend on a music streaming service, go with Spotify, Google Play Music, or Apple Music. The real benefit for iHeartRadio is the presence of thousands of radio stations from around the world.

Download: iOS, Android

TuneIn

TuneIn is similar to iHeartRadio. It merges traditional radio stations with themed stations. We’re recommending TuneIn and iHeartRadio with each other because the radio stations found on one are not on the other. TuneIn doesn’t own its own radio stations, but the service does have a major deal with CBS Radio. That gives you access to more than 100 stations you won’t find on iHeartRadio. Altogether you’ll find over 100,000 radio stations on TuneIn.

What’s missing from this service is a way to create personalized stations. If radio stations aren’t cutting it, you’ll need to choose a pre-made stations on TuneIn that can’t have songs skipped. That’s exactly why TuneIn and iHeartRadio, which are clear rivals, pair so well. Together you’re getting every radio station and the ability to have skip-friendly stations made for you.

News, sports, podcasts, and audiobooks are also very popular on TuneIn. Need a break from all that smooth jazz? Switch over to ESPN Radio or FOX Sports Radio to hear debate or live events.

The only reason you should upgrade to TuneIn Premium for $7.99 per month is for the sports content. The service is home to NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL games. Keep in mind that, if you like local teams, you can just stream local radio stations for all games.

Download: iOS, Android

SoundCloud

SoundCloud goes against the grain. It’s not the place to listen to mega-stars with the latest hits. This is a music streaming service for artists on the rise and artists who are trying to make names for themselves. And SoundCloud’s been successful at doing so. It hosts over 120 million songs from many artists you’ve never heard of but should check out.

Once you listen to music on SoundCloud for a bit, the algorithm goes to work and starts suggesting songs based on your likes and listening habits. There are also charts on SoundCloud. You can see who’s the all-time best in different categories and which newbies are rising. It’s all free, and you still get to create your own playlists and share them with friends. The close-knit nature of SoundCloud also makes it possible to communicate directly with artists.

Offline listening costs $4.99 per month, and another $5 is added if you’d like to get music from the popular labels in the industry. The monthly subscription is worth it as long as you’re someone who has deep appreciation for the non-mainstream scene.

Download: iOS, Android


Justin Herrick

Justin is easily attracted to power buttons. His interest in technology started as a child in the 1990s with the original PlayStation, and two...

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