Between Xbox Music Book and the release of Windows 8/Windows Phone 8 apps for Spotify, Rhapsody, Nokia Music+, and other services in recent weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about online music services again. And with Pandora announcing this week that it has crossed the 200 million customer mark, the service jumps, if temporarily, to the top of the list again.
Things change. And online music services, certainly, are a moving target. This makes it difficult to recommend specific services over others depending on the day. And each time I think I’ve arrived at a small handful of services I can use and guiltlessly recommend, a service will be updated with a crucial new feature or capability—Google Music adding matching, for example, or Nokia Music+ arriving on Windows 8/RT—and the equation is reset yet again.
I’ll continue struggling with this stuff, with the understanding that what I use and recommend will no doubt continue to evolve as the services changes and improve. But sometimes it’s worthwhile to step back and recognize that some services, regardless of my own use or recommendation, are hitting no-brainer territory. Pandora is such a service.
For the record, my family uses and, yes, even pays for Pandora. Mostly my wife, who accesses it on her phone and PC, in the car, her office, and in the kitchen. I can’t say I use it regularly, but that’s mostly because I’m testing so many services and because Xbox Music Pass, which I do pay for and use, offers some Pandora-like functionality.
And that’s the trick.
Pandora is what I think of as an Internet radio service. It lets you create “stations”—“mixes,” or “dynamic playlists”—of music that are based on a seed artist, genre, or composer, helping you find music you might like since its similar to music you do like. You can then rate music as it plays (thumbs up, thumbs down) to help further hone the service’s musical selections to your tastes. Or you can “add variety” to a station by adding another seed artist, genre, or composer to mix things up.
The service is available free, but that version has a few limitations as you might imagine, including occasional ads, a monthly listening limit (40 hours) on mobile devices, a limit of 6 song skips per hour (and 12 per day), and middling streaming quality. The Pandora One subscription—which we pay for—is just $36 a year and drops the ads and skipping limits while raising the audio quality to 192 Kbps and providing access to a Windows desktop application.
For many people, Pandora is all the music they’ll need. For others, like music lovers with big music collections or specific song needs, Pandora, or other Internet radio services, are just the starting point. Part of the appeal of Xbox Music, if they ever get it right, is that it combines this type of capability with a wide range of other features that span the capabilities of other types of music services. But there are smaller steps up from Pandora too, like Spotify or Nokia Music+, both of which combine Internet radio capabilities with offline playback (download songs, play them while disconnected) for an additional fee.
I’ll try to write up something about the options soon, but as noted previously this is a moving target that is hard to document. This much is clear, however. If you are looking for an Internet radio service, Pandora should be in the mix (ahem). It’s big and popular enough to be around for a while—heck, it’s been in business for almost a decade—and its pervasive enough on mobile devise to be available to you no matter which platforms you prefer.
Note: I should also point out that the equivalent of Pandora One is free for Windows Phone 8 users throughout 2013. Check out Windows Phone 8 App Pick: Pandora for more information.