The decline in physical album sales is a phenomenon that has been hitting the music industry hard since the arrival of mp3 files in the mid-1990s. However, it is the arrival of streaming platforms that definitely concludes this process of “dematerializing” music. As evidence that the revolution continues to advance, a Nielsen poll recently reported that 53% of Canadians now listen to music from smart phones. In addition, 26% of Canadians’ total listening time is done via streaming platforms. If the streaming principle is always the same, some commercial platforms respond better than others to the particular needs of music lovers. Here are some suggestions about platforms designed to meet various preferences.
Founded in 2006, the Swedish company Spotify is now one of the most popular streaming platforms with 140 million registered users. This success is partly explained by its vast catalog of over 30 million songs. Unlike many of its competitors, Spotify offers free access to its services, subject to certain constraints: advertisements periodically interrupt the listening and the selection of tracks is random within a single album. However, it is possible to enjoy access without the ads by subscribing to one of Spotify’s paid packages. Of these, the family package allows several people to benefit from a single subscription. The only negative point is that Spotify’s audio quality may vary from 96 KB/s to 320 KB/s, depending on the user’s account settings. Available via its mobile app or directly from the website, www.spotify.com.
Spotify’s main competitor, the computer giant Apple, launched its own streaming platform in 2015, at a time when several other companies already shared the market. Despite the delay, Apple Music quickly found customers and has become one of the more popular platforms. The musical offering is similar to that of Spotify, with a claimed catalog of 40 million songs. However, Apple Music differs from its rival in that it requires a monthly subscription. Several options are available, including student and family packages. Importantly, its audio quality does not exceed 256 KB/s, slightly below the average of the major streaming platforms. Available via the Apple app or the iTunes program on your computer. www.apple.com/ca/fr/apple-music
Although it is not a major streaming platform, SoundCloud has the particularity of offering a catalog that focuses on emerging music. Designed as both a broadcast platform and a networking service, SoundCloud enables its users to promote and distribute their own music projects. Initially a free service, the platform has been forced to adopt a paid formula for much of its catalog, following pressure from major players in the industry. If you use SoundCloud’s free service, you have somewhat restricted access. If you use its Go+ subscription, however, you enjoy access to its full library of 150 million tracks without advertisements. Unlike other platforms, you also have the right to download and upload songs and podcasts. The space available for uploading songs — just like audio quality — varies with the package. Available via mobile app or directly from the website, www.soundcloud.com.
Tidal (LSM Choice)
To this day Tidal remains the main streaming option for audiophiles in search of high fidelity. A subscription-only platform, it offers songs and video clips from files compiled in lossless compression formats. For example, the catalog of 48.5 million songs and 175,000 video clips is available in ACC (320 KB/s), FLAC (16-bit/44.1 kHz), and MQA (24-bit equivalent/192 kHz) formats. However, it costs twice the price of an average streaming package to benefit from such superior sound quality. Note that it is of course necessary to have a high-fidelity system for listening; otherwise the difference cannot be appreciated. In addition, Tidal has the advantage of paying more royalties to artists than its competitors. Available via its app or directly from its website, www.tidal.com.
For classical music lovers, the French distribution platform Medici.tv offers a catalog of over 1800 video recordings of concerts, operas and ballets, as well as numerous documentaries, interviews and masterclasses. The service also offers live coverage of concerts taking place around the globe. Subscribers can thus attend many summer events via the internet, such as the Salzburg Festival, the Verbier Festival or the Lucerne Festival. Although a free subscription is available, it gives access only to live broadcasts, and the number of views is limited. Medici’s paid options offer unlimited access to the video catalog, the ability to watch live music on mobile devices, and better audio and video quality. Available via Chromecast and Airplay apps or on the website, www.medici.tv.
Suggestions for reading and musical discoveries
Faced with the growing number of musical offerings on the major streaming platforms, it can be difficult for listeners to discover the new material that meets their preferences. Thus the streaming platforms have developed recommendation algorithms to guide their users toward promising music. For example, Spotify offers a “Discover Weekly” tool that gives its users a weekly selection based on their listening habits. Apple Music offers a similar service, as well as a streaming radio channel featuring popular songs of the day.