In the beginning, the music gods created online streaming, and it was very good. But as more and more competitors crowded into the space for a piece of the totally unprofitable pie, the quality of the streaming experience on each individual platform began to suffer. Go on this service to get the newest Drake album, but on that one for the newest Beyoncé project. If you want to sift through cleverly curated playlists and be served algorithmically personalized playlists, that’ll cost you two separate streaming subscriptions. If you’d like video to go with your audio, that’ll be yet another account.
The industry seems to be aware that the current model is unsustainable, and thus the steaming cannibalism has begun. Apple set up its on-demand streaming service by acquiring Beats, and Pandora is prepping its own Spotify killer after snapping up Rdio. Over the summer, there were rumors that Apple would buy Tidal, likely in order to cozy up to its superstar artists, while this week the Financial Times reported that Spotify is interested in acquiring SoundCloud so it can scoop up access to its underground music scene. Acquisitions are the fastest way to bring order to the unruly sector.
What will a major music streaming service look like after it’s gobbled up a variety of technologies, feature sets, and licensing agreements via acquisitions? Will it be a streaming utopia that includes every major album, great recommendation products, and deals for cheap concert tickets?
Probably not. But what if you could build that service, the way you could a fantasy football team? It’s not happening organically, but perhaps you could Frankenstein together the perfect music platform. The rules are simple: I’ve listed the major unique selling points of 10 major online music services below. Pick the five features that are most essential to your ideal music experience.
- Discover Weekly/Fresh Finds: Playlists geared toward helping you find new music.
- Collaborative Playlists: Build playlists with your Facebook friends.
- Social Features: Creep on your friends’ listening habits, follow their playlists.
- Running Algorithm: Custom playlist in which the tempo of the songs selected matches your running pace.
- Curated Playlists: 14,000 playlists hand-selected by music experts.
- The Drake Factor: Early and sometimes exclusive access to music and videos from Apple-promoted artists like Drake, Frank Ocean, and Taylor Swift.
- Apple TV Shows: Including Carpool Karaoke, a show about the app economy, and programming produced by Dr. Dre.
- Beats 1: A 24-hour live radio station featuring famous DJs and shows hosted by artists including Drake and St. Vincent.
- The Beyoncé Factor: Early and sometimes exclusive access to music and videos from artists such as Beyoncé, Prince, Jay Z, Kanye West, and Rihanna.
- Concert Tickets: Major artists like Beyoncé often do tour presales through Tidal.
- Concert Livestreams: Weekly live broadcasts of performances by major artists.
Napster (formerly Rhapsody)
- “Tinder for Music Lovers”: Get a music compatibility score with other Napster users based on your listening habits.
- SongMatch: A Shazam-like feature to scan and ID songs you hear while out and about.
- Playlist Import: Bring over your playlists from Spotify and other services.
- Song Lyrics: They scroll across the app in time to the music.
- The Best Internet Radio: It’s highly customizable and good at surfacing new music.
- The Biggest Catalog: The service’s 100 million–plus tracks include up-and-coming artists, mixtapes, one-off tracks from stars, remixes, and DJ sets.
- Official and Unofficial Music Videos: Not only do you get the official Adele video for “Hello” but some of the awesome remixes as well.
- No YouTube Ads: Even on nonmusic content.
- PewDiePie Exclusives: And original videos from other YouTube creators.
Google Play Music
- Contextual Playlists: Lists powered by Songza correspond to specific times of day, days of the week, or activities (studying, partying, barbecuing, etc.).
- Upload Your Library: Add your personal music files to your streaming library via cloud storage.
- Mixtapes: Comprehensive collection of hip-hop mixtapes.
- Spotify’s Collaborative Playlists
- Spotify’s Discover Weekly/Fresh Finds
- Apple Music’s Curated Playlists
- Tidal’s Beyoncé Factor
- DatPiff’s Mixtapes
Spotify’s collaborative playlists have become a key way that I soundtrack my summers, so I’d have to keep those. I also really enjoy the Discover Weekly playlists and like the company’s overall approach of using the wisdom of the crowd to craft compelling discovery products. But I’d also like to have Apple Music’s hand-curated playlists, which are more digestible (often around 20 tracks) and can be used in an almost academic way to learn more about an artist’s or producer’s catalog. All these features would be better with an expanded catalog, and I’d rather have the DatPiff mixtapes than the weird EDM remixes that populate SoundCloud. Finally, I’d add Tidal’s slate of exclusives so I could delve deeper into the Prince discography, stream Lemonade at my leisure, and not have to make up a new email address for a Tidal free trial every time Kanye decides to release a new song.