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The Cheapskate’s Guide to Music Streaming

Paying $10 per month isn’t the only way

(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

When Apple launched the iTunes Music Store in 2003, it decreed that every song would cost just 99 cents. That was a striking level of uniformity to apply to an industry that has often offered its product at varying prices based on the star power of an artist, the whims of retailers, and the general willingness of consumers to pay up. The average price of an album (in 2015 dollars) fell from $24.45 in 1974 to $11.97 in 2014, according to an analysis by Pitchfork.

The single-track download is dying, but the format replacing it has found its own standardized price: $9.99 per month. Over the years, music streaming services have settled on a Hamilton per month as the appropriate price for streaming millions of songs on demand and having the ability to listen to them offline. Rhapsody, one of the first companies to offer a music streaming subscription, offered a streaming catalog of 1 million songs for a ten-spot as early as 2005. When Spotify arrived in the U.S. in 2011 and forced streaming to go mass market, its Premium service cost the same. Ever since, competitors in the streaming space have typically charged a sawbuck (if you know of other antiquated slang for $10, please @ me).

But like everything else on the internet in 2017, this is a vast conspiracy by the powers that be to control you and take away your liberty. Think about it: At $10 per month, how much are these music streaming services asking you to fork over every 12 months? $120. What’s $10 times the number of no. 1 albums by Tidal co-owner Jay Z? $120 (No, the Linkin Park mashup album doesn’t count.) What are the combined ages of Apple Music mascots Drake, Taylor Swift, James Corden, and Young Thug? Also 120. To paraphrase another Apple Music devotee, they don’t want you to pay less than $120 a year for music streaming.

Despite the well-advertised ticket price, there are ways to avoid paying $10 per month for music streaming, and they don’t even have to involve BitTorrent or music video rips. Here we’ve rounded up the best ways to stream at a discount (and still get some of the features you won’t find using YouTube or the free version of Spotify).

Get a Family Plan

Many of the major streaming services offer a steep discount for customers who sign up as a family. Both Apple Music and Spotify allow you to set up six connected premium accounts at a cost of just $15 per month (six individual accounts would cost $60 normally). Each account still has its own independent library, playlists, and listening history, so the experience is the same as it would be on your own. The main difference comes in payment. A single account is billed for the cost of the subscription each month on Spotify. On Apple Music, that main account is billed for all App Store purchases, including games and movies.

Savings: Up to $90 per year

Go to College

Because corporations believe they can manipulate teens’ mushy, impressionable brains to develop “lifelong habits,” they’re willing to give kids steep discounts on digital services. Spotify, Apple Music, and Tidal all offer $5-per-month subscriptions to students at verified colleges or universities in the United States. A word of advice for the younger generation: Hold on to your student email for dear life and milk these discounts until you’re sending your own kids to college. (And while I’m doling out advice, don’t lose your physical student ID until your hair starts graying. They’re often not dated and plenty of museums and tourist attractions offer student discounts too.)

Savings: $60 per year

Buy an Apple Music Gift Card

Apple offers a roundabout discount for people willing to commit to a year of its streaming service up front. You can buy a gift card for a 12-month subscription to Apple Music for $99 on Apple’s website. It’s the perfect gift for that special someone, who happens to be you trying to save a buck.

Savings: $21 per year

Subscribe to Amazon Prime and Maybe Get an Echo

If you like free shipping or streaming movies or video game discounts or physical manifestations of voracious consumerism, you probably already have Amazon Prime. Here’s another reason to get it: Amazon Music Unlimited, the company’s Spotify “killer,” costs only $8 per month or $79 per year for Prime subscribers. There’s also an Echo-only version that costs just $4 per month.

Savings: Up to $72 per year

Get By With Fewer Features

Recently, companies have been offering more limited streaming services at a cheaper price than the traditional $10-per-month premium package. SoundCloud just launched a $5-per-month version of its streaming service called SoundCloud Go. The new version has typical premium features like offline listening, but it will be missing some major artists, like Adele. A $5 version of iHeartRadio’s service allows users to listen to the radio with unlimited skips and to save songs to play on demand, but lacks offline listening. If you’re willing to trade a feature or two for a few dollars saved, you can still get a pretty robust streaming offering.

Savings: $60 per year

Live in the Shadows With Fake Email Addresses

All the major streaming services offer free trials, usually varying in length from one to three months. Typically you need an email address and a credit card to sign up for such trials. One could, theoretically, make up a new email address every month and keep using a streaming service indefinitely. But is that really the way you want to live? Having your playlists wiped away every month, giving no money to artists, and fearing that Apple cops will one day be putting you in handcuffs as they recite the iTunes Store Terms and Conditions out loud? This is a dark path. Think carefully before you walk it.

Savings: $120 per year (but you lose your self-respect)