Maybe you don’t want to spend $1.29 per song on iTunes, maybe you’re tired of hearing “Wrecking Ball” being played every 20 minutes on the radio, or maybe you just want to discover some new music. These music apps–some of which are popular and some of which are relatively unknown–are perfect for listening to free music and for finding new artists.
Pandora: 4.5 stars Pandora is probably the most popular of the available apps. Many other apps have copied Pandora’s model–the user enters an artist or song, and the app plays related music. On Pandora, it is easy to narrow down stations by giving a song a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, or by adding another, related artist to the station. One downside of Pandora is that there are lots of ads, including some that stop the music. Overall, Pandora is a safe choice with an easily navigable app.
Spotify: 4 stars Spotify gives access to a huge variety of songs, including many brand-new albums–it’s like having a free iTunes library. Instead of relying on a radio component, the user creates their own playlists, which they can listen to as many times as they want. This model is good because it allows for more choice, but it can make it difficult to discover new artists. Spotify is available for free on the computer, and a mobile, ad-free subscription is $10.
Songza: 4.5 stars Songza is a free app which focuses on the genre and mood of the music. Upon entering the website or the app, there is a prompt to pick a playlist based on mood–options range from “boosting your energy” to “relaxing at home”, and change depending on the time of day. Songza has no ads and no limits on skipping songs, making it possible to listen for hours without interruption. The playlists contain many talented but yet-unknown artists, making it a top choice for discovering up-and-coming songs. However, it can be difficult to find exactly the right music, because it’s impossible to search by artist.
Ex.fm: 2 stars Ex.fm, like Songza, focuses on the music’s genre more than specific artists. Each genre has a corresponding playlist, which is created based on users’ likes and dislikes. The ex.fm playlists are cohesive and contain a good balance of popular and unfamiliar artists. However, the app is lacking in variety because playlists cannot be narrowed down past genres like “pop” or “country.”
Slacker Radio: 3.5 stars Slacker Radio combines the artist-based stations of Pandora with a variety of non-musical radio stations. The first option is to enter the name of an artist or song, and the app will start a station from there. Additionally, there are many preset stations to choose from. Some are based on genre and made by the app, while other choices range from ESPN to the Weather Channel. Because of this, Slacker Radio could easily be the only app needed for music and for information. One downside is that the mobile app is difficult to navigate, and some of the stations are hard to find. The app is free, but an ad-free, accessible-offline option is available for $10 a month.
Rdio: 4 stars Rdio is similar to Spotify in that it offers virtually every artist and a huge variety of genres. A Rdio account allows unlimited listening to any artist or album, as well as many pre-made playlists. The bad news is that the account is expensive: $5 per month for a web-only account, and $10 for a mobile account. However, once the account is made an unlimited amount of tracks can be played without ads. Rdio has a simple interface, and both its site and its app are easy to navigate.