The ST Guide to... subscribing to and buying music online

Find out how best to download and stream music with our guide.
Find out how best to download and stream music with our guide. PHOTO: ST FILE

These are heady days for music fans. The universal jukebox scenario, in which any song that you can think of can be listened to any time and anywhere has, for the most part, become reality.

With a variety of streaming services available for free, the question you might have is - why pay for music?

The short answer is that music, like other creative works, has value. The money you pay for recorded music on digital and physical formats, or streaming subscriptions, help to compensate for the time and effort put in by singers, songwriters, musicians, composers and many others responsible for the songs that you listen to.

If you spend a lot of time online, whether on a computer or your mobile devices, there are plenty of streaming and download services to choose from, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.

Paying for the premium services gets you a whole host of extra services that the free tiers lack, including exclusive access to certain artists or new releases.

Find one to suit your needs with our guide.










Headphones are seen in front of a logo of online music streaming service Spotify in this illustration picture. PHOTO: REUTERS

Spotify is available on all major platforms, whether you are using an iPhone, an Android tablet, your computer, television, PlayStation, smart watch or even in cars.

A premium subscription costs $9.90 per month after a 30-day free trial. Unlike the free service, you do not have to put up with annoying ads in between songs, you can skip songs that you do not want to hear, and you can access higher quality audio. More importantly, you can listen to the songs offline when you are not connected to the internet. Do note that the offline songs are only available only if you continue paying for the premium subscription. In other words, you do not own digital copies of the songs.

The service offers more than 30 million songs, although users in Singapore might not have access to all the songs due to reasons such as regional copyright restrictions. There are also major stars like Taylor Swift who have withheld most of their music from Spotify.

Still, it is fast becoming one of the most popular ways to listen to music in Singapore. According to Spotify, two in five Singaporeans with internet access use its services.


 iPhones showing Apple Music, a music-streaming service. Apple Music combines a digital music service, a worldwide 24/7 live radio station and music downloads from its iTunes Store into a single app. PHOTO: APPLE

It has about the same number of songs as Spotify, over 30 million, but its advantage is that Apple Music has many exclusive releases not available on other streaming services.

For example, if you want to stream Britney Spears' new album Glory when it comes out on Aug 26, you can only do so through Apple Music. Drake's highly anticipated album Views was a similar exclusive back when it launched in April.

The premium service costs $9.98 per month, with the first three months free. What you get are extras like offline listening and access to Apple Music radio stations. Like Spotify, it is also available on many platforms like Apple and Android smartphones, computers, the Apple Watch and in cars.


Screenshot of Tidal. PHOTO: TIDAL

Aside from 30-day trials, Tidal does not offer free streaming. The most compelling reason to subscribe to the service owned by music stars like Jay Z, Beyonce and Kanye West are the quality exclusive releases.

Some of the more high-profile releases this year could only be found on Tidal when they launched, including Beyonce's "visual album" Lemonade and Kanye West's The Life Of Pablo.

Tidal also has more songs than Spotify and Apple Music - 40 million - as well as 130,000 music videos.

Subscribers pay $9.99 per month, or $19.99 for audiophiles who prefer higher quality sound. They can access the songs offline and through devices including mobile phones and tablets as well as computers and network music players like the Sonos wireless audio systems.


Icon for music-streaming app, Deezer. PHOTO: DEEZER

Like Tidal, Deezer too has over 40 million songs, but it offers a free service. Premium subscription is $9.90 a month after a 30-day trial and, unlike the free tier, features no ads, offline access and high-quality audio. It is available on various mobile platforms like Apple and Android devices, as well as Blackberry and Windows, the Apple Watch, computers, televisions, hi-fi systems and cars.


Screenshot of KKBOX. KKBOX is known for its extensive Asian music selection.  PHOTO: KKBOX

What sets KKBOX apart from other music streaming services here is its extensive Asian music selection. It has over 30 million songs, including what is touted as the most comprehensive library of Asian pop tunes, including the latest releases by Taiwanese girl group S.H.E and K-pop singer HyunA.

KKBOX's premium service is $9.90 a month after a free seven-day trial and features ad-free and offline listening.  It is available on Apple, Android and Windows mobile devices as well as on the computer.


iTunes is the preferred choice if you wish to keep a digital copy of your favourite songs instead of streaming them. PHOTO: APPLE

If you prefer to keep a digital copy of your music instead of just streaming them, Apple's iTunes store is the way to go. It has over 43 million songs that cost $0.98, $1.28 or $1.48 each. The audio files are of high-quality and are DRM-free, so you can back them up and transfer them to other devices.

If you have multiple devices linked with the same Apple account, the songs you purchase from the iTunes store are available on all of them.

If you want to consolidate all the digital copies of your music library online, whether they are from the iTunes store, any other music services or even ripped from CDs, Apple has a service called iTunes Match. For $31.98 a year, all these songs will be stored on online storage iCloud , and can be streamed or downloaded on up to 10 different devices.


Singtel Music allows for music to be streamed without incurring extra data charges. PHOTO: SINGTEL.

If you stream a lot of music on your mobile devices and do not want to end up incurring extra data charges, telco Singtel has a music service, Singtel Music, which allows customers to stream music from either Spotify, KKBOX or AMPed, as well as free-to-air radio stations from Mediacorp without being charged for data. The service cost starts from $7.90 a month.


Local indie rock band Monster Cat has been reaching out to their audience via Bandcamp. PHOTO: MONSTER CAT

This online music platform is a boon for independent and new artists as well as fans whose music tastes veer away from Top 40 and mainstream music. Depending on the artists, most songs can be streamed for free. Listeners can also pay a set price, or as much as they want for the songs, and most of the money goes directly to the artists themselves. Many popular Singapore acts like grindcore band Wormrot, singer-songwriter Charlie Lim and rapper Shigga Shay sell their music on Bandcamp.

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