Battle for ears intensifies

Last year, pop star Taylor Swift pulled her entire music catalogue from Spotify.
Last year, pop star Taylor Swift pulled her entire music catalogue from Spotify.

APPLE unveiled a new music streaming service this month that will include curated internet radio, music on demand and new artist recommendations - things that have already been on offer for years through other online platforms. So why is the spotlight, all of a sudden, on Apple's move?

What is music streaming?

Music streaming allows you to listen to music directly via the internet through your computer, mobile phone and other devices. The listener "streams" a song or album in real time rather than buying it for keeps and storing it on their computer. It's like Netflix, but for music.

Who are the major players?

The two biggest players in music streaming are Swedish company Spotify and US company Pandora. Others include French company Deezer, Google Play, Samsung's Milk app and local players JB Hi-Fi and Guvera. There are 18 available in Australia. They each have vast music libraries to browse, with the major players boasting about 30 million tracks and counting.

What are the main differences?

Some of these platforms, like Spotify's premium service, offer music on-demand, allowing you to listen to whichever track or album you want to. Others, such as Pandora, do not offer on-demand but create tailored playlists based on what music you like. Most streaming services also offer curated content, such as playlists in particular genres or compiled by guest artists.

How much do they cost?

Some services, such as iHeart Radio, are free and supported wholly by advertising. Others are subscription only, such as the recently relaunched TIDAL streaming service, owned by US rapper Jay-Z. A TIDAL subscription starts at $11.99 per month. Spotify and Pandora have "freemium" streaming services, which offer both a premium, paid subscription service and an ad-supported service with restricted content or features.

So What is Apple Music?

Apple Music is a revamped version of the company's existing music services - including the iTunes store and iTunes Radio - combined with some new goodies. These include Beats1, a live internet radio station broadcast 24/7 from New York, Los Angeles and London.

The streaming service will include both on-demand music and curated playlists. The iPhone's voice search feature, Siri, will know Apple Music back to front - for instance, if you ask her to play number one hits from the '90s, she'll serve them up for you right away. Like its rivals, it will also suggest new music based on your listening habits.

Why is Taylor Swift on Apple Music, but not on Spotify's "freemium" service?

Late last year, US' favourite country-turned-pop superstar pulled her entire music catalogue from Spotify's free, ad-supported service.

Advertising generates less revenue per listener than paid subscriptions.

Spotify pools the revenue together before doling out royalties to record companies. Spotify argues that without a free, ad-supported tier to draw listeners in, it would not have the 20 million paid subscribers it boasts today. Swift, Jay-Z's TIDAL backers and other critics argue the freemium model devalues artists' work and that paid subscriptions must be promoted.

Music streaming has been around for years, so why is Apple Music grabbing attention?

One problem with music streaming to date, content creators say, is that it hasn't reached a big enough scale to generate meaningful returns for them.

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, which represents the record industry worldwide, says streaming accounted for just 14 per cent of total music revenue last year. Downloads of music tracks, and of course physical music sales of CDs and records, made up the rest. However, analysts believe Apple's brand power, gigantic customer base and relationships with record companies may finally bring music streaming into the mainstream.


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