Music is everywhere today. Mobile devices like your iPod or Android phone let you lay down a virtual soundtrack for your life. You can listen to your collection of tunes, stream music, learn what your friends are listening to, and share music -- all while you're on the go. Hundreds of music apps compete with each other, and almost all of them have mobile versions.
What are music apps all about? Can't I just download music from my computer to my mobile devices and listen to it? You can, of course, but mobile apps let you do much more. Apps help you manage your songs. They take your current collection of tunes and let you arrange them into playlists, tag them, rearrange them and add new ones, right from your smartphone or tablet.
What excites many music lovers is the way apps enable you to discover new music that suits your taste. There are thousands of tunes out there, old and new, that you've never heard. Apps give you access to a huge variety of radio stations, streams and sharing services that clue you in to tunes you'll love, no matter what your taste.
Let's take a look at some of the coolest music apps going.
It's been around forever (in tech time, more than 10 years is forever) and has revolutionized music listening and music buying. It's so basic, most of us don't give iTunes a second thought. But it's a powerful software application that lets you acquire, manage and listen to music. Approximately 70 percent of the music downloaded in the U.S. is purchased through the iTunes Store [source: Keizer].
If you have iTunes on your computer, you can coordinate with Apple mobile devices like the iPad and iPhone. You can load music wirelessly for on-the-go listening. Or you can purchase tunes from the iStore and have them delivered directly to your iPhone. A new feature is the iCloud, which lets you store all your music on remote servers, then download to any device you want.
Apple also offers Ping, a music social network. This app lets you post songs (or photos, videos and comments) from inside iTunes. Your followers can buy the songs with a click. Ping will alert you to what your friends are listening to, too, and what your favorite bands are up to.
Music listeners get two bonuses from cloud computing. First, because the song files are stored in the "clouds" -- that is, on remote computers -- space on your computer or mobile device is freed up. Second, cloud storage means that you can access your favorite tunes from any of your devices at any time. You can also synch your music with all your devices instantly.
The Amazon Cloud Player is an app that lets you access and play tunes you've uploaded to Amazon Cloud storage. Amazon offers five gigabytes of storage for free, and you can expand your storage for a fee. You can purchase songs from Amazon, which will automatically be stored in the cloud, or you can upload tunes from your computer. Then, you use the Cloud Player app to play music on your Android phone or iPad. While the Cloud Player itself doesn't work on the iPhone, you can listen to tunes from your Cloud library using the iPhone's built-in Safari browser.
Music is inherently social. People make music together. Friends share tunes, follow bands, attend concerts, groove to the same songs. Apps that incorporate social media and music are extremely popular. Rdio is a paid service that gives you access to streaming song tracks and playlists from a library of 8 million tunes.
A neat Rdio interface lets you follow what your Facebook and Twitter friends are listening to. They can check out your latest musical discoveries, too. Rdio also lets you tune in to artist-created radio stations. The app can also check your home collection of stored tunes that you've purchased from the iTunes Store or other sources, and give you access to these songs on the go. Rdio mobile apps work with Android and Blackberry devices, iPhone and Windows Phone 7.
Pandora is one of the original Internet radio apps. The "stations" are actually custom music streams tailored to your choice of artist and genre. Pandora lets you listen to specific songs or artists, create playlists and find new tunes. Pandora's software draws on and analyzes a huge database of tunes to keep presenting you with new music based on your favorites and your listening patterns. The app also lets you e-mail your stations to your friends, bookmark particular songs and buy tracks directly from iTunes.
Using Pandora's mobile app, you can see album art, read about artists and check the songs you've just played. There's a free version, but a paid subscription gives better streaming quality, no advertisements and unlimited listening.
The Spotify streaming music service started in Europe, but has been steadily expanding its reach to more regions. Spotify offers a truly enormous library of more than 15 million tracks. And it shoots them to your mobile device at 320 Kbps, a higher rate than some other services -- the result is better sound quality. With premium service, there are no ads, and you can access exclusive content like pre-release tracks.
Spotify has a group collaboration feature that lets you and your friends create playlists together. Another feature lets you download playlists from your computer to your phone so that you can listen to your tunes when you're out of range of an Internet connection.
Slacker is another Internet radio service. It has apps for iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and Palm. Like Pandora, Slacker creates custom stations that play music of a certain type. But for a fee, Slacker also gives you unlimited access on demand to the music or artists you choose. If you want to take a break from music listening, there are also channels that offer comedy and news content. Slacker also lets you store stations and tracks temporarily to listen to when you're not connected.
Slacker lets you listen to more than 100 stations programmed by music experts -- a cool way to explore new genres. And Slacker can download lyrics for songs in case you want to sing along (or just figure out what the heck the words are).
Last.fm is a major music streaming service. Its claim to fame is its ability to help you find music that's likely to be just what you were looking for. Last.fm tracks what you listen to on Internet radio and your various mobile devices, then recommends new music just for you. Last.fm is available for iPhone, Xbox, iPod Touch, Android and Windows Phone 7.
Last.fm does not sell songs, but offers selected downloads for free. You can also listen to short previews of many songs. You can add tracks or purchase tunes directly from the iStore. Last.fm also lets you tag tracks and share them with other Last.fm users.
Grooveshark is another streaming music app, but with a twist. Besides listening to preset stations, you can create and modify your playlist. You can also upload your own music into the Grooveshark library and add that to the stream you're listening to, and access your tunes on mobile devices using Grooveshark Anywhere. The mobile app is currently available for Android, Palm, BlackBerry and Symbian devices. Using the app, you can browse the Grooveshark catalog via a 3G or WiFi connection.
Grooveshark users are particularly fond of the easy playlist building feature, which simplifies compiling virtual mix tapes for dancing or listening. You can share your playlist via Facebook or Twitter, and make them available offline. With Grooveshark Plus, the paid version of the service, you can be free of advertisements and have access to more customizable features. For an additional fee, you can add this upgrade to your mobile devices with Grooveshark Anywhere.
If you've ever heard a song and gotten frustrated trying to remember the name of it or who performed it, Shazam just may make your life easier. Essentially, it's an audio search engine. Available for iPhone or Android, the app can listen to virtually any track for a few seconds, compare it to a database and almost instantly come back with information about the song.
Shazam goes beyond just satisfying your curiosity. You can buy the song that you're hearing and share it with friends, all with the click of a button. Shazam will also download the lyrics for the song you're hearing, and it enables you to tag songs so that you can recall them by key words. It also connects with Pandora, letting you listen to the song you've identified, then go on to hear a mix of similar tunes.
With TuneWiki, you can make almost any mobile device resemble a miniature karaoke machine. The service lets you check out lyrics of any song you're listening to on your smartphone or tablet, and it translates them into any of 40 languages. It initially became popular for Android and Symbian phones and is now available for iPhone and iPad. It takes music discovery to another level, letting you watch music videos and grab synchronized lyrics that roll along with the song.
A very cool TuneWiki feature is the song map, which allows you to zero in on virtually any location and find out which tunes folks are listening to in that area. If you're obsessed with riding the crest of popular music, TuneWiki gives you access to real-time top 50 charts from around the world. It also lets you connect with friends through your favorite social media site or with fans of a particular band. Those friends and fans become "Muses," and the new songs they like become recommendations for you. The more Muses you have, the more your musical horizons will grow.
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- Apple.com "Indroducing Ping. (August 12, 2011) http://www.apple.com/itunes/ping/
- Apple.com. "iCloud." (August 12, 2011) http://www.apple.com/icloud/
- Amazon.com "Get Started with the Amazon MP3 Store, Cloud Player & Cloud Drive." (August 12, 2011) http://www.amazon.com/b?ie=UTF8&node=2658409011
- iheartradio.com. "Listen Live." (August 12, 2011) http://www.iheartradio.com/cc-common/radio_app/
- Keizer, Gregg. "Apple controls 70% of U.S. music biz." Computerworld.com. May 26, 2010. (August 17, 2011) http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9177395/Apple_controls_70_of_U.S._music_download_biz
- OurStage.com. "What is OurStage?" (August 12, 2011) http://www.ourstage.com/
- Pandora. "Frequently Asked Questions." (August 12, 2011) http://blog.pandora.com/faq/
- Perez, Marin. "What's the best mobile music service?" Intomobile.com, May 17, 2011. (August 12, 2011) http://www.intomobile.com/2011/05/17/whats-best-mobile-music-service/
- rdio.com. "Unlimited Music Everywhere." (August 12, 2011) http://www.rdio.com/
- Remick, Jarel. "The Search for Better Music Streaming: Grooveshark," Appstorm.net, March 1, 2010. (August 12, 2011) http://web.appstorm.net/reviews/the-search-for-better-music-streaming-grooveshark/
- Remick, Jarel. "Top 10 Web Apps for Music Streaming," Appstorm.net, March 3, 2010. (August 12, 2011) http://web.appstorm.net/roundups/the-top-10-apps-for-music-streaming/
- Shazam.com. "Discover, Buy and Share the Song that is Playing." (August 12, 2011) http://www.shazam.com/
- Spotify.com. "Hello America. Spotify here," July 14th, 2011. (August 12, 2011) http://www.spotify.com/us/about-us/press/hello-america-spotify-here/
- The Hype Machine. "Discover music worth listening to." (August 12, 2011) http://hypem.com/
- TuneWiki.com. "Welcome to TuneWiki." (August 12, 2011) http://www.tunewiki.com/