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Page last updated at 14:44 GMT, Friday, 4 March 2011

Guide to streaming music online

By Peter Price
BBC Click

Services like Spotify are changing the way people listen to music online

The web is a great way to find, listen to and buy music. In fact it is now overwhelmingly the main way to buy individual singles. Around 98% of all singles sold are done so online.

So, if you're thinking about getting into listening online, here is our essential guide to turning on, tuning in and erm… logging out.

Radio streaming

The web is brimming with music thanks to thousands of radio stations sharing their streams. Chances are, if you can hum it, there is a station somewhere playing it. Live365.com and iTunes both have extensive lists of stations from every corner of the globe.

But do not forget the traditional radio broadcasters - like BBC, ABC and NPR for example - which all provide programmes online.


The next generation of radio stations - like AOL Radio and Yahoo Music - offer personalised streams with playlists you control. This is radio with an audience of one - simply fire up your browser and pick a genre to get started.

It is legal and above board but the music is interrupted every now and then with an advert you cannot skip. It is also difficult to choose the exact songs you want to hear because some sites - like radio.com - limit the number of tracks you can skip.

Social music

Last.fm is a site that analyses the music you listen to to create a profile - something they call "scrobbling" - which works like a social network. The site allows you to find friends who like similar bands and lets you play some of their favourites.

It is supported by lots of handsets and music players so you can add information to your profile even when you're listening to your own collection. But beware, scrobbling can get addictive as it produces stats to share with friends. Today, even radio stations scrobble so you can see what is getting the most airplay.

Radio 1 DJ Greg James
Traditional radio broadcasts face competition from streaming services

Grooveshark offers similar features to other streaming sites but you can also import your existing music collection and get recommendations from other "sharks". It is possible to build and share playlists too.

Mixcloud is focused mainly on DJ sets - some of them an hour long. The standard social network features mean that the stuff of highest quality should filter to the top.

Blip.fm requires you to write - or "blip" - a note about each track before you can listen. These short bursts of information make songs easier to search. It's a bit like a stream of tweets but with music attached.

Mflow allows you to follow and be followed and discover new music by previewing recommendations, or "flows" as they are known.

Discovering new music

Not sure what you fancy? Pinpoint your state of mind at Musicovery , and get a playlist suited to it or chose an emotion over at Stereo Mood.

To discover something new, try The Sixty One. Here unsigned artists can upload tracks and listeners vote with their clicks. The singer gets a percentage of sales if you buy a copy. It is one of the few sites to mix between tracks to give a seamless flow - so you should not notice any buffering or loading messages.

Pandora is a streaming service which uses humans to categorise the "genes" of each track. Your next artist and single is picked to match things like instruments and rhythm of the current track.

It is free but due to licensing it can only be heard in the US.

Music on the move

What about taking your music to your mobile? Last.fm can come with you as a mobile app, as can We7. As well as being a website for streaming music, paying a subscription gives access to the same library of millions of songs on an iPhone or Android handset.

It is possible to download tracks to the device itself for listening when out of range of a Wi-Fi network.

New born babies listen to music in an experimental music therapy session in Slovakia
With music getting easier to access, fans are getting younger and younger

The streaming service Spotify runs as an application on your desktop. It has 10 million users and 10 million tracks and, if that was not enough, it can also find the music already on your computer and add it to your library.

It is possible to listen for free but like We7, a premium subscription removes the ads and lets you transfer music to your mobile.

With most services streaming live, if you are without a solid connection, you may find the buffering frustrating.

Paying for premium services can help by cutting out the adverts, improving the sound quality and giving you access to the service on your mobile.

When on a mobile, connection problems can be even more annoying. Some services will soon offer more robust ways of preventing that by "caching" - or temporarily storing - music on the handset.

And finally, remember some services only work in certain countries due to music licensing restrictions.

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