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Stream of the crop

Date

Adam Turner

Subscription service Spotify has joined the fight for supremacy in the online music market.

SPOTIFY is the latest streaming service to offer Australians a taste of all-you-can-eat music.

In the past 12 months, Australia has seen a boom in new music services that do away with the idea of ''buying'' music, whether it's on a disc or as a digital download. Instead, you pay a flat rate of about $10 a month for unlimited access to a massive online music library. It's the music-lover's equivalent of being a kid in a candy store.

New albums are usually added the day they are released on CD but you also have access to an impressive back catalogue of 10 million to 15 million tracks. This makes it easy to listen to more of your favourite artists or expand your musical horizons thanks to ''music discovery''.

If you're a fan of B.B. King, your streaming service might suggest you try Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy, Albert King, Elmore James and Muddy Waters. You can even follow what your friends are listening to or get recommendations from people with similar musical tastes. It's all just a click away, making it easier to pay for music than to steal it.

The dark side of this musical wonderland is that songs are streamed across the internet, which chews through between 70 megabytes and 140 megabytes an hour, depending on the sound quality. Listening to two albums a day could consume more than six gigabytes a month, so you need to keep an eye on your monthly download limit.

Some services let you cache music on your devices, so you're not always using your internet connection.

Most subscription music services offer a free trial period, after which you can sign up for a basic or premium plan. Basic plans generally only allow streaming to your computer, using a web browser or a desktop application. Premium plans add extra devices such as Apple and Android gadgets, as well as Sonos and Squeezebox multi-room audio systems. Some premium plans also boost the sound quality. Options vary between services, so you'll want to look for one that best fits the way you listen to music.

Spotify shakes things up by offering a free option, which plays advertisements every 15 minutes. Telstra's Mog might do the same when it launches in Australia, while Guvera also relies on an ad-funded model.

Gadget makers have also been quick to see the potential of streaming music and you will find services from Sony, Samsung, BlackBerry and Microsoft. Apple is notably absent, with iTunes Match only letting you stream music you already own.

Despite the pressure from streaming competitors, Apple seems determined to buck the trend and stick with the idea of selling music to users rather than renting it.

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