Free music has become the norm around the Internet in the last couple years. There’s Spotify, 8tracks, and Pandora: all applications and websites that are available to use free of charge, where you can listen to songs and pre-made playlists, and possibly discover new music. And now there’s iTunes Radio, which is a cool mash-up of all three of the previously mentioned free music forums.
Like Spotify (unless you purchase Premium), there are short audio advertisements every couple of songs that interrupt the playback, but they are relatively short and are not nearly as obnoxiously loud as the ads used in Spotify. Like Pandora, you can choose a song or an artist (or even a couple of artists) to be the foundation of your station and similar songs are played. Like 8tracks, there are pre-made playlists by iTunes with specific genres or featured artists.
I have flitted between Spotify, 8tracks, and Pandora, and still do, but now I think I may have found something that I will stick with and remain a loyal user of. I was disappointed when I found out that unless you purchase Spotify Premium, when you’re in a country other than your home country, you can only use the app for 15 days. Minus points for Spotify. I was similarly disappointed with Pandora which only works in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand. iTunes Radio works wherever I have internet access on my laptop or my iPhone, as well as my hypothetical iPad and Apple TV if I had those things. [Side note: I know that I can just change my laptop IP address in order to use things only allowed in the U.S. but I’m not really that upset about my losses in order to put in that much technological effort.]
8tracks is cool because you can select what kind of playlist you want to listen to and find playlists tagged as ‘studying’ or ‘workout’, or even ‘happy’ or ‘love.’ The only downside to 8tracks is that sometimes I find myself sifting through playlist after playlist to find one that I actually enjoy, since 8tracks users make the playlists.
The first iTunes Radio station I listened to was a featured radio station, which changes a little bit every week or so. It was called “3 of a Kind: Lorde, Capital Cities, & CHVRCHES.” I thought I’d give it a listen because I like all three of those artists. I expected a playlist of those three, but I was nicely surprised to see that it functioned like Pandora: it played a plethora of other similar-style songs and artists along with the three featured ones. I was blown away by how coherent the playlist sounded. Every single song belonged on that station, and I discovered some cool new songs.
Another cool thing (I’ve said cool a lot but I really think it’s cool!) about iTunes Radio is that some of their featured stations are run by “Guest DJs” with the likes of Kelly Clarkson, Imagine Dragons, and Paramore spinning the tracks. The Guest DJs pick songs they like and introduce a couple of the tracks. They sometimes pick songs by up-and-coming indie newcomers that they’re friends with, so that’s a nice way to discover unknown artists.
The first Guest DJ station I listened to was by my favorite band Bastille (which by now you probably realize I sneakily find a way to mention them in everything I’ve been writing lately) and it was the weirdest, coolest, most indie hipster playlist I’ve ever heard in my life. The tracks ranged from Damien Marley and Bon Iver, to classic rock like The Clash and The Beatles, to relatively unheard of emerging indie bands like To Kill a King, to interesting remixes of songs not usually meant to be remixed, and even some old school R&B throwbacks like Lauryn Hill.
If you like a track you’re listening to on iTunes Radio, it’s easy to click on the song and purchase it right then and there. But if you’re like me, you can enjoy discovering cool new songs for free. iTunes Radio is the best addition to iTunes in a long time, and I cannot wait to see how it improves in the future.
Live long and prosper, iTunes Radio.