Want to listen to the latest and greatest hits without having to fork out for CDs or MP3s?
Whether you're a fan of the Bieber or the Bee Gees, here's a round up of the best online music services that let you listen for free...
In this guide...
What is online music streaming?
The internet is a great way to browse, discover and buy music. In fact, digital downloads now account for 99.6% of all singles sold in the UK. Each household streams an average of 140 tracks per year.
Before you start using any of these online music services though, it's important to understand how they work. Here are some streaming FAQs:
What is the difference between streaming and downloading?
There are two ways to listen to music online:
Downloading. The first is by downloading the songs you want to listen to. This can be costly if you're doing it legally, especially if you're downloading a whole album of songs.
However, if you want to be able to put your favourite tracks onto your iPod/MP3 player/mobile phone to listen to offline, this is the only way to do it.
Streaming. The other way is online streaming, where you don't actually download the track to your PC, you just play it online and listen to it over the internet. There's not normally a cost for this, unless you want an ad-free service (where you pay to upgrade).
This guide focuses on the various music streaming services available in the UK. If you're looking for downloadable tracks, we sometimes feature free MP3s in our weekly email, so sign up to make sure you don't miss a deal.
How does streaming work?
Streaming lets you listen to your favourite songs instantly. You don't download the content, but play it live through devices like laptops, tablets and mobiles. Its main boon is you get instant access to huge catalogues of songs, without having hundreds of CDs cluttering up your house.
These services are legal and above board, but the music is interrupted every now and then with an advert you cannot skip. It can also be difficult to find the exact songs you want to hear, so streaming isn't for everyone.
Before you consider streaming, a word of warning: ensure your broadband connection is fast enough and you've a generous download limit. While you're not actually downloading a track to keep, streaming will use up your monthly allowance. Otherwise you risk being hit with added costs and constant buffering.
As a general rule:
You need a high (or unlimited) download limit, or you could be slapped with gargantuan charges.
For example, if you're going to listen to about six hours of internet radio per week, and that is all you'll be doing, you'll need a monthly download allowance of at least 5GB.
If you're going to be streaming more music, or doing other data-heavy things, like streaming movies, it's worth considering a package with unlimited downloads, so you'll not have the worry of exceeding your limit. Full details in the Cheap Broadband guide.
Is online music streaming legal?
There are plenty of online music streaming services that are legal, though thousands more aren't. The Government and internet providers are cracking down on the illegal ones, while some services only work in certain countries due to music licensing restrictions.
All those included below are legal, and will work in the UK.
Warning! Always check any software you put on your computer is suitable and compatible with your existing set-up. No liability can be accepted for any problems caused from acting upon the info given.
There's a whole load of online music streaming services available. Many offer free trials of their ad-free unlimited options.
Here are a few worth considering, and remember there's no limit to the number you can use, so you could get thousands of hours worth of music for absolutely nowt.
Over 30 million songs available, one-month free trial
Perhaps the biggest name in online music, the Spotify streaming service runs as an application on your desktop. Globally, it has over 75 million users and 30 million available tracks. It offers free music streaming with ads, and the option to upgrade for unlimited streaming, without ad interruptions.
How it works: If you're a new Spotify user, you'll get a one-month free trial of its premium ad-free service, where you can listen to unlimited tracks on your PC, mobile, tablet or an internet-connected TV.
You'll have to put in direct debit or credit card details when signing up, so remember to cancel before the free trial unless you want to start paying.
Other features of Spotify include a social media link-up, which lets you share what you're listening to on Twitter and Facebook. You can also find music already on your computer and add it to your Spotify library, so you can listen to it on other PCs just by logging into your account.
Any paid-for options? Once your free premium service trial runs out, you'll revert to the standard free option (unless you choose to upgrade).
If you want ad-free access it's £9.99/mth for the premium option, which lets you listen on your PC/laptop, mobile, tablet, etc. You can also download playlists/tracks to listen when you're offline.
Anything else? Previously, to get Spotify on your phone or tablet, you had to pay £9.99 a month for Spotify Premium. Now the online music streaming service has changed its stance, and you can get the basic version on these devices for free.
You can create a free account (it'll have ads, but it's not that bad) to use on your desktop AND on your mobile and tablet on Android and iOS via the free app. You can only listen to tracks and playlists when you're online (you won't be able to listen to the tracks offline - this is still only available on Premium).
From time to time it runs promotions on premium membership (recently you could get three months's access for just 99p), but these tend to be rare. Students can get premium for half price (£5/mth) for a year, which is a great deal.
Another option is Spotify Family, which gives 50% off each extra account you have. You can add up to four accounts and each one will be able to separate playlists and be used at the same time.
Used Spotify? Tell us what you think in the forum.
640 million songs available, social networking "radio"
Over 59 million people around the world stream music with Last FM. Like Rdio and other personalised "radio station" services included here, Last FM creates a unique playlist for you when you search for something. Fancy a bit of Britpop? You'll be given tracks from Pulp, Blur and Ocean Colour Scene.
How it works: It keeps track of everything you listen to on your iTunes and recommends similar artists - all while introducing you to fellow users with similar tastes. It's great for finding new music or gig buddies.
Any paid-for options? Last FM offers both a free, ad-supported service and a subscription option. For only £3/month you can remove all ads and also stream to your phone via the Last FM app (like Spotify, but a third of the price).
Anything else? Last FM has apps for smartphones, tablets and Xbox. It also offers the Last FM Scrobbler desktop app, which automatically syncs and updates your Last FM library with what you've been listening to, and updates you on what your friends are listening to.
Used Last FM? We'd love to hear what you think of it. Share your thoughts in our forum.
200,000 songs available, no registration required
Jango is another online radio service, a bit like Last FM. You can listen to anything you want, and get recommendations for similar artists and songs you might like.
You don't have to register. Just type in an artist and your first "station" will start playing right away. For example, type in "Adele" and it will play all similar artists to Adele, such as Norah Jones and Sara Bareilles.
How it works: If you just want instant access to music, Jango is a good starting point. It has similar social networking elements to Last FM; the site will tell you what 'like-minds' are listening to, and you can listen to others' virtual stations if you tire of yours.
The site also provides independent artists the opportunity to showcase their music by recommending their songs alongside that of similar popular artists.
Any paid-for options? There's no paid-for option to upgrade to remove the ads.
Anything else? If you use the service without creating an account, you'll get an audio ad after every full-length song. If you want fewer ads, connect your Jango account with your Facebook account and you'll only get one audio ad per day.
Used Jango? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the forum.