When our children were younger, my wife would take them on Rosh Chodesh to the Judaica store to purchase a new CD. There were certainly months that passed without a new purchase, but at the end of each year we would have added a respectable number of albums to our collection. While we invested hundreds of dollars into this medium, CDs ultimately got scratched, or lost between the house and car. Then the digital age arrived, and we evolved from MP3 players to the iTunes music store. Each new music medium arrived with great promise, but each also suffered from one challenge or another. Today, however, the age of simplified streaming music has certainly arrived and if you and your family love Jewish music, a streaming music service may be the best purchase you make in 2019.
By now, many of you have digital assistants in your home like the Amazon Alexa or the Google Home. After you set up your Shabbat switches and can control them with your voice, the next most useful function of a digital assistant is to stream music. The idea of the streaming music services is different than streaming videos services like Netflix. Netflix does not strive to have a comprehensive list of all movies or TV ever created, only a substantial but small subset. Streaming music services, on the other hand, strive to have the master list of all music made available so it is accessible to a user on any device for a flat monthly fee. Imagine having every song and album available and at your fingertips without the need to purchase each one individually. You may only want to play a specific song once and don’t want to own it or you may want a collection of Chanukah songs from 30 different albums that you will only listen to for eight days. Additionally, with a streaming service, sharing is encouraged so any playlist made by a user can be shared. You don’t have to do the work of creating a playlist — just use someone else’s. With everyone carrying a smartphone and digital assistants in more and more homes, adding the ability to stream the music of your choice has never been easier. There are several popular streaming music services available. Spotify, Pandora, Amazon, Apple and others are all competing in this space. As is our custom at TribeTechReview, we will explore each through the lens or in this case ear of a Shomer Shabbos consumer.
I will focus on the subscription-based services even though there may be a free or basic option. With a free plan, your ability to control the music, especially if you only want to hear Jewish music, is severely impaired. I reviewed each subscription service based on specific criteria. Of course, I would expect the latest in great music from some of the most popular singers and groups, but I also looked for obscure songs and albums. I added older Jewish music and Israeli music to the criteria. Finally, I consulted with local Jewish music guru Aaron Shlagbaum of Sheer Simcha to make sure the latest songs that are getting people at events out of their seats and onto the dance floor were all available. Thus prepared, I put each service to the test.
The price for streaming services is competitive with most charging $9.99/month for a single user plan and $14.99/month for a family plan. Amazon does discount their single services for Prime members to $7.99/month or $79/year. If you are a college student, you can subscribe for $4.99/month on Amazon, Apple or Spotify but not on Pandora. Starting with a single plan is probably best until you get complaints from your children or spouse when there are too many simultaneous users. These rates are somewhat equivalent to what I used to pay by walking into a store to buy a single album However, now I have access to more Jewish music than the stores themselves.
Since I am a dedicated Spotify user, I expected that service to seriously outperform the others based on my criteria. However, I was surprised by how well Amazon and Apple did, as well. Pandora was the clear laggard. Spotify, as the early pioneer in this space, still has the largest global user base and if you will rely on other users’ playlists that seems to be a clear advantage. However, Apple and Amazon seem to be closing in quickly. I do love how the Spotify App integrates with my Waze navigation while I am driving and how I can control my home Sonos system directly on the App.
Ultimately, the service you choose may also depend on your technology preferences. Are you committed to the Apple ecosystem for all services, would you prefer Amazon pricing tied to Alexa, or, are your friends’ playlist only available on Spotify? I am always wary of subscription-based services and try to avoid them when possible. However, the case for streaming music is compelling, especially when you view it from a Jewish music perspective where the variety can seem limited if you are buying songs one at a time. I encourage you to take a trial of a service that you think works best for you and I assure you that whichever service you ultimately choose, it will have you and yours dancing in the kitchen and kumzitzing into the night.