Digital music: how to listen to your favourite tunes, legally

A court in the US has ruled that selling on unwanted digital music counts as copyright infringement. We look at some of the very best, perfectly legal ways to get your music fix

SOUNDCLOUD

PROS

Soundcloud is music by the people for the people. Upload your mixes and share them with your friends. Check out new tracks from local indie bands for free. Lots of up-and-coming bands and dance artists use Soundcloud as a platform to build up their reputation so it is one of the best places on the web to check out new tunes. It also features loads of great podcasts from talented young audio geeks. The ability to sign in using Facebook also makes it incredibly easy and the interface is slick.

CONS

The flip-side of allowing anyone to upload their stuff is that there is a lot of dross out there. Just because your mate got a set of decks for Christmas doesn’t mean you want to spend your time listening to him.

SPOTIFY

PROS

Users are able to stream any song from its 15m-strong catalogue whenever they want without the need for endless downloads. Spotify, more so than other platforms, features the biggest new releases as soon as they’re available, all of which can be accessed on a desktop, mobile, tablet or through a home entertainment system. And the best bit? The service is completely free. All you need to do is pay a small fee to block adverts or take advantage of its offline capabilities. Users can discover new tracks by exploring curated links or by looking at friends’ playlists.

CONS

Despite its vast library, there are still holes. Many songs from the likes of AC/DC and Pink Floyd are missing, and the chances are, so is your favourite indie band – if your music taste isn’t particularly mainstream, you might be disappointed. Also, the fact that you have to search for a specific track or artist diminishes the chances of discovering new music.

LAST.FM

PROS

The days of listening to songs you don’t like are long gone thanks to Last.fm. The service tackles the problems with Spotify by helping you discover music based on the songs you play. A “scribble” is sent every time you play a song or artist, enabling it to produce personalised track recommendations based on your musical tastes. Independent record labels use it more than any other platform, as it’s seen as a better way of introducing people to new acts because songs are selected according to what you are already listening to.

CONS

It’s often slow to react to new releases and, like Spotify, there are still significant gaps in its music catalogue.

PANDORA

PROS

With over 150m users, Pandora Radio is the biggest name in digital music after iTunes. It is a streaming service that tailors the music to individual listeners based on their song selection. Pandora is available across all platforms and you can share stations and tracks on twitter as well as on your pandora profile. It operates like a social network. You can comment on other people's profiles, recommend tracks and communicate with people who have similar tastes.

CONS

I know what you’re thinking: how can it have so many users if I haven't heard of it? At the moment it doesn’t matter how good Pandora is – if you’re outside the US, Australia or New Zealand, you can’t use it.

Users have also complained that the selections are drawn from a relatively small pool of music.

iTUNES

PROS

Bought by Apple in 2000, iTunes is one of the oldest internet music services still around today. It is both media store and media player so you can buy, rent and organise music and film. This is one of the main draws: it’s useful to have all your music and film together in one easily searchable place.

It’s also rare to not be able to find something. Pretty much all music is on iTunes (The Beatles were a glaring omission until their back-catalogue became available in 2010).

The sound quality is said to be better than most other internet music services, too.

CONS

Critics have said that it has become too big and unwieldy and that it doesn’t make sense for one programme to be a media player, a store and a sync manager. At 90 megabytes, the latest iTunes takes up a fair bit of storage. It also takes ages to load up every time you click on it while it tries to access the online store. It’s not cheap, with albums priced at £7.99 and singles at 99p. Last year it was reported that UK iTunes customers are paying up to six times more than in other countries. Diamonds by Rihanna costs 99p in the UK but just 17p in India, for example.