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Understanding Digital music: iTunes, Spotify, and more

Whether you’re still addicted to CDs, thinking about buying your first iPod, or are happy downloading from iTunes there’s one thing that digital music is great at – convenience.

While Apple still rules the roost for digital music purchases with its iTunes Store, there are a great many more options available to you for both downloading and streaming music. Here, streaming simply means “playing straight from the internet”, much as you wouldn’t have to completely download a YouTube video before playing it.

In case you’ve heard of Google’s download service, Google Music, it sadly isn’t available in the UK at present.

Apple iTunes Store

Part of Apple’s all-conquering iTunes application, the iTunes Store sells not only music by track or by album, but also movies, TV shows and apps too. You can also access the iTunes Store directly from your Apple device if you have an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch.

New release album pricing is usually around the £7.99 mark with doubles at £10.99. New tracks are generally 99p though older tracks are available for less.

Amazon MP3

Amazon’s music service is a music buying service that doesn’t require a separate large application to use – unlike Apple’s iTunes. However, there is a downloading tool that is required if you’re buying albums.

You can buy tracks and albums from Amazon just like you can Kindle books or the latest gadgets. Many new release albums are £7.49 or £6.49, while there are often plenty on sale for just a few pounds. Track prices are usually 79p or 89p, but again there are plenty on sale for less than 60p.


Spotify is a streaming service that you can access for a subscription fee and you can usually play music through an iTunes-style application on your PC or Mac desktop.

You can have up to 10 hours of ad-funded listening for free. £4.99 gives you access to the Unlimited tariff, so you can play as much music as you want, while £9.99 is Premium, which enables you to play music on portable devices too; there are apps for common phones such as the iPhone, Nokia and Android handsets.

Spotify is a great way to listen to huge amounts of music without committing to buy, but it does have drawbacks – notably that not all music is on the service; many new releases are often held back, sometimes by artists, sometimes by their record companies.

They don’t get paid as much for streaming plays as they would if you bought a track, so they want to try and maintain downloads as being more attractive. Of course, if you’re not that worried about new release music, you’re onto a winner!


This new-to-the-UK service is very similar to Spotify in that there are two levels of subscription for the same price – £4.99 (Premium) and £9.99 (Premum+).

Again the former enables unlimited streaming while the more expensive option enables you to use it on phones. Unlike Spotify you can also use it with an iPad or other tablet. On your Mac or PC Deezer is web browser-based, so there’s no software to download. is a music recommendation service. You feed it the details of what you listen to (a little app on your computer can pick this up for you) and you can then be recommended new music.

You can choose to listen to an advertising-funded, personalised radio service through your PC or Mac’s web browser or, should you wish to subscribe for £3 per month, you can remove the advertising and listen on your phone and other mobile devices too. It’s great for discovering new artists.

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