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Which Music Streaming Service Is Best for Kids?
If you think your kid's head is in the clouds, it's probably because his music lives there. Music-streaming services are the hottest thing since the iPod Nano, breaking a cool $1 billion in 2013. But with so many services vying for your ears, it's hard to know which one is right for you -- and for your family.
Within the bountiful streaming space, there are several things to consider, including cost, number of available songs, social features, and how kid-friendly the service is. We broke down eight services, from the ubiquitous big hitters to the underground radio players. Keep in mind that these services regularly introduce new terms and features, so before you tune in check out their FAQs or the help section of the one you choose.
What's in it for kids: Parents can play kid-friendly stations or use apps such as Kidz Bop BoomBox to keep the tunes tame for younger kids. But the social tracking and large song selection can make for some iffy content for older kids who have free rein to listen to anything and to follow artists, tastemakers, and friends. A Family Plan was introduced in October of 2014, which allows multiple members of a household to share an account at a discounted rate.
Ability to filter explicit lyrics?: No, but there's a community of users rallying for the feature. Clean versions of songs are available in most cases, and parents could play them when manning the controls.
Tune in: Spotify has more than 20 million songs, tons of social features, unique app integration, and exclusive artist sessions, and -- with more than 24 million users around the world -- you likely have friends using it. For the curious, continuous listener with music-minded friends, it's an easy choice.
Turn off: The social features are forced, and it doesn’t default to private listening sessions. User support is poor. Some high-profile artists have withheld their music from Spotify over royalty issues -- which puts a (possibly ever-increasing dent) in the catalog.
Cost: Free (with ads); the free version on mobile doesn't allow users to select specific songs. The premium service is $9.99 a month for unlimited access to the catalog, and a family plan allows up to four additional members of a household to join at a 50% off rate. The student discount is $4.99 a month.
Very cool: The TuneWiki app will transcribe the lyrics of the song you're listening to in real time.
What's in it for kids: Pandora is the leader in Web-based music and is great for families. Users simply pick a station (one of their own creation or one already created), and the music runs for hours. The Family genre includes stations such as "Toddler," "Children's Indie," and "Family Folk Songs." Profiles can be public or private.
Ability to filter explicit lyrics?: Yes. The filter is applied to the entire account, not specific stations.
Tune in: Pandora strives for ultimate personalization and aims to feed users only music they love. Music analysts map songs using a complex algorithm made up of 450 characteristics. Users refine their stations by liking or disliking tracks, which drives which song plays next.
Turn off: You can't select, rewind, or replay songs, and the catalog is significantly smaller than competitors', which means more repeat tracks.
Cost: There's a free version with ads; Pandora One is $4.99 a month (with a free 24-hour trial).
Very cool: The Music Genome Project will blow your mind.
What's in it for kids: For budding DJs, musicians, and audiophiles, SoundCloud is the promised land of audio platforms. Older kids (or supervised younger ones) can upload, record, and share their own audio files. Parents looking for an easy way to share music with their kids will need to be proactive, though; there's no simple way to find kid-friendly stations.
Ability to filter explicit lyrics?: No. However, if you hear something that's offensive or not kid-appropriate, you can block the user who uploaded it.
Tune in: This vibrant online community of 250 million users calls itself the "YouTube of Audio." SoundCloud is a terrific place to exercise creativity and build an audience. There are endless playlists to peruse, and users can follow labels, musicians, curators, and fellow fans in genres from hip-hop and comedy to sports and science. Users can interact with a multitude of social platforms.
Turn off: It can feel overwhelming for the novice, and it's hard to know where to start. Accounts can't be set to private, but users can set uploaded files to private, and you can listen in stealth mode.
Cost: The free version comes with two hours of uploads a year. For $55 a year, "pro" users get four hours of uploading. For $135 a year, "pro unlimited" users can upload as much as they want.
Very cool: The Songkick integration allows musicians to display upcoming tour dates with their audio files.
What's in it for kids: Cofounded by artist and entrepreneur Dr. Dre, Beats Music claims to be "the next step in music's evolution" with a focus on personalization. The service has a "Beats Family" section with nearly two dozen kid-friendly playlists, but there are no other filters or parental controls -- yet.
Ability to filter explicit lyrics?: No. The service advertises a "family plan," but it offers no parental controls or filters.
Tune in: There's a catalog of more than 20 million tracks, a seriously impressive panel of music curators, and social integration. The playlists are rich and expertly chosen. Beats Music is so good that Apple acquired the service in May of 2014 for a cool $3 billion.
Turn off: You can't upload your own music to the library, and there's no radio feature.
Cost: There's no free plan, although there is a seven-day free trial. An individual plan is $9.99 a month, and a "family" plan through AT&T is $14.99 a month (to split among up to five people and 10 devices).
Very cool: Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor is Chief Creative Officer.
What's in it for kids: Advertised as a "social jukebox," Rdio offers on-demand streaming, radio, and download capability. As with Beats, Rdio offers no parental controls, despite offering a "family" plan (though they say that's "on their roadmap").
Ability to filter explicit lyrics?: No.
Tune in: Heralded for its sleek design, vast catalog, in-app playlist editor, and a unique offering of music reviews by critics and users, Rdio is a fast-rising contender in the music-streaming space.
Turn off: The app can be buggy.
Cost: Free (with ads); $9.99 a month for unlimited listening. There are discounts for students, families, and Web-only listeners.
Very cool: Rdio will be integrated in Tesla cars as the default dashboard service.
Google Play Music All Access
What's in it for kids: The store has a whole section of children's music. And since you can play your own collection from anywhere and opt out of the radio service when the kids are around, it's easy to keep any questionable tracks away from young ears.
Ability to filter explicit lyrics?: There's an option to block explicit songs on the radio.
Tune in: It's a one-stop shop for unlimited music streaming, music shopping, and music storage (users can upload 20,000 songs from their own libraries). It's intuitive for most Google account holders.
Turn off: Google Music doesn't serve up discovery as well as its competitors do -- the music recommendations are clunky and slow. The catalog isn't quite as robust as Spotify, Beats, and Rdio. Social features are limited to Google+.
Cost: The music storage and use of the store is free for users with Google accounts; Google Play Music All Access is $9.99 a month (there's a free 30-day trial).
Very cool: The artist hub gives musicians a platform on which to share and sell their work, at a price they set themselves.
What's in it for kids: Every song in this streaming music player has been screened to ensure it's appropriate for kids age 9 to 15. Fanlala is profanity-free and kid-safe but includes artist plugs, entertainment news, and ads. Kids can share playlists and stations with friends.
Ability to filter explicit lyrics?: The catalog is already filtered for explicit content.
Tune in: Parents can rest easy knowing their kids' ears are in safe hands. The library has eight million songs, with new tracks added weekly. Stations range from "indie" and "camplified" to "superheroes" and "electronica."
Turn off: The celeb news and gossip may make for grating family listening. Parents who want to use it on their own will find the catalog very limited.
Cost: It's $1.99 a month for unlimited access (there's a two-week free trial).
Very cool: A "Popcorn & Candy" station plays all movie soundtrack songs.
What's in it for kids: iHeartRadio brings commercial radio to your desktop or device, with hundreds of stations (by city, genre, and format) to choose from. You can't censor what you're hearing live, but you can turn the dial to kid-safe stations such as "Nick Radio" and "Lullabies." You can also create your own custom stations.
Ability to filter explicit lyrics?: Yes, but the explicit filter will disallow custom stations.
Tune in: There are thousands of stations, from music and sports to news. Users also can build their own stations from more than 18 million songs. There is social integration with Facebook and Google. Users can select "add-ins" for local updates in news, traffic, and weather that play regularly between songs.
Turn off: It's heavy on commercials, users complain of buffering issues, and there's a daily limit on how many songs you can skip. It doesn't do music discovery or personalization nearly as well as Pandora.
Cost: Free (with ads).
Very cool: In 2014, iHeartRadio started an awards show to honor the year's brightest artists and performers in categories such as "Song of the Year," "Best Fan Army," and "Instagram Award."
5 More Worth a Look:
If none of the above picks feels like the right fit for you, there are still more options. These additional services have plenty to offer.
Rhapsody pioneered on-demand streaming back in 2001 and was the first to offer a monthly flat fee.
Grooveshark's vast user-generated catalog has some rare gems, although the site has been embroiled in lawsuits since 2012 for copyright violations.
Slacker Radio offers "handcrafted radio from passionate music experts" with a vast selection of stations from weather and sports to news. The premium plan has on-demand access.
Kindermusik Radio App is streaming radio designed for toddlers. All the songs, stories, and suggested activities are sure to delight and soothe.