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Which Music-Streaming Service Is Best for Kids?
Music streaming has come a long way since the days of Napster. But it can still be a challenge to find music you don't need to turn off when your kids are around. That's changing.
With big hitters such as Apple and Amazon and radio players such as iHeartRadio competing for listeners, music streaming is becoming bigger, better, and even more family-friendly. Many services now offer kid-safe channels and other features for families, including educational content and controls that block explicit lyrics and limit social sharing.
However, more options can mean more confusion. Companies constantly tweak features, acquisitions are rampant, and start-ups come and go (remember MOG, Rdio, and Beats?). In this saturated climate, even Jay-Z's Tidal is facing an uncertain future.
For most parents, the choice of a music-streaming service boils down to three key questions: What's in it for kids? Does it filter explicit lyrics? How much does it cost? We've identified the top eight music-streaming services that are best for families and tell you exactly what you need to know. 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.
Amazon Prime Music
Similar to the way Pandora Radio "learns" your preferences, Prime's stations become more personalized based on the feedback you provide. The free downloadable Amazon Music app also lets you stream your music library from the cloud in addition to listening to Prime Music.
- What's in it for kids: A lot -- if you pay for Amazon Prime. Members get access to over a million songs, personalized ad-free radio stations with unlimited skips, expert-programmed Prime playlists organized by mood or genre, and offline playback. The catalog is nowhere near as robust as others, though, and Amazon doesn't offer a family plan, so only one device can stream at a time.
- Ability to filter explicit lyrics? No, but there's an entire children's section featuring fun playlists for all ages, from "Nature Sounds for Babies" and "Nursery Rhyme Party Time" to "The Littlest Hipster."
- Cost: Ad-free music streaming is part of the $99 annual Amazon Prime subscription.
Apple Music provides access to more than 40 million songs, hand-selected music and playlists, an ability to listen offline, the 24/7 global radio station Beats 1, plus the ability to engage with artists through Connect.
- What's in it for kids: Once you complete the "For Me" discovery exercise, you'll get expert-recommended artists, curated playlists, and albums and genres based on your preferences. Kids can download music for offline listening, post their favorite songs, playlists, and albums to Facebook, Twitter, Messages, and email, and connect their iTunes libraries with the larger Apple Music library.
- Ability to filter explicit lyrics? Yes. Parents can restrict access to music, videos, and podcasts with explicit content in their iTunes preferences.
- Cost: There's a free three-month trial. Monthly subscriptions range from $9.99 a month or $14.99 for a family account, which allows up to six users.
Google Play Music All Access
It's a one-stop shop for unlimited music streaming, music shopping, and music storage (users can upload 50,000 songs from their own libraries).
- What's in it for kids: While its music discovery and recommendations aren't as strong as competitors', the store has a large section devoted to 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? You can block explicit songs on the radio feature but not on on-demand streaming.
- 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 (you can try the service for free for 30 days).
iHeartRadio brings commercial radio to your desktop or device, with hundreds of stations (by city, genre, and format) to choose from.
- What's in it for kids: The "iHeartRadio Family -- Music and Radio perfect for kids" app is a kid-safe option for families with young kids. Stations include Radio Disney Jr. and iHeartCountry Kids, and educational audio shows feature characters such as Dora the Explorer and Elmo. You can create your own custom stations from more than 20 million songs and fine-tune and personalize your song preferences with a thumbs up or thumbs down.
- Ability to filter explicit lyrics? Yes, but the explicit filter will disallow custom stations.
- Cost: Free (with ads).
A pioneer in web-based music, Pandora strives for ultimate personalization and aims to feed users only music they love.
- What's in it for kids: While Pandora's unique music-prediction process keeps its catalog small, it offers great features for families. You simply pick a station (one of your own creation or one already created), and the music runs for hours. The Family genre includes stations such as PG Comedy, Children's Indie, and Family Musicals. Profiles can be public or private.
- Ability to filter explicit lyrics? Yes. The filter is applied to the entire account, not specific stations.
- Cost: Free (with ads); Pandora One is $4.99 a month or $54.89 annually.
For budding DJs, musicians, and audiophiles, SoundCloud is the promised land of audio platforms. SoundCloud Go is the company's paid subscription service, and because it has so much member-generated content, its claim to be the "world's largest music and audio streaming catalog" may just be true.
- What's in it for kids: Got musically inclined kids? They can upload, record, and share their own audio files on SoundCloud, as well as peruse endless playlists and follow labels, musicians, curators, and fellow fans in genres from hip-hop to comedy. SoundCloud Go has over 135 million tracks, which subscribers can listen to offline and without ads. However, parents looking for an easy way to share music with their kids will need to be proactive, as there are a multitude of social platforms for kids to get lost in and 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.
- 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. After a free 30-day trial, SoundCloud Go costs $9.99 per month ($12.99 through the iOS app). Pro unlimited users get a discounted rate.
With more than 30 million songs, tons of social features, exclusive artist sessions, and a dedicated kids and family channel, Spotify is an easy choice for families that love music.
- What's in it for kids: Spotify's revamped Kids and Family category is incredibly robust, especially for parents of kids age 0 to 5. It includes playlists focused on vocabulary and language development and voice-over prompts by celebrities such as Fantasia, Tyler Perry, and Wiz Khalifa encouraging parents to interact with kids while listening and enjoying everyday activities. For families listening together, it's super kid-safe. But for older kids who have free rein to listen to anything and to follow artists and friends, the social tracking and large song selection can make for some iffy content.
- Ability to filter explicit lyrics? No, but clean versions of songs are available in many cases, and the Family channel keeps things PG.
- Cost: Free (with ads); $9.99 a month for unlimited access to the catalog; $4.99 a month for students. The Family Plan is $14.99 per month for up to six members.
YouTube Music and YouTube Red
YouTube Music is a free mobile app focused entirely on music. Because it's basically a music-only YouTube streamer, it offers a deep, diverse catalog of artists and videos. YouTube Red is a subscription service offering additional benefits and content (including gaming).
- What's in it for kids: The basic YouTube Music app compiles a daily playlist called "My Mix," which combines your "liked" and "listened-to tracks" as well as songs it thinks you'll enjoy. One cool feature is the ability to toggle between audio and video seamlessly, with the video picking up exactly where the song is playing, and the inclusion of fan-shot videos of live performances -- something competitors can't offer. If you subscribe to YouTube Red, you'll eliminate ads and be able to search for artists and music by name or category, download playlists to listen to offline, and keep music on in the background while using other apps. YouTube Red subscribers also get a free Google Play Music subscription.
- Ability to filter explicit lyrics? No. Though many of the videos are harmless, it's not difficult to come across others with mature sex, violence, language, smoking, and drinking references.
- Cost: Free with ads or $9.99 per month for YouTube Red perks.