When it comes to digital distribution of media, music has always led the way. Napster had the music industry in uproar in 2002 when it was ordered shut down. Now with TV and film being torrented it's all starting up again with Pirate Bay in the sights of Hollywood. But streaming services like Netflix and Lovefilm are steering users towards content that is easier to access rather than stealing from online.
Music is finding its way now too, and that appears to be through subscription-based streaming services. The most famous of these is Spotify which has the likes of Oasis and Led Zepplin on its virtual books. But there are plenty of others out there with different prices, catalogues, music quality and accessibility.
Now with Beats Music joining the party (US only) we're starting to see prices change and listening limits come off as everyone prepares for even more competition. The only problem is picking a service.
We've dug down into the music streaming services out there to help you find the best one for you.
In a nutshell: This is the big guy in the music streaming world. Spotify has more than 20 million users and content deals with Sony, EMI, Warner and Universal - all since launching in 2008. Spotify comes in paid-for and ad-supported versions - both of which are available in app form.
Spotify also offers Facebook integration so you can follow your friends to see what they're listening to. There's also a host of apps including Pitchfork, Rolling Stone and NME for discovering new music and reading up on the latest releases.
Spotify also learns as you listen and through assocaitions can make recommendations based on your tastes. It has recently added a band merchandise store front for easy access to your favourite band's T-shirt, for example.
Price: Only 6 million of the total 20 million Spotify users actually pay for the service. It's available free on mobile, tablet and computer but comes with adverts. Paying subscribers are charged £10 a month but then can use Spotify anywhere and don't have to listen to adverts. Previously Spotify limited the free trail perod and capped listening time, but it's done away with this as competition grows fiercer.
Devices: At the moment Spotify is available on, deep breath: Android, BlackBerry, Boxee, iOS, Linux, MeeGo, Microsoft Windows, Openpandora OS X, Roku, S60 (Symbian), Samsung Smart TV, Sonos, Squeezebox, Telia Digital-tv, TiVo, WD TV, webOS, Windows Mobile and Windows Phones. Home entertainment systems and even cars can also access Spotify.
Conclusion: This is the most widely available music streaming platform that still offers a huge range of songs at a reasonable price. It's hard to see why anyone would want to shift. But with a streaming top end of 320kbit/s some might want even higher quality. That's where services like Qobuz come in.
In a nutshell: A French company that offers high-quality music streaming to the discerning audiophile. It delivers True CD quality at 16 bit/44.1kHz which can also be downloaded, and Studio Masters at 24 bit/192kHz. The service, which has been around since 2008, offers 28,000 labels and producers, serves 110,000 users, and has deals with EMI, Sony, Universal and Warner.
To clarify, Spotify goes up to 320kbit/s with its Extreme Quality stream. The basic level for Qobuz is at the equivalent of 1411.2kbit/s, while its Studio Master is at a whopping 2116.8kbit/s.
Price: For the same quality as Spotify it will cost £10 a month (or £100 for the year) - but there is a cheaper £5 a month option for Mac and PC only, without app access. For the premium quality service with True CD quality FLAC it will set you back £20 a month (or £200 for the year).
Devices: Qobuz will work on Mac and PC, offering FLAC, Apple Lossless or Windows Media files. Qobuz works with Sonos sound systems offering high-quality audio even in 5.1 surround. It is also available in app form for iOS and Android devices.
Conclusion: If quality is of great importance to you, especially if you own a Sonos system, this is the service for you. It also represents a potential saving over Spotify if you pay annually.
In a nutshell: Deezer is another French company, this one started in 2007 and has 12 million monthly active users, five million of whom pay. Deezer boasts a whopping 30 million tracks in its library which are available in more than 182 countries.
Price: Deezer offers a free unlimited ad-supported service and, if you fancy trying out what the full paid subscription has to offer you can start with a one month free trial. Then it costs £10 a month for unlimited listening including mobile access, or £5 a month for computer access only. It is currently offering a deal of £5 a month for the fist six months before reverting to the usual £10 a month - allowing you unlimited mobile access. There are also deals for Orange and EE customers.
Devices: Deezer works on PC and Mac but can also be found in app form for iOS, Android, BlackBerry and Logitech and Sonos home entertainment systems. It also works on many smart TVs like LG and Samsing, Xbox 360 and even BMW cars and Parrot systems.
Conclusion: With Beats Music out in the US now Deezer has that great half-price offer on right to compete. With a wide range of devices and huge song catalogue this is a very appealing service right now.
In a nutshell: Rdio has 20 million songs on offer and, like Spotify, has just made its free ad-supported service unlimited to users. It also offers deep Facebook integration so users can follow friends and find out what they're listening to.
Rdio refuses to publish bit rates but it's generally thought you can expect it to top out around the 192kbit/s.
Price: The usual £10 a month will get you unlimited access across your devices. There is now also the free ad-supported service if you can put up with that. For family and friends money can be saved with 20 per cent off for two subscribers, then 50 per cent for the third, fourth and fifth.
Devices: Rdio is available on Mac, PC, iOS, Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry, Sonos, Roku, and the Bose Jambox.
Conclusion: With 20 million songs in the library, a good number of devices compatible, and decent pricing options this is a very tempting option.
In a nutshell: The original peer-to-peer music sharing client that started all the furore about digital rights. It's had a rough ride, being shut down and restarted, but it's back. It offers over 20 millions songs and is available in 16 European countries including the UK.
Despite its age Napster still doesn't offer a bit rate above 192kbit/s. But Napster hopes the smoother streaming and quality of its app layout will win over fans anyway.
Price: Napster can be trialled for a free 30 days. After that point you can opt for the online only Napster Unlimited for £5 a month or the app compatible Napster Unlimited plus mobile for £10 a month.
Devices: The online only version works on Mac and PC. The app is available on up to three phones, your home entertainment system and your computer. The app works on iOS, Android and Windows Phone.
Conclusion: Despite being the first of its kind to make it big Napster offers the same as everyone else at this stage. It's pretty well spread about Europe but has no killer function that makes it special over Spotify, for example, other than its name.
Google Play Music All Access
In a nutshell: While Google Play Music All Access has 18 million songs, making it fewer than Spotify, it crucially allows you to add your own. Storage for up to 20,000 tracks is available so all your locally stored music can be uploaded and streamed to your device anywhere. It's even able to curate radio stations from artists of your choosing or make recommendations based on your tastes. And of course there is also the option for offline listening which also works for radio stations.
At the moment there is no option to expand your personal collection above the 20,000 mark. Google+ is built in so you can share your music choices with others and see what your friends are listening to for recommendations.
While you will have to take a cut in quality compared to any CDs you may have, the 320kbit/s top end is as good as it gets for most.
Price: As usual you get a 30-day free trail. After that point you can continue to use the online locker for your 20,000 tracks for free. For the full streaming of 18 million other songs, the personalised recommendations and radio you'll need to pay £10 a month.
Devices: Android devices are obviously supported, as well as computers, but it's also on iOS - making it a real threat to Spotify.
Conclusion: This sounds like one of the best services out there. It's affordable, it has a large library, allows sharing, radio and smart suggestions. And you can keep your own music library backed up and easily accessible.
In a nutshell: Xbox Music has an impressive library of over 30 million tracks for you to stream across all your devices. It also allows for offline listening and there's an ad-supported version for those who don't want to shell out.
Price: You can stream everything for free on your Windows 8 devices or any browser window from Mac and older PCs. The full version is free for 30 days then it's £9 for a one month pass or £89.90 for the year (£7.50 per month).
Devices: Not only does Xbox Music work on Microsoft devices like Xbox, Windows 8 devices, and Windows Phones, but it's also available on iOS and Android.
Conclusion: This is a really huge library of songs, it'll truly work on most platforms, streams at 256kbit/s and works offline. Plus there's a free version. It's an attractive music service that, when paid for annually, is cheaper than the competition.
In a nutshell: A streaming radio service that randomly picks tracks for you to listen to totally free, without adverts. As you listen you can rate tracks with a thumb up or down and it will learn your tastes, offering more finely tuned selections in the future. You can also download up to four mixes to take with you in offline mode. Mixes can be shared online so you can find those of friends and vice versa.
Price: Free. No adverts. Simple. But for a monthly fee of $4 you get unlimited track-skipping, unlimited offline mixes, high-quality audio over Wi-Fi (256kbit/s) and more.
Devices: Windows Phone 8 only at this stage unfortunately. It's clearly being used as a draw to the phone. But with the Microsoft buyout of Nokia and its own Xbox Music on many device types this may cross platforms soon.
Conclusion: It's the best totally free music service for shuffle play. It's simple and smart and learns your tastes. The extended offerings cost little more and offer plenty. It's the equivalent of buying a Shuffle over an iPod - but smarter.
Sony Music Unlimited
In a nutshell: The service boasted offering over 22 million songs when the PS4 launched. Apart from being shut down after getting hacked it's proved steady since launching in 2010 and now is on offer worldwide in 19 countries. And it'll all play in offline mode too.
Price: There's a 60-day free trial then it will cost you the usual £10 a month subscription fee.
Devices: Music Unlimited is available on iOS, Android, PS3, PS4 and PS Vita as well as Sony Bravia TVs and Blu-ray players and home theatre systems.
Conclusion: There's a good number of songs on offer, streams stretch to 320kbit/s, it's easy for PlayStation users and Sony home entertainment device owners. It's also probably better off for security than anybody after it got hacked.
In a nutshell: UK-founded website Last.fm has been around since 2002 and offers totally free music that's personalised to your tastes. It uses a Scrobbler plug-in to learn your tastes across devices and recommends the best tracks for you based on that ever-improving profile. Music from the 12 million-song library is streamed as MP3s at 128 kbit/s 44.1 kHz.
Price: Free to those living in the UK, US or Germany - 3 euros a month after a 50-track free trial for others.
Devices: Last.fm is primarily a website-focused player but also works on iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Sonos systems, Xbox and many more.
Conclusion: This is one of the oldest and most-intelligent systems for learning what you like and playing recommendations to you. It's also free and streams at a decent quality. Apart from playing blind lists there's little else to fault on this streaming resource.
It has also recently announced a collaboration with Spotify to allow subscribers to that music streaming service to access their libraries through Last.fm too. That means the whole of Spotify's library is available through the Last.fm service.
In a nutshell: Rara doesn't aim to compete with other streaming music platforms but rather wishes to share music with as many people as possible worldwide. It doesn't offer ad-based subscriptions as it wants to offer the most royalties to musicians. Rara has over 22 million songs which it streams using the Dolby Pulse codec for near CD quality. You can also favourite tracks to find them easily later. There is an offline mode for premium subscribers which works across devices.
Price: Rara is £5 a month for online streaming only or £10 a month across mobiles and tablets which also includes offline mode. There is a three-month trial period though which you can save 20 per cent from your overall subscription.
Devices: Apart from PC and Mac Rara also works on iOS and Android devices, Windows 8 PCs and even BMWs.
Conclusion: That CD quality sound is a great touch at a price that undercuts Qobuz. And the use of the Dolby Pulse codec means it'll be an option for everyone, even those with poorer web connections.
In a nutshell: Bloom, a 2013 London-based startup, is currently an app only music streaming service with over 22 millions songs in its library. A web based version was due to be released in 2013 but still hasn't arrived.
The app allows users to listen to music for free, with adverts. It also lets users "borrow" (cache offline) tracks and create playlists without ads for as little as £1 per month. Bitrate is currently at the 160Kbit/s mark with 320Kbit/s on the way, according to Bloom.
Price: The free service comes when the app is downloaded providing a radio and discovery service but no offline listening. For £1 per month (£1.49 for iOS) users also get playlists, no ads, and can "borrow" 20 tracks storing them for offline listening. £5 (£6.99 on iOS) gets 200 tracks and the full £10 (£14 on iOS) subscription offers unlimited offline listening.
Devices: iOS and Android phones and tablets only with plans for a web version still in the works.
Conclusion: The low cost options cleverly target those new to streaming, and sticking to mobiles only for now probably helps keep costs low. Offline music is important and Bloom recognises this and caters for it. Recommendations and radio options make music discovery easy for an additive, yet affordable service.
In a nutshell: Shuffler is an internet radio platform that selects the best music sites and blogs worldwide and pulls the top tracks in for users to listen to all in one place.
Shuffler uses music curators to offer the best selections including Pitchfork, Fact, The Fader and Boiler Room. These all update daily charts. Users can also subscribe to sites and artists or create personal Radar and Shuffler scans to find the latest tunes best suited to them. Playing by genre is also an option, much like listening to a real radio station.
Price: Free to use as it's an online platform.
Devices: Shuffler is now also available on Sonos speakers. It is also available on iPhone, iPad, as well as within Spotify and Deezer.
Conclusion: Shuffler is a free service that offers a curated way of finding new songs and artists to listen to. It's available as an app on iOS but could be more widely accessible. Since that's the only negative we find with the service, it's pretty impressive.
If you know of any other UK service you think we should include, please let us know in the comments below. This feature is designed to be updated as and when there are changes to the streaming services featured or new ones appear.