Music streaming – a user’s guide to the best listening experience

Spotify Playlist

Spotify

Run to the beat

Spotify Running is a new feature and part of Spotify’s “now experience” that detects the rhythm of your run and matches it to a song with a similar tempo. This means that in theory you’ll always be running in time with your music. To get started, go to your settings (three white bars, top left), select Running and choose one of the playlists available. Spotify will then instruct you to begin running so that it can detect your tempo. For example, if you run at 150 steps a minute Spotify will play only songs that have been recorded at 150 beats per minute. You can manually adjust the steps/min by increments of five if you feel the detection is off or if you want to use the feature but your smartphone does not have an accelerometer.

Watch and listen to shows

You can now watch and listen to both video and audio shows on Spotify. Tap Shows to check them out. At the top you’ll see a few featured suggestions as well as the option to browse video or audio shows individually. Scroll further down and you’ll find some useful categories to help you refine your search such as Lifestyle, Tech & Gaming, News, etc. Spotify has teamed up with a lot of entertainment bigwigs such as ABC, Comedy Central, NBC, and Vice Media, to name a few, so you can probably expect to find a lot of high quality content here in the near future.

Hide your guilty pleasures

Spotify keeps a log of every song you play, which is a great feature for keeping track of what you’re listening to and for sharing your music with friends through social media. However, it’s not such a great feature if you have some questionable music taste that you’d rather other people weren’t aware of. Fortunately this is easy enough to fix. On Spotify’s desktop app click File > Private Session. If you’d like even more privacy, click Edit > Preferences and turn off “Automatically make new playlists public” as well as “Publish my activity on Spotify”.

Use BBC Playlister to create playlists BBC Playlister is one of the more interesting music curation services for people in the UK. It allows you to create your own playlists within Spotify based on songs that have been featured across the BBC TV and radio. Go to bbc.co.uk/music/playlister, sign up for a free account and link your curated playlist by clicking the Spotify icon (other streaming services are also compatible). So let’s say you just heard a great track on Radio 2 and you want to listen to it again: go to Playlister, click Tracks, sort them by most recent, find the song you just heard and add it to your playlist. The same process would apply if you heard something on any other channel across the BBC.

View lyrics as your music plays

Spotify now has a lyrics button, which is currently available only on the desktop app, so if you mainly use Spotify on your mobile device, this one may have passed you by. You can find the button on the bottom right of the window, to the left of the Queue button. There are even a few settings you can play around with at the bottom of the window. From here you can remove the album art from the background, alter the size of the text, and edit or report inaccurate lyrics. You can also display the lyrics all at once or have them appear on the screen in time with the song, karaoke style.

Manage your notifications

Spotify has a lot of notifications (27, to be precise) that you can take control of. You can access these in the Spotify app by going to Settings > Notifications. You’ll immediately see a few that you’ll probably want to turn off straight away. For instance, I turned off “New user tutorial”, “Music recommendations”, “Radio station suggestions”, “New album release”, “Friends from Facebook join Spotify”. That information can stay in the app – I really don’t need it pushed to my phone’s lock screen. Things like Inbox and New follower are more important to me, however, so I left those on. If you hate any and all push notifications then you’ll be pleased to know there’s a option to disable all notifications.

Use Spotify Premium (and any other streaming service in this list) for free

Would you like five months of ad-free, high quality, streaming music without paying a penny? Of course you would. The great thing about all of the streaming services listed in this article (Spotify, Tidal, Google Play Music, Deezer and Rdio) is that they all offer a free trial of their premium service for 30 days. So go ahead and sign up for Spotify’s premium service to get your first 30-day free trial and then immediately cancel your subscription. You’ll want to immediately cancel because Spotify will automatically renew your subscription after the free trial, which will set you back £10. The beauty of this is that if you cancel straight away, you get to continue using free premium content for the full 30 days before your premium privileges are removed. This method works for all the streaming services in this article, so after one trial is over, simply hop on to another and daisy chain them together to get five months of ad-free music streaming.

Tidal

Adjust your stream quality

Tidal prides itself on being the first music streaming service with hi-fi sound quality, so it’s important you’re taking full advantage of all it has to offer. From either the web or mobile interface click Settings on the bottom left and then click Streaming. From here you can choose from three quality settings: AAC +96 (Normal); AAC 320 (High); Flac 1411 (hi-fi). The mobile app streaming settings are more extensive, allowing you to change the Wi-Fi, Mobile and Download streaming settings individually. There’s also an optimised playback button, which will adjust the streaming quality based on how strong your Wi-Fi or data connection is. Although one of Tidal’s biggest selling points is its high streaming quality, you’ll want to make sure you don’t use Flac (hi-fi) when roaming, as this could end up costing you a lot of money if you don’t have unlimited data.

Share the love

Unfortunately Tidal offers very little by way of sharing capabilities. However, fans of Last.fm will be pleased to know that you can at least scrobble your songs (for those not in the know, scrobbling is a form of automatic archiving provided by Last.fm) by heading to Settings > Sharing > Connect to Last.fm and selecting the scrobble checkbox. From here you can also connect your Facebook account, allowing you easily to share favourite tracks with friends.

Search by audio

Here’s a fun little feature that seems to be available only on Tidal’s mobile app. Click the three white bars in the top left to open the configuration sidebar and select Audio Search at the bottom. Now tap the microphone in the middle of your screen and hold your phone or tablet up to a music source. After a few seconds of listening, Tidal will find you the song that’s being played, provided it’s in Tidal’s library. We’ve seen this before and it’s by no means a new idea, but it’s always a nice little feature to have and if you don’t regularly use the mobile app, it’s one of those things that can be easily missed.

Manage your offline devices

There are two ways to manage your offline devices. From Tidal’s mobile app go to Settings > Offline > Authorised Devices. You’ll see a list of devices you have authorised, tap one and it gives you the exact date it was registered and when that device last logged into your account. Unfortunately you’re limited to three devices at any one time, but you can deauthorise and reauthorise as many devices as you like. Simply head to https://my.tidal.com/gb/account/offline if you wish to adjust these settings on your browser. This is something you’ll want to be familiar with if you listen to music across multiple devices or you intend to share your account.

Google Play Music

Equalise your music

Bizarrely, equalisation controls are available only for the Android version of Google Play Music. You cannot access this setting in your browser or in the iOS app. That said, if you have an Android device go to Settings > General > Equaliser. You can fiddle with the settings manually, or you can use some of the presets provided by Google, such as bass punch, brilliant treble, balanced, vocaliser or extreme bass.

Use the mini player

While using the browser-based music player, there’s a small greyed out square with an arrow in it next to the timestamp on the right of the screen. Click this and you’ll activate the mini player – a separate window with minimal Google Play Music controls. This is great if you’ve loaded up a playlist or two and don’t need much control over your music. Additionally, keeping your playback outside your main browser window can be a good way to declutter your workspace and keep things organised. While control is limited in this view, you can still thumbs up songs and play the I’m Feeling Lucky radio station in addition to viewing album art.

Desktop notifications

With Google Play Music’s desktop notification you can find out which track is playing without having to switch back and forth between tabs or your mini player. This is one of Google’s “lab” features, which means it’s still a bit experimental and potentially buggy, but I’ve been using it with no problems. To turn it on, go to Settings > Labs > Desktop Notifications. With this activated, a small window will appear at the bottom right of your screen every time a new track starts. The window will display the song title, artist name, album title and album cover and will disappear after a few seconds. Alternatively, you can close the window manually.

Chromecast Fireplace Visualiser

While you’re still in Labs, you might also want to check out Chromecast Fireplace Visualiser. Once activated, this will display a video of a fire on your TV via Chromecast while casting music. This is a bit of a weird feature and I’m not sure why it exists. It could perhaps be good fun while hosting house parties or maybe an interesting way to inject a bit of festive glow in December if you bung on some Chistmassy songs at the same time. Others have suggested this could be used romantically. An evening by the fire with your significant other and some sexy music, that sort of thing. The only thing is, it’s not a real fire, is it? So you’re probably just going to feel a bit silly. I would not recommend the romantic option.

Deezer

Cull Deezer spam

Deezer will send you a lot of unnecessary emails by default, which can be annoying. For instance, I really don’t want my email clogged up with Deezer’s music recommendations or news about the latest Deezer Sessions and other events. On the rare occasion I want that information, I’ll look for it myself. Fortunately, it’s possible to unsubscribe from all of its mailing lists. To do this from the browser, click the small cog next to your name then click Settings > Alerts & Sharing. Scroll down to the bottom and uncheck the promotional emails.

Go with the flow

Deezer calls its flow feature your “instant and personalised radio channel”. Basically, if you can’t be bothered to create a playlist or you don’t know what you want to listen to, you can activate flow, which will start streaming music to you based on what you have listened to in the past. If you don’t like one of the suggestions, you can tell Deezer never to play it again; likewise, if you really enjoy a track, you can add it to your favourites while at the same time giving Deezer a better idea of what kind of music you like. Click Hear This and select Start Flow.

Adjust your smart cache

Smart cache is a clever feature that stores your most played tracks locally so that they reload faster if you’re in areas with poor Wi-Fi or data connectivity. It’s like offline mode, but without the hassle of having to specify which tracks you want to make available offline or having manually to download new tracks as your library expands/tastes change. To increase or decrease your cache size go to Settings > App > Smart Cache. Now adjust to slider depending on how large or small you wish your cache to be. The larger the cache size, the more songs you can store locally, and vice versa. You can also empty your cache from here and set the slider to zero if you don’t want any songs taking up space.

Track your listening habits with Stateeztics

Deezer has lots of great apps. A good one to get started with is Stateeztics. This will track your listening habits, provide information about the songs and artists you listen to, keep you up to date with what your friends have been listening to (provided they also use Stateeztics) and even tell you what the soundtrack to your life is. It’s good fun and a great way to get into using third party apps in conjunction with Deezer. To find Stateeztics just go to the App Studio, search for Stateeztics, select it and tap ‘Add to my apps’. Once installed, why not head back to the App Studio and see what else is on offer now that you’re more familiar with them.

Rdio

Change your playlist images

Changing your playlist images is a doddle with Rdio. From your web-browser select a playlist, click the three dots to the right of the play button and select Edit Playlist. A new window will pop up. From here you can change the title, description, privacy and the image associated with your playlist. Next to Artwork click the button that says Upload new image and select any picture you have saved. If you don’t like your new image, click Remove directly below Upload new image and Rdio will replace it with the original picture. This works for any playlist, regardless as to whether to not you created it.

Use your phone or tablet as a remote and more

This is such a simple yet incredibly useful feature. Let’s say you’re playing Rdio on your computer at home. If you open up the Rdio app on your phone at the same time and you’re on the same network, a blue bar will appear at the bottom of the app stating “Rdio is playing elsewhere”. Tap the blue bar. A new window will pop up, giving you full control over the song playing. Not only can you play, pause, skip, like or dislike the song, but you can also look at the album’s artwork at the same time. If you want to listen to Rdio on your phone rather than use the app as a remote, just tap the button that says “Tap to play here instead”.

Sleep timer (app only)

Here’s another simple but great feature. Go to Settings > Additional > Sleep Timer. Now you can tell Rdio to play for a specific time – ranging from 15 to 120 minutes – before it shuts off. This is fantastic for people who like to fall asleep to music. Even better, if you’ve created a soothing playlist to help you drift off. Just set it to your desired time, put it to one side and forget about it, safe in the knowledge you won’t be wasting data or having to get out of bed later to switch your device off. Unfortunately this is available only in Rdio’s app and not in its browser interface.

Drag and drop album covers to quickly share or add songs to your playlists

If you’re listening to Rdio in your browser and you want to quickly add the song currently playing to a playlist, just click the song’s artwork and begin to drag. A little sidebar will pop up on the right, giving you the option to share the song with fellow Rdio users, Facebook friends, Twitter followers or to add to a playlist. Drag the image on to the playlist button and you can then either add it to an existing playlist or create a new one.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Nicholas Tufnell, for The Observer on Sunday 7th June 2015 08.59 Europe/London

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