Pandora Radio helped revolutionized the digital music industry — for better or worse — when it debuted roughly 15 years ago, creating a new standard for online streaming music. Through the years, various competitors popped up who offered slightly different sets of features, though hardly any had the substance to remain relevant. After six years of Pandora’s dominance, two Swedish businessmen came up with an idea for an online streaming client which provided users unprecedented access to all their favorite artists and songs. They spent two years refining this idea and — after crafting a workable strategy — unveiled Spotify to the world in 2008. From that point forward, it began the gigantic task of siphoning customers from the then-King of Internet Radio, Pandora.
Fast forward seven years and Spotify is perhaps one of the largest purveyors of online music, touting roughly 15 million paid subscribers and a whopping 60 million active monthly users. However, Pandora didn’t just pack up its business and hit the road despite providing what many believe to be a secondary product. As of October of 2014, Pandora reported 250 million registered users, with around 81 million of those serving as its active listener base. While its likely a Pandora user also owns a subscription to Spotify, these numbers prove online streaming music is one industry growing at an astounding rate. But which one truly reigns supreme? To get a better idea of how these two behemoths of online music stack up, we pitted them against each other in an ultimate streaming music showdown. Keep in mind, what follows is purely a comparison of Pandora vs. Spotify, and we took into account a series of factors before crowning our eventual champion.
Library and features
Because of each service’s immense popularity, you’d expect both to feature a relatively similar amount of available music. In reality however, this category isn’t even close, easily going to Spotify whose catalog is roughly 20 times larger than Pandora’s. With a music library totaling just north of 20 million songs, compared to roughly 1 million for Pandora, Spotify is the gold standard among music streaming services. Though it doesn’t offer every known song under the sun — artists like Tool and Taylor Swift chose to withhold their music — its massive library is an incredibly impressive offering. Moreover, Spotify continues to add new music every week, uploading hosts of new albums the second they drop on either Monday or Tuesday. This feature proved especially handy on March 10 when Kendrick Lamar “leaked” his new album, To Pimp A Butterfly, and Spotify had it instantly available for streaming minutes after the leak. Though this example only helped fans of Lamar’s music, it goes to show Spotify’s commitment to providing as complete a catalog of music as possible to its users. To Pandora’s credit — despite its meager offering of songs — the service does have a knack for finding obscure artists. Because of this, its catalog remains varied and allows users ample opportunity to discover new music.
There’s no denying music’s incredible power to connect people, far and wide. Understanding this as a valuable tool, Pandora and Spotify afford its users the capability to connect with friends, share their favorite songs, or simply recommend artists and playlists. However, these streaming clients differ vastly when it comes to comparing the social components akin to each service. For Pandora, its lackluster attempt at social features essentially offers next to nothing to satisfy social media junkies’ thirst for digital interactions. Users do have the ability to share their favorite stations across Facebook and Twitter, but any links to specific songs simply direct users to the song’s information page without offering an option to play the song.
Spotify’s social offering easily gets the nod in this category as it offers users a slew of options for sharing music and connecting with friends. Spotify users all have the ability to share individual songs, entire playlists, and even specific artists with any of their friends/followers on Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr. Moreover, users also have the option of sending playlists and songs to friends directly through the Spotify application. These playlists and songs show up in a user’s Spotify inbox, accessible via the desktop program or mobile application. Spotify also allows users to collaborate on playlists and gives them the power to make these public for anybody to listen to and follow. Simply put, Spotify blows Pandora out of the water in terms of its social media capabilities.
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons people choose one streaming service over the other is how easy it is for them to discover new music. While everyone has a favorite artist (or three), there’s no denying the fact people enjoy coming across new bands or expanding their listening preferences. Because of this, a desire to use a music client adept at finding audible diamonds in the rough exists among nearly every online music streamer.
In terms of our showdown, there exists one clear winner when it comes to music discovery; Pandora succeeds here with flying colors and wins by a landslide. When it burst on the streaming radio scene back in 2000, Pandora created its legacy on the fact it served as an online radio — of sorts — which played music based on a desired genre or artist. Over time, the brains behind Pandora crafted an intricate algorithm — called the Music Genome Project — which has the uncanny ability to provide listeners with the exact music they want to listen to, even if they’ve never specifically heard the songs played. Due in large part to its Music Genome Project, Pandora allows for a music discovery experience second to none, easily besting Spotify in this category.
Though it’s clear Pandora wins this category by a large margin, it’s fair to at least shed some light on Spotify’s radio function. Where Pandora geared its radio towards playing off its users’ taste in music, Spotify functions similarly to the radio you listen to in your car. Rarely does it travel outside the realm of a chosen genre or artist, playing it particularly close to the chest, even over several hours. Because of Spotify’s reluctance to venture outside the box, it isn’t the greatest vehicle for discovering new music.
Next page: Assessing the free and paid versions and crowning a champion…