5 Digital Music Options That Are Cheaper Than Apple Music

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Key Speakers At The Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC)
David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesApple executive Eddy Cue speaks at the World Wide Developers Conference in San Francisco.
Digital music services were hot before, but now they're even hotter with Apple's (AAPL) launch Tuesday of Apple Music. The world's most valuable consumer electronics company is hoping that music fans will pay $9.99 a month for a new platform that combines several of its earlier offerings into a premium service that blends a subscriber's existing music library with the breadth of Apple's iTunes catalog.

Apple's presence will validate digital streaming. It's the ultimate tastemaker. It will inspire a new audience to explore the possibilities of carrying virtual jukeboxes -- millions of tracks deep -- wherever they go.

However, before you budget $9.99 a month for Apple Music, let's consider a few of the online music services that will be easier on your pocketbook.

1. Pandora Media (P)

Pandora has been pushing out customized tunes since before music streaming was cool, and now it's sitting in the pole position as the country's most popular platform. There were 79.2 million active users of the app, and those listeners are getting more engaged. They're taking in an average of 22.3 hours of content a month, pushing total usage to more than 5.3 billion hours streamed during the first three months of this year.

Most people consume Pandora for free, putting up with ads in exchange for complimentary tunes that are selected by Pandora based on user preferences. Folks who want to skip the ads can pay $4.99 a month for Pandora One, the premium platform that offers other perks including higher-quality streams.

2. Google Play Music

Google's (GOOG) initial foray into digital tracks is Google Play Music, where $9.99 a month offers access to 30 million songs across any device. However, in response to this week's launch of Apple Music, Google Play Music now offers expert-curated radio stations for free.

Folks can't pick their own tracks like they can on the premium version, but it's hard to knock something that's free. Google has struggled to draw an audience to its premium product, so it may as well give Pandora's model a shot to see if that sticks.

3. YouTube

Let's not forget YouTube, especially for folks who like to catch music videos. There are ads that play before many tracks, but it's free. Folks can also set up customized playlists consisting of music videos, so technically this is an on-demand service along the lines of Spotify but with ads.

If you find yourself only interested in the music, you probably wouldn't be the first person who streamed a YouTube video playlist in a buried tab on your PC without watching the eye candy.

4. iHeartRadio

One of the more popular streaming apps started out as a terrestrial radio station giant trying to regain relevancy in the new normal. Clear Channel (CCO) began offering streaming versions of its AM and FM radio, giving anyone in the country access to hundreds of its stations.

iHeartRadio evolved. It began to add more radio stations, and then tapped into a digital catalog of more than 20 million songs to offer customized playlists. iHeartRadio also offers comedy and live music events, making the most of its terrestrial appeal to publicize its platform.

5. A World of Apps

Apple is going to draw a wider audience for digital music, but eventually folks are going to check the music category of Apple's own App Store -- or the app marketplaces of other smartphone operating systems -- and realize that there are plenty of free or nearly free options out there.

Some of the more popular free streaming apps these days include SoundCloud, SongFlip, and TuneIn. The list of top apps changes over time, so it pays to stay current.

Amazon.com (AMZN) shoppers who are part of Amazon Prime can also take advantage of access to Prime Music, the online retailer's catalog of ad-free music that it makes available to Prime members at no additional cost.

This doesn't mean that Apple Music won't be worth every penny; that may very well be the case. However, for folks looking for music on the cheap, we live in a world of bountiful and booming choices.

Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Amazon.com, Apple, Google (A and C shares) and Pandora Media. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Check out our free report on one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.
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