What Is Streaming Music?

Listen to tunes without downloading them

Streaming music, or more accurately, streaming audio, is a method of feeding audio content to your device directly, without requiring you to download files from the internet. Music services such as Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music use this method to deliver songs you can enjoy on all types of devices.

Streaming Audio Delivery

In the past, if you wanted to listen to music or any other type of audio, you downloaded an audio file in a format such as MP3, WMA, AAC, OGG, or FLAC. However, when you use a streaming delivery method, you don't have to download a file. You can start listening through a device or smart speakers immediately.

Streaming differs from downloads in that no copy of the music is saved to your hard drive. If you want to hear it again, you can easily do so. Some paid streaming music services allow you to both stream and download.

How Streaming Happens

The requested audio file is delivered in small data packets so the data is buffered on your computer and played straight away. As long as a steady stream of packets is delivered to your computer, you'll hear the sound without interruption.

Globe surrounded by musical notes.

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Requirements for Streaming Music to Computers

On a computer, in addition to needs like a sound card, speakers, and an internet connection, you might also need software. Even though web browsers play some streaming music formats, software media players installed on your computer might come in handy.

Popular software media players include VLC, Winamp, and RealPlayer. Because there are many streaming audio formats, you might need to install a few of these players to play from various sources on the internet.

Paid Streaming Music Subscriptions

Streaming music subscriptions are popular. Apple Music, which is available on Windows and Mac computers, is a streaming music subscription with millions of songs you can stream to your computer. 

Amazon Music and YouTube Music offer similar subscriptions. These paid programs offer free trials that allow you to evaluate their services. Some services such as Spotify, Deezer, and Pandora, provide free tiers of advertising-supported music with the option of paid premium tiers.

Streaming to Mobile Devices

The apps provided by streaming music providers are the best and usually the only way to enjoy their streaming music on mobile devices. However, every music service offers an app, so you just need to download it from the Apple App Store or Google Play to enjoy streaming music on your smartphone or tablet.

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