What is Streaming Music?

All about streaming music & how it works

Photo of a woman and a man listening to streaming music
© Frederic Cirou / Getty Images

Streaming music, or more accurately streaming audio, is a way of delivering sound without the need to download files of different audio formats.

Music services like Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music use this method to provide songs that can be enjoyed on all types of different devices.

Streaming Audio Delivery

Typically, if you want to listen to music, or any other type of audio, you need to download an audio file in a format like MP3, WMA, AAC, OGG, or Flac.

However, when a streaming delivery method is used then there's no need to download a complete file first.

The basic way that this process works is that the audio file is delivered in small "packets" in order for the data to be buffered on your computer and played pretty much straight away. As long as there is a steady stream of these packets delivered to your computer, you'll hear the sound without any interruptions.

This method of listening to music is particularly useful for situations that need instantaneous delivery, such as live broadcasts or music services that typically provide 30-second music clips before you buy.

Requirements for Streaming Music

On a computer, in addition to obvious needs like a sound card, speakers, and an Internet connection, you'll also need the right software. Even though Web browsers have the ability to play some streaming music formats, you'll also need a collection of software media players installed on your computer.

Popular software media players include Microsoft Windows Media Player, Winamp, RealPlayer, etc. Because there are many streaming audio formats these days, you'll need to install a few of these players to be able to play all streaming music from various sources on the Internet.

On your smartphone or tablet, the apps provided by these streaming music providers are the best, and usually the only, way to enjoy streaming music provided by those companies.