Ask a millennial born in Europe or the US to tell you the best app for streaming music, and s/he will probably tell you the question comes down to either Spotify or Apple Music. There's good reason to mention these two leading services. However, looking globally at music streaming reveals a strikingly fragmented and regional pattern among different platforms and companies.
The big two?
To start with Spotify: the company is widely credited for proving that streaming digital rights management (DRM) protected music can be profitable. Since then, Spotify has become the number one in the music streaming industry with well over 200 million active users around the world.
The Swedish platform features over 40 million songs, hundreds of high-quality genre-based and topical playlists, useful social sharing tools, and a world-class (and highly imitated) user interface. Paid users, who count over 96 million as of the end of 2018, also get access to premium features like higher quality audio and the ability to download songs for offline listening.
What about Apple Music? Looking back, the arrival of a music streaming service by the iPod and iPhone maker was, if anything, late. It has also come a long way since its launch in June 2015 as a more or less subscription-based door to the entire iTunes Music Store library, which includes more than 50 million songs. An app redesign in 2016 was well-received and has helped the service to sustain its rapid growth in the 3 years since its launch.
As of December 2018, Apple Music boasts over 56 million subscribers, according to Billboard. Furthermore, the Wall Street Journal reported in early April that Apple Music has overtaken Spotify in the US, with 28 million paid users compared to Spotify's 26 million.
Yet the Apple Music and Spotify services only scratch the surface of what has become a crowded and diverse marketplace of music streaming in the US and Europe alone.
Not far behind Apple Music is Google Play Music with over 40 million subscribers on the Android platform. Meanwhile, an undisclosed proportion of Amazon's 100+ million Prime users are active on the Amazon Prime Music service, though most estimates put that number somewhere around 30-40 million.
At the same time, Pandora and iHeartRadio have remained widely popular digital radio apps in the US with 70-100 million users each. The former has also offered a Spotify-like premium music service of its own since 2017, and it is used by about a tenth of its users.
There is an assortment of other apps also popular. For instance, Deezer and Tidal have found a niche among audiophiles looking for higher sound quality and larger music libraries while Soundcloud has attracted over 100 million subscribers to its most eclectic and user-generated music content.
And what about non-Western countries? If you ask music-loving millennials from outside the US/European cultural orbit what audio streaming app you should use, chances are they will never mention any of the services mentioned above. In India, for example, a streaming app called Gaana has boasted over 50 million subscribers since late 2017 and recently reached 80 million in December 2018.
Spotify currently has plans to launch in India this year, but it'll be entering a market where Gaana already has a big lead and wants to make it bigger. "In the next two years, we think the market will grow from 150 million users to over 400 million users and we would like to lead the market with over 50 per cent market share," said Gaana's chief executive, Prashan Agarwal, to PTI news.
A similar story can be told in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) as well as in China. In the MENA region, the dominant app is Anghami, which was launched in 2012 as the first legal music streaming platform in the Arab world and already has over 60 million subscribers. In China, by far the biggest player is NetEase Music, which saw its subscriber base leap by an incredible 50% during 2018 from 400 to 600 million users; more than the number of subscribers of Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, Soundcloud, and Google Play Music put together.
These numbers turn the assumption of Western dominance in the music streaming arena on its head. Make no mistake, there are many formidable global players in the streaming market right now. But as historically less developed countries develop high-end digital providers of their own, the question may soon be - when will NetEase or Gaana make it in Europe and the US?