Streaming 101: what’s the difference between ad-supported & subscription-based music streaming?

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Some of the larger streaming services offer a free user experience, whilst others only offer paid subscriptions. What does this mean for the listener and the artists they’re listening to?

💸 Ad-supported streaming

The secret’s very much in the name. Ad-supported streaming is free to listeners, with adverts being played at regular intervals throughout their listening experience. These adverts can range from being as short as 10 seconds, to as long as a couple of minutes.

Some ad-supported streaming plans also limit the amount of interaction you have with your music. Such as limiting the number of skips you have, not allowing replays or removing the option to choose specific songs by an artist. Instead, songs might be be dictated by an algorithm which will play in a shuffle order.

Artists with a large amount of ad-supported streams will see lower pay outs compared to if their fans had premium subscriptions with streaming services.

Streaming platforms that offer free, ad-supported listening include Spotify, Deezer & SoundCloud.

💳 Subscription-based streaming

Subscription-based streaming involves listeners paying for the music they listen to. This will most often be in the form of a monthly payment to the streaming platform. This listening model means no disrupted adverts or listening & interaction limits.

There are other perks of being a premium subscriber, with some platforms offering unlimited online and offline access to music meaning you can listen anywhere you want. Premium subscribers are also largely to thank for certain platform’s successes and profits, with Spotify stating that 91% of their total revenue for 2020 coming from premium subscribers.

Artists with a majority of premium-streams (streams from premium subscribers) will see higher pay outs than compared to ad-supported streams.

Nearly all streaming platforms will offer a premium, subscription based model, including Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer and a long list of others.


⚖️ The great thing about these two offerings is that you can access your favourite music either way; no matter what budget you’re on. However, you might want to consider the upgrade when the adverts and lack of listening flexibility become too much.

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