Short on holiday music? Slip into the stream

The holiday season approaches and that generally means it’s time to exceed nine out of ten doctors’ recommended doses of food, drink, and holiday music. Which of the comestibles you choose to excessively consume is between you and your constitution. We, however, can help with the last item.

There’s no need to hang out at the mall to get your fill of holiday tunes. With an Internet connection and a computer, you can stream all the holiday music you like—and, likely, a lot that you don't. (We can even tell you how to fill your home with all that music, if that’s your goal.) And—the best present of all—without paying a penny for it. Let’s look at some of your options.

Pandora

When the subject of free streaming music crops up, the first word on everyone’s lips should be “Pandora.” For the five or six of you who have never used Pandora, it works this way.

After creating an account, you add stations based on a track, artist, or genre. A simple query for “holiday” or “Christmas” will produce a handful of stations. Pick a station, and holiday-themed music will start streaming.

But the results you hear may be a little broad—you get both Bing and Buble. If you’d like narrower results, try building your search on a particular track—Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” or John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over).” Create searches based on artist and track and the resulting playlist better focuses on the variety of artists who supply your holiday cheer.

Pandora reliably delivers nothing but holiday tunes.

The free version of Pandora is ad-supported. If you’d like to listen to Pandora ad-free you can purchase a Pandora One subscription for $36 per year. Its catalog is significantly smaller than other services, but it’s one of the few that offers free streaming on mobile devices.

iTunes Radio

Earlier this year, Apple launched its music streaming service, iTunes Radio. Similar to Pandora, you can create stations based on artist, genre, or song. Additionally, Apple offers stations that it creates. iTunes Radio is found within the latest versions of iTunes for Mac and Windows as well as on iOS devices running iOS 7.

Rely on stations created by Apple for a holiday music-only experience.

iTunes Radio is new and in regard to creating stations, it shows. In my tests Pandora played nothing but holiday music when I chose Crosby’s “White Christmas” as a source track. In a 10-track test, iTunes Radio delivered just five holiday songs from the same source track. The other five were old chestnuts (absent the open fire) along the lines of Judy Garland’s “Over the Rainbow” and Johnny Mathis’ “Misty.” Fortunately, you needn’t rely entirely on the stations you create. Apple provides featured stations (which are really human-created playlists). As I write this iTunes Radio offers the Holiday Hits and Holiday Classics stations for your listening enjoyment.

iTunes Radio is also free for those willing to endure advertisements. If you’d like to remove those ads just purchase a $25-per-year iTunes Match subscription.

Slacker Radio

Slacker is another service somewhat in the mold of Pandora (though it also offers an on-demand subscription component). Just as with Pandora and iTunes Radio, you can create stations based on artist, song, album, or genre. When you first search for Holiday in Slacker, you’ll see just a single station called Holiday Party. But dig a bit deeper and you additionally find Jazz Holiday, Classical Holiday, Eclectic Holiday, and New Holiday Hits stations.

Slacker provides free streaming to mobile devices as well as computers via the web.

Slacker’s free version has its share of commercials as well, but unlike some other on-demand services, it offers free streaming to mobile devices. For $4 a month, you can remove those ads as well as customize and download the contents of your stations for offline listening. Pay $10 monthly to gain on-demand access to Slacker’s library.

Mog, Rdio, Spotify, and Pure Connect

These four services are largely subscription-centric—where you pay $5 to $10 a month for the privilege of on-demand access to their libraries of millions of tracks. But in the last couple of years, they’ve all provided some free access to their catalogs. While much of that is on-demand, each service offers some kind of radio feature, though they’re generally based on artist rather than genre.

In the case of Mog, you can listen to an ad-supported version on your computer for free, but at higher bit-rates than Pandora. For mobile access, however, you must pay $10 a month for the on-demand ad-free Primo plan. Mog’s radio feature is based on artist rather than genre, so you’ll either want to compile a playlist of your holiday favorites or look for playlists created by others.

Rdio has a free plan where you can listen to a limited number of ad-free tracks for up to six months in your browser or with a dedicated application compatible with the Mac or Windows. As with Mog, you can have unlimited access (including support for mobile devices) for $10 a month. And, like Mog, Rdio bases its stations on artist rather than genre so, again, look for playlists that satisfy your hunger for holiday hits.

Spotify offers free ad-supported streaming to users in U.S. In other countries, Spotify places limits on the amount of music you can stream. As with other services, you can use a Web player for playing Spotify’s stations, but you can also use Spotify’s desktop application; with that application, you can play the music stored on your computer. The mobile app also gives you access to locally stored music, but streaming is supported only in paid plans. Unlike Mog and Rdio, Spotify is smart about radio stations. If you choose “White Christmas” as a source track, it will play other seasonal tracks.

Pure Connect can connect you with Internet and terrestrial radio stations that play holiday fare.

Pure Connect is a new service in the U.S. Formerly called the Lounge, it was previously available in the U.K. and designed largely to feed Pure’s music players. Now, like Mog, Rdio, and Spotify, it’s focused on subscription. Beyond offering the usual millions of on-demand tracks it additionally streams live radio and podcasts. Pure Connect’s free Green plan opens the gate to thousands of Internet and terrestrial radio stations. During the holidays, these stations often play seasonally appropriate music—some without commercial breaks.

A surfeit of seasons greetings

With the understanding that there are only 26 holiday songs worthy of being recorded (though far more have been) it should be clear that if all it takes is a dash of jingle and smattering of bells to trim your tree, the Internet provides it by the stockingful.

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