Streaming Music in Korea
On moving to Korea, I knew there would be a lot of things I would need to adjust to – expensive poor quality coffee, being pushed and shoved on the subway without apology, struggling with the language barrier and so on.
One thing I didn’t expect at all was the complete lack of streaming music services available in the country and as I started to browse different websites ready to sign-up to a new subscription so I could listen to the ‘Frozen’ soundtrack on repeat – I was shocked to be confronted with message after message like this:
I tried everything: Spotify, Pandora, Grooveshark, Google Play, Rdio, Sony Music Unlimited, Slacker Radio – nothing worked. This may not seem like a big deal to most people – especially in Korea where media piracy is rife and the superfast broadband speeds make it almost impossible to resist the temptation to simply to torrent everything and anything you want to watch or listen to.
But having worked as an intellectual property lawyer in a former life, and also due to my personal belief that music is something well worth paying for, I said goodbye to my life of piracy a long time ago. For years I bought my music on iTunes, but as prices in Australia rose to $2.19 per song, I made the switch to on-demand streaming audio about a year ago and never looked back.
Thinking about it, it makes sense why these services haven’t expanded into the Korean market. The domestic music industry here is massive and Koreans aren’t really that interested in genres of music outside of K-Pop. While there are thousands of foreigners in Korea, it’s too small of a market to be of interest and most waygooks probably end up getting caught up in the shiny and addictive K-Pop scene anyway. And let’s not forget the many dodgy ways you can bypass geographic restrictions online, but people fail to realise that this is just as illegitimate as downloading torrents.
So where does this leave me? I was just about to tell all my friends back home to ship over hundreds of dollars worth of iTunes Store gift cards, when I thought I’d conduct one last search to make sure I hadn’t missed anything… and I came across Deezer.com. I somehow managed to overlook this French music service in my initial search and almost jumped out of my seat when I saw that the website was set out in Korean.
FINALLY! Deezer has actually been available in Korea since January 2013 and boasts a catalogue of 30 million songs. It is compatible with both Android and iOS and offers two subscription models: “Premium +” (web + mobile) for $5.99 per month and “Premium” (web only) for $2.99 per month. There’s also a 15 day free trial if you want to try before you buy.
The only downside to Deezer is that it doesn’t seem to have any K-Pop in its catalogue, unlike other international music services that at least include mainstream Korean artists like Big Bang, 2NE1 and Psy. It would be great to have a one-size-fits-all solution to my music needs, but for now I’m just happy to have Elsa, Anna, Lorde and the cast of Glee back in my pocket.
After some further digging, it appears that Xbox Music is also available in Korea and all you need to do is sign in with a Windows account (eg. your old @hotmail.com email address) to listen to unlimited web-based music for free. Also, unlike Deezer, Xbox Music does include some K-Pop in its catalogue.
It also has a better ‘browsing’ interface if you want to look through new music or charts. You can purchase a Music Pass that gives you mobile access via the Xbox Music app, but the the subscription is slightly pricier than Deezer at $9.99 per month or $99.90 for a 12 month subscription. I haven’t been able to purchase one yet because the country/region on the billing form is fixed as USA and it won’t let me change it to Australia or Korea – but this looks like a great options for Americans living in Korea.
Do you know of any other music streaming options available in Korea? Or do you have any advice on the best or easiest Korean music subscription service for foreigners? Please share your wisdom in a comment below!