It’s called Xbox Music, but make no mistake — the frontman in this band is Windows 8.

Microsoft is taking another run at digital music with a new service called Xbox Music, unveiling the details tonight. Xbox Music will include free, ad-supported music streaming on Windows 8 PCs and tablets, starting with the Oct. 26 launch of the new operating system. That feature is similar to the approach taken by the popular Spotify music service.

Xbox Music also includes a $10/month Xbox Music Pass, which gets users ad-free streaming on Windows 8 machines, plus the ability to use the streaming service on the Xbox 360 and Windows Phone 8 devices. Subscribers will be able to synchronize their playlists through the cloud to access their music on various machines.

The company will also offer an Xbox Music Store for paid music downloads, with 30 million tracks at launch.

One big catch: You’ll need to be an Xbox Live Gold member ($60/year) to access the streaming service on the Microsoft console, and subscribe to the $10/month Xbox Music service on top of that.

Microsoft says it will release Xbox Music apps for Windows 7, iOS and Android next year.

It’s the latest in a series of attempts by Microsoft to make a mark in digital music, but the company has learned a thing or two since the launch of the Zune service and device. Xbox Music is notable in part because it’s the furthest Microsoft has attempted to stretch the Xbox brand into pure entertainment, beyond its legacy in video games.

“Xbox Music on Windows will be the best place to start, and that’s going to be the best experience you’re going to get, but eventually you’re going to want to put that on a (competing) phone or on a tablet and take that with you, and that’s when we’re going to branch out to some of those other platforms,” said Scott Porter, a Microsoft principal program manager, giving a tour of the new service last week.

Xbox Music will take the place of the Zune music service on Xbox Live.

For now, Xbox Music is lacking significant social integration, with the company saying it will “add unique social features in the coming year that let you share your music experiences with friends and family.”

In addition, next year Microsoft plans to launch a “scan-and-match” service to help users bring their existing tracks into their Xbox Music Libraries. That’s similar to features offered by Apple and Amazon.

Features of the streaming service include the ability to play any song from a library of millions of tracks, following Spotify’s model, or the option to set up “Smart DJ” streams, similar to a Pandora approach. Microsoft will also limit free, ad-supported playback on Windows 8 after six months, similar to Spotify’s approach.

In addition, Xbox Music will work in conjunction with an upcoming “SmartGlass” app, letting users treat a Windows 8 tablet as a secondary screen to browse music and control playback on an Xbox 360 console.
Like what you're reading? Subscribe to GeekWire's free newsletters to catch every headline


  • Guest

    Very cool! I’m especially impressed that this service will work on iOS and Android as well. The requirement to have Xbox Live Gold is kind of a drag, but a resourceful man can get that for well below $60 a year and there are loads of other features to justify the price.

    Can’t wait for the 26th!

  • Guest

    Pretty confusing name but besides that: Xbox Music is $60/year more expensive than Spotify and it’s a Microsoft only play for now (“next year” & “eventually” on other devices). So no thanks, I’ll happily stick with Spotify enjoying 13 million tracks across all my devices right now for less money.

  • guest

    “For now, Xbox Music is lacking significant social integration”
    Way to showcase W8’s social capabilities. (facepalm).

  • Guest

    Let’s see, Rhapsody has been doing this for many years already, well before Zune was created or Spotify came into existence.
    Where’s the innovation here?

    • Sick of trolls

      Where’s the innovation in iTunes? Hasn’t hurt its success.

  • rruffman

    That 60 per year is only if you want to play music. On the Xbox has nothing to do with plying on the phone or win8

  • betty legert

    Geekwire should see the Gizmodo article for xbox music and learn how to write.

    • guest

      And you should learn how to express yourself without resorting to ad hominems.

  • guest

    Nothing radically new here, but maybe MS is finally learning that innovation can just be taking existing good ideas and combining them in a new and interesting ways, as Apple has done so effectively.

    I would however have liked to see W7 support. Disappointed that’s not even planned. And obviously availability of iOS and Android at launch would have made the overall offering stronger. But I imagine that has more to do with music label negotiations and upfront cost, not technical constraints.

  • Christopher Budd

    It’s interesting that you mention Spotify because I gave it a try for a year and ultimately decided to go back to buying music and playing it locally off my computer or on my iPod.

    The reason I did that is material here: the royalty scheme behind the streaming services is very bad for artists. I go into detail in this post in my music blog ( but if you want to support artists and music, you’ll pass on streaming services.

    It would be nice to know what the royalty/artists’ support story is on this new service. But I suspect it’s no better than Spotify.

    • guest

      You may not like the royalty for artists from streaming, and they may not either. But the alternative in many cases is $0 due to piracy, which presumably is why the people most artists entrusted to negotiate on their behalf, namely labels, agreed to it. Anyway, this Xbox service includes all mainstream options for consuming content. So not clear why that particular criticism is “material” here.

Job Listings on GeekWork