Music Discovery: Free Ways To Expand Your Musical Canvas

According to the Wikipedia page for the iTunes store, there are over 14,000,000 songs available for purchase. And that’s only the artists Apple is legally able to sell.

There is always something new out there for the music nerd to discover. Yes, we’ve all probably heard of last.fm and pandora, but what makes each of them unique? What others are fighting for a spot in the music discovery spotlight? Let’s take a quick peek.Last.Fm The cornerstone that sets last.fm’s apart is scrobbling. For those of you that have last.fm accounts, you may know the term “If it doesn’t scrobble, it doesn’t count.” As a user of the site, I can understand the importance of this statement. It is slightly obsessive. Scrobbling is very simple: every song that you play on your computer is uploaded to your last.fm page. From there, you can delete specific songs from your listening history. (Of course, you wouldn’t ever want everyone finding out about your secret passion for The Jonas Brothers) As you start building up a history of plays, last.fm will recommend you similar artists, not in your library. You can even listen to a personalized radio based upon your recommendation. However, what I love most about this site is their “tag radio”. As you listen to a song, you can tag it with keywords… anything from “electronic rock” to “best of 2005” to “supremely high at 2AM” On the other end, when you type in a tag on the radio, it will play songs that were tagged as what you typed in. The other night, I typed in “minimal piano” in the radio, and enjoyed a good two hours of music while studying.  But the best discoveries come when networking with other users. Once you find someone with very similar taste, (which is another staple of the site) you can listen to a radio of their library. There is quite a lot to look at here, and is one of the best tools out there for finding new material.

Pandora Pandora has a very different approach to suggesting music; one that works very well. It’s main focus is on WHY we like certain music… the vocals, patterns, instrumentation, mood, tempo and many more musical dynamics. Every song that you’ll hear on their website has undergone a methodical review process. You can read more about these on their Wikipedia page, or elsewhere. Their website is strictly radio-based. While you are able to see others profiles, it’s not the most streamlined process. Also, most people who use Pandora do not communicate with others using the site. What’s unique about Pandora, is that you can type in a song, and it will play radio based on it’s dynamics. You can then add to the radio, by adding other songs or artists. Pandora has never really let me down with their suggestions. One downside is the ads, which occur every four songs or so. Pandora can be linked with your facebook account, so it can also make suggestions by looking at your music interests. Comparing the “similar artists radio” directly between Pandroa and Last.fm, pandora is the clear winner. I just wished it had more features.


8 Tracks
A budding website that brings a whole new approach to online radio. Think of it as a combination of receiving a mix CD, and listening to satellite radio. The idea is this: You search for an artist, and are given a variety of mixes that include your artist in them. This also works for keywords as well. I find 8tracks interesting, because the radio is being created by another person, not a computer algorithm. It gives a more personal and vintage feel: which is what music is all about anyway. It does feel very radio-like too; the 8tracks music license will not allow you to continually skip songs. I feel as if the site is more geared toward alternative rock, electronic, rap, and post-1990 music, there simply are more mixes for these genres. 8tracks can be linked to your last.fm account, you every song you listen to will be scrobbled to your history. This is great for keeping track of your new discoveries! It’s hard to tell if 8tracks will be a fleeting trend, or if it will stick. It’s worth a try.

Other sites worth checking out:

http://www.thesixtyone.com/ <<- Great for total spontaneity. From the moment you enter, a song starts playing. You can love it, and listen until your heart’s content. Also, you can log in via your facebook acount to easily keep a record of your loved songs. Music varies, but most of it is indepenent. Intersting site layout as well.

http://listen.grooveshark.com/ <<- Think of it as if the internet shared itunes. Once you listen to at least two songs, it will start creating a radio if you allow it. I’ve had mixed results with the radio, but it’s got a ton of music.

http://www2.research.att.com/~yifanhu/Music_Map/index.html <<- No music here… but for all you cartographers out there, have fun with one of the best music maps out there. The pop stuff is seen from the least zoomed-in state, but type in an artist/group and follow it in closer. It’s rather neat to see music in the form of a mythical land, don’t you think?

Well, I know that’s a mouthful. I hope that you’ll consider some of these great sites, and find some wonderful new tunes. along the way. On a final note, don’t forget the most basic method of finding new material: strike up a conversation with someone. Computers are great, but there is something intangible about getting into a band that someone took the time to show you. Music ties us together, fever forget that.

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