By Blair Jackson
<3 Laid-Back Listener
Rock steady. Lean back. All you need to navigate Pandora is a click of the mouse and a few favorite bands, which is even easier if you have Facebook, since stations will automatically generate for your favorite music.
The Music Genome project is the brain of Pandora — and it’s a mega-genius brain with the single focus of creating a perfect listening experience. Music analysts have categorized each song and band within hundreds of taxonomies. I’m currently listening to “Welcome Home” by Radical Face, which features acoustic rock instrumentation and subtle use of vocal harmony — just two of the hundreds of attributes cataloged for this one track.
Pandora uses these classifications to pick up on patterns of “likes” and “dislikes” in your music tastes, which means the more interactive you are, the more finely tuned your stations will become. Eventually, little to no clicking is involved; you can sit and enjoy (almost) every song. Perfecting a station is like creating a fingerprint of your musical soul, and, unlike relying on playlists, Pandora offers up new tunes with each listen.
The site caters to individual preferences instead of mainstream chart toppers. It does not track album sales or introduce new releases, but instead offers a network based on what you like (dare I say, love?). If the information is available, Pandora provides lyrics, band bios and similar artists for each track. Listeners can explore the discography of featured artists and can sample tracks from the album as well as similar tracks from other artists. Though you can create a station based on a single track, there is no guarantee that Pandora will play it for you. (Pretty much like the old school way — you can call in a request, but there’s no guarantee that Dictator DJ will play it for you.)
To mix it up a bit, you can always shuffle stations, which can combine all of your music, similar genres or your own individual selections. Sharing stations and songs with friends via Facebook is easy. Just click the share button.
Starting Pandora can be frustrating for the more control-oriented listener because you can only skip 12 songs per day (across all stations). For the music hoarders, you will be disappointed when you max your Pandora out at 100. (I’ve created two separate accounts. One for my mobile app, and one for my computer.) The mobile app is free and very easy to navigate — great to plug into your car stereo.
WHO: Novice Listeners, Music Hoarders, Curious Browsers
WHY: Personalized Stations, New Music, Minimal Effort
<3 Interactive Listener
Created in 2008, Spotify has blown up this year. The playlist addict will go gaga over this site, which offers full access to thousands upon thousands of albums and millions of tracks, which you can add to your library — for free, yo! Mix CDs, watch your back! A new wave of music mixing and sharing has arrived and it’s free. For those unfamiliar or uninterested in sharing via social media (Ahem, Mom) — I would suggest giving the site a shot -just to cruise through thousands of albums and build a playlist or two. It’s easy. Just drag and drop!
Spotify is all about sharing and browsing. Featuring a sidebar that displays the names and profile pictures of Facebook friends, It’s easy to connect with others who are using the site (Just click to see what public playlists they have to offer.) You can discover new artists via friends, Spotify radio or the site recommendations (chart toppers and new releases).
The absolute best feature of the site is the amount of music that is available. Running a close second is the ease in which it can be organized and shared. As Pandora is about developing individual tastes, Spotify is about broadening the scope and sharing those tastes with others. The site-generated newsfeed connects the user to the broader music community and keeps listeners up-to-date with new albums and artists.
Though advertisements are a more prevalent interruption on Spotify than on Pandora, it is a welcome compromise for the amount of control granted to the listener. The mobile app, which is also free, offers access to your playlists, making it great for the gym or other moments in life that can be amplified by a soundtrack.
WHO: Social Media Savants, Playlist Addicts, Music Hoarders, Curious Browsers
WHY: Social Networking, Free Music Library, Active Personalization
<3 Grassroots Listener/Artist
I can’t talk about the evolution of online music without talking about Sound Cloud, which offers artists a platform to record and share their music. Independent hip-hop, dubstep and trance artists dominate the groups, making it easy to stumble upon some sick beats, but less likely to find impressive acoustic artists (unless you have a specific musician in mind — like local David Kimbrough, who has a couple of tracks on the site). Lovers of synthetic beats and off-the-grid music — who are willing to hunt for musical satisfaction — will appreciate this site.
The real benefit of sound cloud isn’t in its organization for browsing, but for its approach to the creative process. Timed comments are especially innovative, allowing fellow musicians and fans to identify weak or strong points in a song. The share option offers eight different social media outlets for maximum exposure, and allows both artists and fans to publicize tracks.
Sound Cloud offers a free recording/uploading app, but also promotes other apps for creating, recording, discovering, listening, preparing and distributing Newmusic — brand spankin’ new music, not recently released, but recently Born. Way to go, Sound Cloud, for empowering musical expression.
WHO: Fresh Talent, Loyal Fans, Active Browsers
WHY: Create/Share/Listen Original Music
<3 Multimedia Fanatic
You just want it all (and all at once)! Visual and audio combined with bios, commentary and lyrics — all compliments of other multimedia fanatics. Plugging into YouTube is a great way to discover just how mainstream your favorite bands are. (It’s something you take for granted when your Pandora and Spotify are feeding you track after golden track. Most of my favorite songs don’t have official music videos.)
Based on the behavior of other like-minded browsers and info tags, YouTube makes video recommendations that are often more surprising and dynamic than the calculated recommendations of Pandora. For all you old-school music lovers, YouTube holds some special treats for you, offering video from live performances by artists like Sammy Davis Jr. and Journey. Not to mention the live footage from Woodstock and the Bandstand era. (Check out The Animals live performance of “House of the Rising Sun.”
Like Sound Cloud, YouTube is a platform for fresh voices. You can often find clips of amateur covers competing with official music videos. Not to mention independent DJ tracks from dubstep, electronica and hip-hop as well as live performances of local and independent artists.
WHO: Active Browsers, Video Lovers, Fans of Live Footage and Independent Artists
WHY: Surprising Discoveries, Visual+Audio
<3 Adventurous Listener
By offering comparable control over playlists and access to music, Mog falls a close second to Spotify’s music library. It also rivals the site in social integration by suggesting albums based on the preferences of your Facebook friends. Because some of your friends are sure to fall out of sync with your own musical tastes, only the true adventurer will love Mog. Check out the extended network by searching the playlists options under “settings.” You’ll find playlists from Bill Clinton to Zach Galifianakis. (To download the mobile app, you have to purchase Mog Primo for $9.99 a month. Bummer.)
Mog also has a serious editorial edge — offering editor’s picks that include albums from all genres and time periods. (Since I’ve been writing this paragraph I’ve listened to David Banner and White Denim, two artists I’ve never heard of before. But they both got me groovin’.) From the Mog Player, you can browse artists, albums and tracks that are topping the charts, keeping you tuned in to pop culture and up-to-date with new releases.
WHO: Playlist Addicts, Active Browsers, Music Hoarders
WHY: Novelty Playlists, Surprisng Discoveries, Free Music Library
<3 Loyal Listener
Once a dominant social network, MySpace now primarily serves as a platform for independent and major-label artists alike. My favorite thing about listening to tunes on MySpace is the pop-out music player that stores all of the featured songs played during visits, which for me has created a playlist of local artists —something I can’t create elsewhere. You can also browse photos and videos, read artists’ blogs, view upcoming shows and share comments. Of course, the overall experience depends on the artist’s (or the publicist’s) commitment to keeping the site updated and engaging, which is often less than satisfactory.
WHO: Independent Artists, Loyal Fans
WHY: Access to Local Music, Fan/Artist Interaction
<3 Emotional Listener
Songs on Stereomood are organized by emotions and activities, which for the novice listener takes the leg work out of creating a station or a playlist for yourself and presents a great opportunity to listen to new music. Unlike Pandora, you can skip as many songs as you want on playlists that have thousands of tracks. Also, you can ban the songs you simply can’t stand. (Don’t worry, if you change your mind, you can lift the ban.) Playlist addicts, no worries, you can create your own playlists — who really wants to ride other people’s emotional roller coasters anyway?
You can’t browse other stations while listening to stereomood, and the app is 99 cents and is sold as an alarm clock.
WHO: Novice Listeners, Curious Browsers, Playlist Addicts
WHY: Novelty Playlists, New Music