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New Music Discovery…Just A Click Away!

(As published in the Racquette Newspaper)
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Imagine living in the 21st century without the Internet. It’s close to impossible to even consider what that would be like. It’s a means of communication, entertainment, research and much more. You can find almost anything on the Internet in a relatively short amount of time. The world relies on the Internet as a constant source of information.

In recent years people have turned towards the Internet to discover new music.  With the development of peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing with services such as Napster, Internet users could obtain virtually any musical recording with a few clicks of the mouse. Then the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) came in and started suing people for illegal downloading and the situation shifted.

Along came the internet radio stations and music search engines that looked for new music for you based on what you like and what you listen to. People turned to services like Pandora, Last.fm and iLike. Each services has an associated application that can be used to “scrobble” (sync) what you’re listening to on your computer or your mp3 player with your user profile. Each services works slightly differently though.

Pandora, a service created by the Music Genome Project, recommends music and provides a personalized Internet radio station for their users. By entering an artist name or song title, a user can receive recommendations on similar music. As with other similar online services, users can rate the music that is recommended for them. The services record this data and use it in order to better cater to each of their users.

Before the songs become available for listening on Pandora they are individually analyzed by a musician. The analysis is based on a list of attributes, which contain “genes” (parameters) that were created by the Music Genome Project. These include everything from the tempo of the music to the gender of the vocalist to the amount of distortion on the guitar track. There are different sets of genes for different genres. It can take up to 30 minutes for the analysis to be completed. The results allow Pandora to make educated music recommendations for users.

Last.fm has capabilities similar to Pandora but has more of a social networking vibe supporting it. It was designed to help provide people with new music to listen to online. Users can setup a profile and write about music, connect with other listeners and more.

Last.fm employs an application called Audioscrobbler, which records plays from iTunes (or other music players) and mp3 devices. The application runs in the background and automatically opens when your preferred music player is in use. The application uses a miniscule amount of CPU power.  Audioscrobbler posts the information on your profile and provides suggestions for music to check out. Other users can look at what you’re listening to and provide suggestions as well. This may having you watching over your shoulder waiting for some kind of Orwellian “Big Brother” to post your secrets on a public profile but really, it’s just modern technology helping you by providing you with music to fit your tastes.

Last.fm has grown quickly from four programmers to thousands of employees. They are owned by CBS. Their service has become quite popular and very capable. They claim to have more than 21 million users from more than 200 countries.

iLike is the youngest of the three popular services and is still considered to be in it’s Beta version. Aside from being a popular application on the social networking site Facebook, it makes use of a toolbar that runs within iTunes. While the toolbar is optional, it provides a similar function to Last.fm’s Audioscrobbler by providing the website with the music you’ve been listening to.

iLike provides users with the option to buy music off of their website as one might from the iTunes store. There are also free mp3s available every week to promote new music. Users can create playlists of music and share them with their friends. This takes the concept of the trading mix tapes with friends and brings it into the 21st century.

People using iTunes 8 can take advantage of the iTunes “Genius” feature to automatically create playlists of similar music in their iTunes library. The Genius feature must first be turned on, at which point it gathers the necessary information about your music. The information is sent to Apple and then the resulting playlists are sent back to your iTunes account. The whole process can take as little as a few minutes but will take longer given a larger library of music.

The Genius uses what is known as “collaborative filtering in order to create appropriate playlists. This means that iTunes is actually using the data gathered from all iTunes accounts with the Genius feature activated.

Once the Genius has been activated, users can play any song in their library, click the Genius button in the bottom right-hand corner of iTunes, and have a playlist created instantly. Users can limit the number of songs, refresh the playlist and save the playlist for later use.

The best thing about these services is that they’re all free. There are no trial periods or demos, everything is the full version and they’re free. You don’t need to be signed up for the services to receive some of their benefits. You can visit their websites and “test drive” it to see if you like the format. Plenty of people make use of the Internet radio capabilities of these services simply by typing in an artist and listening to similar music while they work. Other people are more interested in being involved in the social aspect of the services. They enjoy reading user reviews of music and general blogs about music.

Take advantage of the technology that exists and open your mind to new music. Your new favorite band couple literally be a few mouse clicks away.

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One Response

  1. […] a year ago I discovered a service called Pandora. (Read this post from an article I wrote on music discovery services to learn how Pandora works). I can listen to […]

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