Whether you are annoyed by the ads on Pandora, the limited number of skips, or the abyss of cruel 30-second song teasers from Last.FM, many online listeners are growing weary of mainstream methods of hearing new music. While the Pandora algorithm is strong, and the Last.FM related artists tool is pretty useful, don’t fool yourself in to thinking that there aren’t other great ways to expose yourself to new music in the depths of cyberspace.
Here are 7 alternatives to Pandora and Last.FM that will infuse your day with an uninterrupted stream of music that large record companies haven’t managed to squash under their thumbs yet.
StumbleAudio has a killer recommendation engine that works better for me than Pandora’s. Instead of “genomes”, StumbleAudio uses listeners’ favoritism as well as buying pattern data from online music stores to make suggestions. Even better, for every track that comes up in the player, you can choose to explore the entire album – a great feature for music snobs. Unlike Pandora, a listener can choose very specific genres in which to listen – within the ‘Blues’ category alone there are 14 sub-types. No skip limit, at least not that I’ve ever reached and I’m notorious for flying through my Pandora skip limit.
Songza uses a recommendation engine that runs for each ‘channel’, but unlike Pandora, channels are not tied to specific listeners and rather are community property. Anyone can listen to anyone’s station and add suggestions for tracks or artists that belong there. Powered by the Emergent Discovery recommendation engine, Songza is in beta version and makes streaming music a very community-based activity – this is bound to gain a strong footing in the music community during this social networking renaissance we are all living in.
Elegantly, Musicovery boils down songs to a location on two scales: Energetic-Calm and Positive-Dark. These attributes may be more meaningful in targeting music for a listener’s mood than the hundreds of music genomes that Pandora uses. When you click a location on an X-Y graph of these two scales that fits your mood, Musicovery builds a playlist. Complimented by the ability to disable “hits” and a decent recommendation algorithm, the only limitation here is that you’ll need a paid account to skip songs.
Ah, the power of the ‘tag cloud’. Stereomood crawls the music blog scene and extracts any posts with an embedded .MP3 file as well as associated tags. Users can select channels based on their mood or activity. Chillout, beautiful, melancholy, calm, dreamy, happy, summer, sad, electronic, ambient, cool, and sexy are among the dozens of popular tags that users can select which spurs an ongoing playlist of tunes that fit the listener’s mood. Of course, users can suggest new tags and improve the database, making this a very groovy place to lurk on the web.
If you are in the mood for a personalized gift from an anonymous friend, you can find a slew of carefully hand-crafted mix tapes ready to listen to on 8tracks (over 100,000 currently). Based on user uploads, you can find mix tapes for every occasion, from the simple to the bizarre. With a pretty decent tag engine and a deep collection of B-sides, there only two limitations: your imagination and the number of skips (though the point of a mix tape is not to skip, have some respect, son).
Supported by millions of user uploads, Grooveshark is an online music player without limitations and virtually every song you could ever want to hear. It is the only service on this list which has the capability to play a specific song of your choosing, free from the confines of DMCA licensing and recommendations. Between its extensive library, its radio stations and its limitless playback, if you have a song in mind that you need to hear, drop the YouTube music in the dumpster and stumble over to Grooveshark.
Similar to Stereomood, The Hype Machine is a blog-crawling service that finds new music in the music blogging community, but in contrast, THM is focused around the writing rather than just listening alone. THM is a giant catalog of high-quality music blogs that also aggregates embedded music from its sources directly on the site, so you can crawl around for hours of listening and reading about your favorite artists, concert and album reviews and emerging talent without ever leaving the site; a great alternative to the feverish Wikipedia crawler who happens to be a music snob.