Music is great. Music is manifold. Everyone has his own taste of music. What is loved by one might be refused by the next.
These different preferences make it pretty difficult to find new great music. The spectrum is – fortunately – large, but finding the music that appeals to you personally turns out to be like the search for the needle in the haystack.
Several internet services have lined up to help easing your search – time to give you an overview of the most important services of their kind.
Gnoosic – Gnod’s World of Music
„Even if you don’t know what you are looking for – gnod will find it.“
Gnod principle is simple: Tell it three of your favorite artists. It then recommends more artists that you might like as well.
Each of those recommendations you can rate: You like it, you don’t, or you don’t know it yet.
These ratings feed Gnod’s database. When you entered the first three artists, Gnod compared it to the datasets of other users, found the ones who liked the same artists and recommended more items from their dataset to you.
Of all systems presented in this article, Gnod is the easiest to use. There is no registration and no special software. You just fill three fields in a web form and off you go. No other service is that simple and quick-starting.
Despite the simpleness, the results aren’t bad. The downside of the simpleness is that you can’t start listening to your recommendations right away. You have to find sources for the music by yourself.
liveplasma is another music map application. It is flash-based and looks prettier than Gnod’s music map.
Unfortunately, it liveplasma does not know much about less popular bands. This can become very frustrating if your listening preferences aren’t very mainstream… especially because liveplasma displays Madonna’s music map each time it doesn’t find the artist you really want to see mapped.
The music coverage is especially bad in foreign languages. I have yet to find a German band in Liveplasma. Even German groups which are considered mainstream are not available.
For the bands it knows, it is a good looking tool to browse around in the musical universe.
Last.fm calls itself a personalized radio. That expression fits Last.fm pretty well.
To receive this radio, you have to install a small application. This application receives the music directly from Last.fm’s servers. The system keeps track of the music that you are listening to – if you wish even when you’re using other software like Winamp. You can also mark tracks from the radio that you love or never want to hear again.
Using this data, Last.fm chooses the next tracks that you are going to hear on the radio. Your musical profile is compared to the profiles of other listeners. Those whose profile matches yours most closely are considered your “musical neighbours”. Tracks for your radio are chosen from the profiles of your neighbours – which is why Last.fm calls this mode “Neighbour Radio”. Alternatively, you can create a radio based on tags which other users assigned to songs – unsurprisingly called “Tag Radio”. “Recommendation Radio” plays recommendations specifically generated for you – though Last.fm doesn’t explain the difference to the Neighbour Radio or how the recommendations are generated.
The great thing about Last.fm’s concept is that you can listen to most of its recommendations right away. You don’t need to dig out a source for the music; it gets directly streamed to your computer. You get an instant impression and can skip each track if you disagree with the recommendation. You can also request specific tracks, but then they get restricted to 30 second clips due to licensing restrictions.
A huge lot of music is available on Last.fm, including independent and foreign music. Even if something is not directly available on Last.fm it gets tracked through media player plugins and used for recommendations. In that case it’s up to you again to find a source, though.
Last.fm also has many community features. Each member has a profile page. On this page, personal charts, a photo, group connections, a self-description and friends are displayed. You can recommend music to other members, tag music, visit other profiles and much much more.
Similar to Last.fm, Pandora is a personalized radio system, but without community features. It does not use a separate player application, but a Flash player on its homepage.
Pandora is the only system which chooses new music using characteristics of the music itself. It is based on the “Music Genome Project” which analyzed music by more than 10.000 musicians – by real human beings, not algorithms. They claim to attach hundreds of attributes, called “genes”, to the songs. Using this detailed information, Pandora can find music which is similar to a given track.
You can create several “stations” in Pandora. To each of those stations, you assign one or more bands which describe the musical profile of the station. When Pandora then plays the next songs, you can judge whether it fits the channel or not, so Pandora can adjust the station better.
Thanks to its elaborate music database, Pandora can suggest music fairly well, though not perfectly. Sometimes its suggestions can be surprisingly off target, but also often surprisingly accurate. The downside to Pandora‘s approach is the selection contained in its database. The capacity of the human music analyzers is limited and so is the database. Many lesser known artists, especially non-american ones, are poorly or not at all represented in Pandora.
Due to its license, Pandora is only available for U.S. citizens. During registration it therefore asks for an U.S. zip code. Rumor has it that evil foreign beings have been copying those zip codes, though…
Update: Pandora does now verify the origin of it’s users more thoroughly. Simply faking a zip code won’t work anymore.
Gnoosic, Last.fm and Pandora work with a wide spectrum of music, including that controlled by the music industry. iRATE, on the contrary, has a different philosophy. It only plays free music.
Similar to Last.fm, it uses a player application which you have to install on your computer. This player downloads music which is freely availably from all over the internet. You can rate each track it plays on a scale from one to four stars – or just ban it.
Based on these ratings, iRATE decides which songs it is going to play more often, and which ones will be downloaded next. Like Last.fm and Pandora it therefore becomes better over time.
The source of the music is boon and bane at once. iRATE is the only system which moves completely outside of the commercial music market. All music is free and usually from unknown musicians. You can often hear that the music was not produced at a professional recording studio. Some songs are poorly mixed… or even poorly written. But iRATE also contains rare gems which are hard to find anywhere else. The popularity of the songs is not distorted by marketing campaigns. Your chances to find something truly new are higher than anywhere else.
Besides all this fancy new technology, you should not forget those primitive methods to find great new music. You can still ask friends for recommendations, listen in your record store to an unknown CD because it has an interesting name or simply looks pretty. The success rates of these “analog” techniques are surprisingly high.
Personally, I prefer Last.fm from all the internet solutions I have presented above. It has a broad spectrum of music that you can listen to directly. It also can – unlike Pandora – recommend music which isn’t available on its radio. The community is fun as well.
Pandora doesn’t give me enough benefits compared to Last.fm to use it regularly.
In earlier days I used Gnoosic, but now I find it tiring to search sources for the recommended music. However, kudos to Gnoosic – you have pioneered music recommendations long before the other systems even existed. I also prefer Gnod’s music map to liveplasma because in my music genres it seems to have the broader knowledge.
I still use iRATE sometimes to discover music far beyond mainstream. You can’t beat iRATE in that, even though the “noise” is a bit higher.
After all, it is not important which system you use. It is important that you find a way to keep and nurture your musical variety. So have fun discovering new music and beware the mainstream! 🙂
This article is also available in German.