My Top 10 Music Discovery Tools

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1. Sonos 

This powerful digital music management system is nirvana.  I simply cannot live without it. Not only does it enable me to have music in virtually every room in my house (through zone controllers), I can listen to and discover a limitless variety of music.  Sonos manages your own music collection and gives you access to Rhapsody, Sirius/XM Satellite Radio, Internet Radio, Pandora, Last.fm, and good ‘ol terrestrial radio.  And you can control it all from the palm of your hand.

On any given day, you will find me jumping from my ‘new music’ playlist in Rhapsody, to Sirius/XM Channel 26 for a little Blog Radio, then WOXY for some FutureSounds and occasionally, if I’m feeling uninspired and lucky, I’ll plug in a random band in Pandora or Last.fm.  I can’t think of any other tool that can allow you to do that in a quality listening situation (i.e. real speakers).

2. Rhapsody

I’ve long been a fan of the subscription-based music model and, therefore, have been an advocate of services like Rhapsody for quite some time.  The fact that, for $15 a month, I can play ANY artist or album I want, anywhere, anytime is priceless to me.  The integration of the service into Sonos is just the icing on the cake.  Whenever I read an album review or hear a new artist on the Internet, I just go to Rhapsody and queue up their album for a listen.  Granted, there are times they don’t have what I’m looking for but 80-90% of the time they do.  And that’s impressive!

3. Mojo

Another favorite music discovery tool of mine is Mojo, a free music sharing application that makes it ridiculously easy to share music online with your music buddies. With just a couple of clicks, you can browse, select and download music from any Mojo user directly into your iTunes library.  It’s a fabulous tool I use to troll my inner music circle’s music libraries on a regular basis.  I frequently hit their iTunes/Recently Added folder to see what new music they’ve uncovered and what they’re listening to on a regular basis. Music voyeurism at it’s finest!

4Songbird

Good bye iTunes, helllloooo Songbird! Developed by a group calling themselves ‘Pioneers of the Inevitable’ (love it),Songbird is a free open source media player and web browser rolled into one.  It’s like the power of iTunes and Firefox combined.  Not only can you manage and play your own music, now you can play the web too.  

For example, any media files stored on a website will show up as a playable file in the Songbird application that you can download or save to your library.  Even better, it has a built-in RSS subscription and MP3 file download so now you can subscribe to your favorite MP3 blogs as playlists!  Plus, it’s already integrated with HypeMachine, eMusic and InSound.  To get a better sense of all the features, watch their online demo here. The potential of this application is mind-boggling!

5. Internet/Satellite Radio

As unsophisticated as it sounds, I use both Internet and satellite radio on a daily basis to discover new music.  Mostly by listening to my favorite stations and programs, a few of which include:

6Blogs

More than anything, I rely on my trusted music blogs to keep me on the pulse. There’s no better source for cutting edge music information. Of course, there’s the tried and true, Pitchfork and Stereogum.  I follow all the blogs listed in my blogroll, but my personal favorites include: My Old Kentucky Blog, MBV and Aquarium Drunkard, See What You Hear, Hear Ya and The 405.  The MOG network is a good blog aggregator as well.

7Twitter

But why blog when you can micro blog with Twitter!  And I do so more and more these days.  It’s quite addicting and a great way to stay on top of music releases, events and news.  Hell, I even read the NY Times via Twitter these days.  I’m so ADD.  To efficiently use Twitter, you need to install an application like TweetDeck. Otherwise, it’s completely unruly. Get started by following me @indierockgirl, then check out this great Wired blog post on tips for discovering music through Twitter.  It’s a good tutorial!

8MP3 Services

I subscribe to both eMusic and Amie Street and find they have great music recommendations.  Particularly Amie Street. Their community-driven site has become a bit of an obsession and enables you to get music for cheap or for free depending on how much you participate with reviews, recommendations and such.  eMusic’s 17 Dots blog gives me the insider scoop as to what’s hot and what’s coming on the site.  Their subscription based music download model keeps me regimented in my music acquisition!

9. Music Recommendation Sites

Everyone loves Pandora, Last.fm, LaLa.  I personally find limitations with these algorithm-based recommendation engines. They are all fundamentally flawed to me.  I always find the same artists coming up over and over again.  I have been turned on recently to tools that take a more interesting approach to music recommendation.  One is We Are Hunted, the first online music chart.  It aggregates social networks, music blogs, torrents to chart what people are listening to on the web.  A true indie music chart!  

The other I’ve been playing with is The Filter,  the brainchild of rocker Peter Gabriel and uses a model based on Bayesian mathematics to predict the similarity of bands. It logs what you play, runs it through the maths-grinder, and pops out a list of what you’ll like.

10. Music Mapping Tools

Music mapping tools are a bit of a novelty for me.  I don’t reference them all the time but do play around with them occasionally, out of skepticism mostly.  I want to see if they can stump me. Try  TuneGlue, StumbleAudio, and Music Map for shits and grins.  After typing in your favorite artist name, you’ll be served up a visual array of related bands to explore.  Here’s a link to a whole review of music visualization tools if you’re into that sort of thing.

Happy hunting!

Sonos Unveils Free Controller App for iPhone

I just downloaded the free iPhone App for the Sonos Digital Music Management system today.  I didn’t think Sonos could get any better, but it just did.  

For those of you who don’t know already, Sonos is my favorite digital music management system, hands down.   It allows you to play any music you want in any room of your house from the palm of your hand.  You can play your own music library, Internet Radio, Pandora, Last.fm, Sirius Satellite Radio, access millions of songs through Rhapsody, and more.  And now with the Sonos for iPhone application, you can control it all with your iPhone.  It’s even more fun and functional to use than the out of the box controller.  Beautiful.

Check out this demo to see for yourself. 

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iTunes Rumored to Launch Subscription Model – Finally!

I read today on the ListeningPost about rumors that iTunes is planning to launch an unlimited music subscription service in late October with the release of iTunes 7.8.  It’s reported the annual subscription fee will be $130/year (or $100 for MobileMe subscribers) and will give users the ability to download to nearly half of all the songs in the iTunes store in a 256-Kbps format.  The other half apparently will require a new deal with copyright holders.

It sounds like the model will operate similar to Rhapsody.  Subscription songs would be playable in iTunes and would be transportable and playable on certain devices – namely the iPod and iPhone.  According to the tipster, when you log on to iTunes, you will get the option to ‘Buy’ (purchase and keep) or ‘Get’ your music (download and Play throughout iTunes Unlimited Subscription).

Hooray for Apple for taking a step in the right direction. I’ve long been a proponent of the subscription-based music model and a huge fan of services like Rhapsody.  It just makes sense.  And with the emergence of even more technologies like Topspin, we will see more and more artist going direct to fans with subscription-based offers.

Now if only Apple would budge on their DRM policy and move to pure MP3s.

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Michael Phelps Has Horrid Taste in Music

Just when I thought swimming God Michael Phelps could do no wrong, I found this ‘Celebrity Playlist’ on Rhapsody that made me gag.  So what does the Adonis listen to pre-race to get fired up?  Twista, Usher, Outkast, Eminem and GUnit.  Blech. Sorry Michael, I tend to judge a man by the music he keeps and you just fell into the abyss on my cool quotient.  But hey, with a body like that, I can forgive and forget.

Go ahead, stream Michael’s playlist on Rhapsody – if you dare.

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The Last Shadow Puppets – ‘Standing Next to Me’ Video

I’ve had The Last Shadow Puppets on my Rhapsody new music playlist for some time.  I’m a sucker for that way back sound.  The Last Shadow Puppets have been the extremely hyped side project of Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner and Miles Kane of The Rascals.  Their new album is called ‘The Age of the Understatement’. Featured is their new video for the single, ‘Standing Next to Me.’

Get this album free via eMusic’s 50 Free MP3 Promo

buy it at insound!

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Rhapsody Launches Beta MP3 Store

Anyone who knows me is well aware of how big a fan I am of Rhapsody.  It’s one of my essential tools for digesting and discovering new music.  The music subscription service model has always made a lot of sense to me and I believe is a model we’re going to see a lot more of.  Especially as more and more artists attempt to circumvent labels and go direct to fans (with the help of technology like Topspin).  

After all, why wouldn’t you want to pay $12/month to access a virtual unlimited amount of music – anywhere, anytime.  It’s beautiful.  Especially when leveraged through the Sonos Digital Music System (in which Rhapsody is already integrated).  I have an ongoing Rhapsody playlist of new music that I add to whenever I hear or read about a new artist.  Then I just queue up the playlist and listen to it whenever I’m at work or futzing around the house.  With the combination of Rhaspody and Sonos, listening to music is no longer a dedicated form of entertainment.  

Finally, Rhapsody has added an MP3 download component, without all the DRM (Digital Rights Management) hassles like Apple iTunes.  (Which means when you download a track or album you can do whatever you want with it – no proprietary formats, limited sharing, etc.)  I still love eMusic and inSound for their great selection of Indie music.  But I find that Rhapsody is the ideal platform for most of my music research.  I’m very happy about this new MP3 service and hope that the the next iteration with include the option for monthly download bundles as part of my subscription.  :)

Sonos Digital Music System

Probably the most common question my friends ask me is how I have so much time to listen to all the music that I do. Well, here’s the answer: Sonos. It’s simply the best digital music system – period. It allows you to play any music, in any room, from anywhere, all over your house. (And it’s an excellent way to drown out the incessant whining of a 3 year old.) I can choose to listen to my own music library, any Internet radio station, Pandora, Sirius Satellite Radio or Rhapsody. You virtually have millions of songs at your fingertips.

I have this set up at home and in the office, so I’m constantly listening to and exploring new music without having to carve out a chunk of my day to sit down on my computer and ‘research’ the subject. Whenever I read a new album review, I simply queue it up in my playlist through my Rhapsody account (which costs you about $10/month to access to all the music you could possibly imagine) and play it in the background as I go on about my day.

It’s like having my own virtual radio station. But the best part is, if I hear something I like, all I have to do is pick up my wireless handheld remote (that I carry around like a newborn baby), check out the artist, click a button and add it to my library.

Voila. My music secrets are now revealed.

To learn more about how Sonos works, watch this demo. Do keep in mind that to listen to music in every room of your house, you do have to have speakers in every room in your house. Which is why I also highly recommend an in-wall speaker distributed audio system, which requires professional installation. But we’ll talk more about that in another post. Just wrap your head around Sonos for today.

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