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!

eMusic Gets New Recommendation Engine

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I’m an eMusic subscriber and supporter and noticed that they’ve overhauled their homepage centered around a new music recommendation engine called MediaUnbound.  Now, when you sign into the site as a member, you’re presented with a grid of music you’ll like made up of personalized recommendations based upon your history. You can also sort the list by new arrivals.  

I’ve been checking out the recommendations but am cautiously optimistic.  Like any music recommendation service I’ve used, I don’t expect much.  Most of them are disappointing, especially if you’re an avid music fan. But I understand eMusic’s need to upgrade. As a subscription based model, it’s important that their members find music they like.  Otherwise, they’re apt to cancel.

What makes this new music recommendation service, MediaUnbound, supposedly unique is that it  combines both algorithmic and human inputs to try to come up with better recommendations for users right from the start. And how are MediaUnbound’s human inputs different from say Pandora?  This is where the story gets interesting, or amusing at the least. MediaUnbound CEO Michael Papish answers this question in a recent TechCrunch post and added a most amusing critique of other music recommendation services in existence. 

On Pandora’s human input process:

Pandora has created a feature factory of humans chained to headphones attempting to objectively rate the sonic features of every song ever made (well, ok, only ~200k hand-picked songs). We think this is a horrible use of use of the creative, constructive, opinionated, and (sometimes argumentative) resource called the human music geek.

On the rest of the music recommendation technologies out there:

    —Pandora. Purely sonic-based as determined by team of human experts classifying every song into features. Not scalable. One-trick pony only able to determine that one song sounds like another song, not anything about user preference or other personalized recommendations.   
    —iLike. Purely algorithm-based utilizing only data from other iLike members. Service is meant to be embedded in a widget, not a full-fledged recommendation platform across an entire music service.

—iTunes Genius. Sub-standard, algorithm only – developed in-house. Only uses iTunes data. Steve Jobs has creepy man crush on John Mayer and Jack Johnson.

—MySpace Music. Crazy flashing yellow buttons that randomly start playing Buffalo Springfield songs when you visit your friend’s page.

—AmazonMP3. Utilizes the Amazon recommendation platform which is based mainly on collaborative filtering. We assume they use some human tweaking, but they’ve never publicly stated this fact. The AmazonMP3 recommendations are crippled because they are based on regular Amazon recommendations which are very focused on closely related items (i.e. Bob Dylan’s _Blood on the Tracks_ returns Bob Dylan’s _Blonde on Blonde_. duh!)

—Last.fm. Purely algorithm-based utilizing only data from other members and their scrobbles.

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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Where Have All the Hipsters Gone?

A couple times a week, I head over to the American Industrial Center in the Dogpatch District of San Francisco to attend my – near complete – patternmaking class at Apparel Arts.  Week after week, I would inevitably share the elevator with a group of hipsters heading to 4R.  The exclusive floor of Soundflavor. Curious as to what could possibly attract such a huge population of Mission District hipsters to one floor of a building, I asked one day while riding the elevator:

Me: “What is Soundflavor?”  
Hipster: “A Music recommendation service.”  
Me: “Hmm.  Like Pandora or Last.fm?”
Hipster: “Yeah.”

Well,  I think it’s safe to say the company needs to polish up that ‘elevator pitch’. I did some research myself and found that company seems to be differentiating themselves in the ‘video playlist’ arena.  Meaning you upload your iTunes playlist or type in an artist and the site will turn your musical tastes into a custom video playlist – like your own personal MTV.

I didn’t think much more of the Soundflavor hipsters until they became noticeably absent.  I haven’t seen them for months now.  Where have you gone, hipsters?  I miss your big glasses, scruffy beards, trucker hats, plaid shirts, tight jeans and Converse shoes. I checked your website and, while it says you’re still in the building, your cute little cherry logo is nowhere to be found.  4R is a ghostland.  What happened?

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