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Sources of music recommendations

11/28/06 | by Adam | Categories: Technology, Music

Wired News has two articles today on internet music sources. The first by Leander Kahney is about Rhapsody, a retailer in the vein of iTunes, eMusic and Napster. His conclusion: some good ideas, but not ready for prime time. The second is by Scott Gilbertson about music recommendation sites (Pandora, iLike, Last.fm and Qloud.) His conclusion: any one will do.

I've used Last.FM. It's an interesting site. What it does is record all music listened to via a plugin for various players like iTunes or WinAmp 5, creates an index and stores it on their servers. Over time this list expands, emphasising the most commonly played music (presumably the favourites will be at the top.) The list is then compared to other similar lists and those are made available for comparison. After 51,000 tracks entered into the system (I've used this since late 2004 when it was called AudioScrobbler,) I have to say I've barely used the recommendations at all. They tend to fit into two main categories: already got it, and don't want it. There's also the "FM" of Last.FM which is a customized radio station that plays music similar to what you're known to like. I've only briefly looked at it.

So how do I find new music to listen to? There're several avenues:

  1. AllMusic.com. While I normally disagree with their reviews, their extensive descriptions and cross-links are invaluable for finding previously unknown releases from familiar artists. In addition, the "similar to" links allow you to wander around looking at past and present band members and their output, cover versions, song writers, other artists in the same genres and so forth. This site's cost me a lot of money over the years.
  2. Newsgroups. Every year or so I spend a week pulling down everything that comes through the MP3 groups. This is analagous to trying to fill a paddling pool with the ocean. Then I listen through them all, weeding out the duplicates as I go. Generally the review involves listening to the first 30 seconds, the middle five and a few towards the end. Anything that fails the test is deleted immediately and the others are put aside for further review. This normally gets rid of about 98% of them. The survivors are then listened to again in full and deleted if they really weren't all that good after all. Anything that makes it through that gauntlet is worth keeping so the expensive bit begins: tracking down them on CD and buying it. Sometimes it's relatively easy but usually it's pretty hard. I've still not located a copy of The Cardiacs' "Is This A Life" for sale and that's just one amongst many.
  3. Personal Recommendations. This is the traditional way of finding new stuff to listen to. Alas, I've pretty much exhausted everything my circle likes so this is getting a bit barren. Occasionally though something new comes through but it's pretty rare these days.
  4. Random Chance. Also known as a "Tramps Run", this involves a trip to a local used CD store in order to buy anything that's cheap and looks interesting. Sometimes it results in a gem but typically only average music and the occasional (musical) rotten tomato.
  5. Movies. I'm cynical about using a strong soundtrack to support a poor movie, but it does mean that there's a good source for competently assembled compilations of both well known tracks and rarities. "Dumb And Dumber" an example of this in action: it's a great soundtrack including songs I've not found anywhere else, but one heck of a stinker as far as celluloid goes. "The Saint", "Brokedown Palace" and "Godzilla" also have strong soundtracks supporting weak movies. Heck, "The Lost Boys" is commonly cited as a 90 minute rock video. It's not an example of a poor movie but "Due South" was responsible for spawning two albums worth of really good Canadian music which in turn led me to buy albums from most of the participants.
  6. Radio. I list this only because it's sold me on one song in the last five years. In other words, it has had effectively no bearing on what I've purchased or listened to.

I've not found most music review sites to be useful, no matter whether they're amateur or professional (yes, I do recognise the inherent futility of me putting up my own!) Reviews published in popular media (TV, newspapers, magazines) rarely grab my interest either. Although I know they've worked for other people, music played in CD stores usually leaves me feeling slightly stressed while I'm attempting to hum a tune to remind myself of what it was I actually wanted to buy. Digital radio (such as the stations provided by Shaw in the 400 range) are so scatter shot as to be useless, and being unable to skip tunes you know or don't like is frustrating.

So what are your sources for new music?



Comment from: Nimble [Member]  

I’ve been pretty poor on sources for new music. I don’t think there’s a radio station in town that plays anything as recent as the 90s more than once every ten songs (or so it seems), and even there, it’s usually the same songs.

As for older songs, every now and again, Jack FM plays something I’ve forgotten about, and they have a little gadget on their home page that lets you find out what the last so many songs they’ve played were called and who the bands were.

The best luck I had was watching VH1 in Europe. I used to have the patience to wade through Blastro - it’s showed me some pretty cool videos (Franz Ferdinand’s Take Me Out video is a classic, IMO), but not always cool songs to go with them :)

Listening to songs on WinAmp’s internet radio stations was one other spots I used to figure out songs from. Polish stations, for some reason, were pretty good, but it can really test your patience when bandwidth drops off.

As it stands right now, I don’t listen to a whole lot of music, except when I’m chugging away at something mindless at work (or too complicated and I need to block off the extra distractions in my head :)

It’s a bit sad, though. There was a resurgence of nifty music a few years ago, and it was played a lot, but now it seems to be back to the frustration of the late 90’s, where everyone’s playing retro stuff because they’re really just not sure what else to play.


11/29/06 @ 01:00
Comment from: Adam [Member]  

JackFM is the case example of Calgary radio stations that annoy me. It started off well and then the DJs decided that merely playing the music was not enough, they needed to be “Personalities.” I don’t listen to radio for the humour, the idle chitchat, the competitions, the idisyncratic commentary on life, I listen to it for the music. Or used to anyway. I guess the problem with commercial radio is that it’s simply a medium used to tie advertisers to customers, and, oddly enough, music isn’t what they’re selling.

When I refer to “new” music, all I’m really referring to is music that’s new to me; tunes that I don’t know rather than something created recently. If there’s decent stuff from the 60’s I’m unfamiliar with, that does just as well as whatever’s currently topping the alternative charts (scary thought…)

Unlike you, I do tend to have music going most of the time so chew through a lot of it. I’m not sure why – I reckon you’ve got far more distractions going on in your head than I do in mine!

11/29/06 @ 08:19
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