It seems that there are a growing number of music sites online that are geared towards helping people discover new artists that they like. This space really interests me, as a music lover.
I've spent a bit of time over the last week or so checking these sites out and I've come to the conclusion that none really work for me... I've just started looking, so I could be wrong... and if you use any of these sites, please add to the discussion! I'd love to find a site that really helps me discover new artists!
So, the sites that I've checked are:
1.) Pandora - which you "seed" by entering an artist and then it begins playing other artists that their experts have determined to have a similar sound. To test, I entered Muse. It started by playing a muse song, New Born and then played the following songs:
- MrNorth - My Love
- Feeder - Pushing the Senses
- Sugarcult - Shaking
- Hot Hot Heat - Dirty Mouth (I own this one)
- Elefant - It's a shame
- Feeder - Pushing the Senses
It stopped at Elefant and asked me to register, which I didn't. Uh, I debated though...
I'd only heard Hot Hot Heat before (I'd heard of Sugarcult, but never heard them)... the music was pretty good, I just don't think that site will work for me full time so I didn't want to sign up. Pandora really equates to a customized radio station that is refined over time based on the ratings you give the songs that it plays. This reminds me of Yahoo Music, which I used years ago (I've already have 355 ratings) it could be better, who knows.
Overall I kind of liked Pandora, not sure that I'll use it though. It requires me to be at the computer, which is a drawback for me (my employer blocks audio and video) and it, like Yahoo, requires participation (rating).I think it lacked community as well... which is something I'll address in a bit.
2.) Hype Machine - my first impression was that this is a cool idea, they scour the blogosphere looking at the tracks people are talking about so you don't have to. It is simply a great site for discovering up and coming artists/tracks... and I even found a couple of cool cover tunes by Muse that I didn't know existed! Another cool feature of this site was, like Pandora, you actually get to hear the full songs! This site is cool and I've added the feed to bloglines, so I'll be checking this one quite frequently.
3.) Last.fm - I heard about this site about a year ago and I think it has some nice aspects to it; it is heavy on taste-based discovery and seems to have pretty cool social networking aspects... there is just one drawback for me: you have to download a plug-in. The download monitors what you listen to on your computers MP3 player (WinAmp, iTunes, etc) and uploads that data to Last.fm. You can see what other people are listening to and the whole thing looks really cool... the bad part for me, I don't listen to music on my computer, I listen to music on my iPod... I'm not sure their software will grab my data when I hook up my iPod to my computer (only about once a week). The other sort of strange thing is that I use shuffle, and know a lot of other people do as well, so my iPod might play songs that I like, but wouldn't consider to be my favorites. The logical question with that one is, then why is it on your iPod? I'll give you some examples, I have some classical music, some jazz, and some blues - not a ton, but enough that when the mood strikes I have something from that genre to listen to. I'm have some Bach, Mozart and Chopin - I don't see myself buying much more of that.
Pandora and Last.fm are both trying to solve the same problem (IMHO) - helping people discover new artists that they'll like. Hype Machine is sort of doing the same thing, in a way, I guess they figure it's a wisdom of crowds thing - if enough people are blogging a song then it must be good.
About a year ago, I had an idea for a site like these and I sent out an email to a dozen folks I knew loved music. The email went like this:
I'm doing a research project and was wondering if you would mind answering three (hopefully) quick questions?
1.) How do you find new music? (Friends, Radio, Other - please specify)
2.) Where do you buy most of your music? (iTunes, Amazon, Other - please specify)
3.) What are your favorite songs (please list between 10 and 20 - Song Title, Artist).
e.g. Comfortably Numb, Pink Floyd
Thank you in advance for helping!! Feel free to blog your favorite songs (just send me the link) and also to forward these questions to your music loving friends!
Okay, I totally primed my focus group by providing answers... DOH! ;-) But the responses I got back were relly good, including plenty of unexpected answers. Some people used online sources, some used magazines, and of course several people cited the recommendations of friends. This is the one that I think makes the most sense, because what it really comes down to is affinity. The knowledge or reputation of the person making the recommendation. This, of course, is nothing new, and what Last.fm is probably the best at of the few services I've looked at - they are trying to help people connect through music.
The one site that I didn't mention is Amazon, which I've bought a lot of music from and rated more than a few artists on. Their approach seems more to be 'wisdom of crowds'; "people who bought x also bought y"... I could be wrong on that, but that is my perception.
I think in the end it comes down to two critical factors: first is affinity or correlation, it isn't enough to know that we both like Muse. I want to know that you like Muse and Candlebox and Kasabian and Pete Yorn and Fleetwood Mac and The Smiths [and etc.]. If we both like 5 or 6 of the same artists, now I have a higher trust level that I might enjoy what you're listening to. The second, as I mentioned, is reputation. My friend Billy turned me on to Kasabian, Travis, The Music, and countless others. I totally trust him. If he suggests something, chances are I'll like it.
My idea a year ago was to create a little site that allowed people to specify their favorite 10 or 15 songs and then a basic correlation algorithm would try to match people up, sort of a playlist connector, if you will. I got the basic algorithm working, but there were several flaws with my idea... you had to go to the site and enter in a bunch of data (I did figure out a way to make that easy), I didn't have any way to let people hear samples of the music, it required people to visit the site (it could send people emails, I suppose, but how often?), and the biggest hurdle in my mind was getting people to actually use and share the site - you already talk with your friends, so why the extra friction of putting a site in between those conversations? I thought about exposing it as a little widget people could put on their blog, but I'm not sure that would really work either... obviously I can't seem to let go of the idea. DOH! ;-)
Okay, I've rambled enough here... obviously this is a subject that I have more than a passing interest in.
I'd love to hear from you - how do you discover new music? Are you using one of these online sites? If so, what do you think? Does last.fm pick up what I listened to on my iPod?