Free, personalized Internet radio stations find new music that you'll probably like.
Sure, you can put your ear against the bedroom wall and listen to your neighbor's new Sufjan Stevens album. My dad would call that music-sharing, and while it's definitely legit, the sound quality just isn't so hot (especially if the walls are insulated.)
But there are all sorts of music-sharing Web sites out there — besides iTunes — that will introduce you to your cyberspace neighbors and their music. Below, a few of the best:
Who It's For: Wannabe DJs; music aficionados ready to experiment
What It Is: A personalized, streaming Internet radio station that finds music you'll probably like, based on an algorithm that analyzes music you already enjoy.
How It Works: Type in the name of an artist or song you like. The search engine finds similar tunes based on the melody, harmony, lyrics, arrangements and instrumentation of your selection and then streams the tunes. (It's free, and the site features more than 10,000 artists, so you'll definitely find some unknowns mixed in with singers you know.) Give the first song a thumbs-up, and Pandora will play even more similar ones; a thumbs-down will send the search engine scrambling for alternates. Best of all, you can enter more than one musician or song, making sure you'll be introduced to all kinds of new licks. (If you can't think of any music you like, you can check out popular streams from other users.)
Sample: Entering the artist Gnarls Barkley got me the happy-go-lucky Barkley tune "Smiley Faces," followed by the catchy "Losing My Edge" by LCD Soundsystem, which (sort of) reminded me of Barkley. Pandora then segued into "Dreams" by Deep Dish, a duo I'd never heard of, before following up with the trance-like "Time of Our Lives" by Paul Van Dyk.
Who It's For: Local-music lovers; hedge-fund managers
What It Is: A futures market for independent-music fanatics, Amie Street is an iTunes clone that features (mostly unsigned) bands from a wide variety of genres.
How It Works: Bands post their tunes. Listeners can purchase songs, but the price depends on how many times a song has already been downloaded (all songs start out free and can rise to 98 cents). Right now, the database has about 10,000 songs. Recommending a tune before it (potentially) hits the mainstream pays off. Listeners receive a limited number of song-recommendation tokens, which can be affixed to any tune you like (whether or not you decide to purchase). If a lot of folks download a recommended song, its price goes up and you receive credit to buy future songs.
Sample: I found a Philly band called Shot x Shot that had more than 300 listens but no recommendations. Their song "Bee Assassin" was free (sweet!) so I took a chance and decided to listen. After downloading the lick, which sounded like a mix between the minimalist composer Philip Glass and an atonal jazz band, I decided to recommend it to others on the site. If people now decide to download the song based on my recommendation, I'll receive about eight cents toward a future purchase.
Who It's For: People who say "I know this great song that you just HAVE to listen to," and their friends.
What It Is: A free, personalized streaming radio that picks music based on what other users (with overlapping tastes) recommend.
How It Works: The year-old site, which has more than 30,000 songs, overlaps the music that you already like with the songs that other users like. The site also lets you create a profile with the music you like, so other users with similar tastes can see exactly what you're listening to.
Sample: I entered the folk-rock singer Beth Orton into the search engine. One of her songs began to play, followed by songs from Cat Power and Belle and Sebastian — both artists recommended by other users who like Orton.
The Hype Machine
Who It's For: "People who like any type of music"-type people
What It Is: The site compiles all mp3s posted on various music blogs, then streams the songs.
How It Works: Search for your favorite artists, or listen to the currently most-blogged-about songs. Because the constantly updating site samples from a wide variety of music blogs, chances are you'll hear songs you've never heard of.
Sample: In 30 minutes, I heard songs by Los Lobos, Dolly Parton, Billy Bragg, James Brown, The Beatles, and The Eternals. Talk about eclectic.