In the summer of 2003, I received a tax rebate. The sum I received was enough to pay for a new pair of glasses, a holiday and a third generation iPod. So I excitedly ordered the Jonathon Ive designed wonder through Apple’s website, downloaded iTunes and set to work digitizing my entire CD collection. A few days later I would be able to jettison my portable discman and carry around my entire back catalogue with me. I became feverishly excited, it was going to be great! In the first few months my fervent enthusiasm meant I convinced myself I loved the iPod experience.
In hindsight I’m not so sure that my feelings of elation were justified as having my entire record collection ‘on tap’ meant that I had too much choice. Whenever I bought a new record that didn’t instantly gratify me I’d quickly revert to my old favourites out of habit. Looking back on it, I ended up ignoring some records that were initially challenging (The Rapture’s ‘Echoes’ comes to mind) but all the more rewarding when they finally clicked.
Fast forward to January 2009 when I started planning the launch of  radio. It was then that I became acutely aware of my own listening habits. As I’d be committing myself to creating fortnightly podcasts I would need a large variety of great songs to share with my listeners. I felt confident that my musical taste was diverse and up to date enough to cope. I was wrong. I found that after planning the tracks for the first four episodes (they were an hour an a half each back then) I was beginning to repeat the bands/albums I wanted to play. It came as a shock. It was apparent to me that 6 years of having any music I wanted had made me less adventurous and even a little indifferent to some of the newer music out there. I decided that a change was required, as not only did I need to find more music that I’d want to share, I needed to find it fast. So what did I do next? I searched the web for answers.
This will be the first in an ongoing series of articles about the best ways to discover site’s featuring music you’ll love on the net (that aren’t  radio). I hope you’ll find it useful.
I’m sure most of you have heard of Last FM but I’m not sure how many of you have accounts that you make the most of. For the uninitiated, Last FM is a social network based around music recommendations that uses the music library imported from your computer (or added manually) and offers great suggestions about bands that are similar or related to your favourites that you may be interested in. Based on what you enter, it will create a radio station tailored to your existing tastes that can be accessed via the web or a smart-phone, and it’s suggestions are normally second to none. The service also provides a function called “Scrobbling” which records every track you play on your MP3 player, computer or various other services. This information is then collated into an RSS feed and statistics which can be viewed by your friends or added to personal blogs, or just offer some revealing information about how addicted to certain musicians or albums you are. My love affair with Bon Iver’s first album stretched a lot further than I had imagined!
Best For – Personalised radio stations accessible anywhere, finding new music related to or similar to your tastes, ‘scrobbling’ and seeing what music your friends are listening to.
Every day, thousands of people around the world write about music they love. The Hype Machine keeps track of what music bloggers write about. They handpick a set of amazing music blogs (that we hope to be part of one day) and via a simple user interface allow you to play (and Scrobble) the tracks directly from the webpage. Once you create an account you can also subscribe to your favourite blogs and create a personalised feed of new music that you’ll enjoy. There’s also a selection of real time charts that show the most talked about songs/remixes/artists from the past few days. Another great aspect is that by navigating directly to the blog post, you often find tracks being given away free. For me its the best tool to find new music that’s best suited to your current tendencies.
Best For – Finding new music that suits your own personal tastes and keeping up to date with the latest music trends.
The Sixty One/Aweditorium
Named after Highway 61, the notorious U.S highway that runs along the Mississippi River and marks the origin of American music culture, The Sixty One is like a musical adventure game, setting it’s users quests to lead you out of your musical comfort zone. It’s interface can be daunting and would benefit from some refinement but it’s an extremely fun way to discover new music. The sites code also powers popular iPad app Aweditorium
Best For – Having some fun whilst discovering new music
Bandcamp is a net based music store that’s a great place to find unsigned musicians. It’s allowing artists to regain/retain their independence and recoup more of the money from their recordings. The site gives bands their own mini web-site where they can upload and sell all of their albums, EP’s and tracks directly to you. The best part is that you can stream all the music free before you decide to make a purchase. Bandcamp takes 10-15% of every sale to support the platform. As they grow I can see them offering a raft of services to bands and with a few tweaks can imagine it becoming a business model for record labels of the future.
Best For – Finding unsigned/emerging acts before they become famous
The Soundcloud platform is fast becoming the preferred way to share music/sound on the web. It works in a similar way to You Tube and has the potential to become as ubiquitous. It offers it’s users a virtual space to upload and share music with friends publicly or privately; to embed sound across websites, social networks, blogs and receive comments on the tracks. The service offers free accounts to amateur users with the option to upgrade to a premium account for advanced features like statistics, controlled distribution and custom branding. Lots of music blogs are using the service to reduce their server storage costs and the amount of music they give away for free. This is helping Soundcloud to create a huge library of songs that can be searched for and played from your computer or via a smart-phone application. It’s a service that’s on the rise and one to watch.
Best For – Sharing music with your friends via social networks or on websites
That’s it for now, there are more that I could mention but this article is already excessively long!