Category: Music

The Best Music Discovery Service

Tell Me Something I Don’t Know

Music Disovery If I want to hear all of my favorite songs, I can just listen to the My Top Rated” playlist in iTunes. One of the real values of a good online music service is the ability to turn you on to good new music that you DID NOT know about.


These days I find just about all of my bands from suggestions on my favorite services. Let’s take a look at how our players stack up on the issue of Music Discovery.

Music Discovery Comparison logo – They give you the option of seeing “New Music from Your Friends”, “New Music from Your Favorite Artists”, or “New Music from People with Similar Taste”.  These are some good ways to find good new music.

Music Discovery While there are many less-than-great things about this service, iLike does a decent job of showing me good music that I have not heard before. (4 Stars)

Rating: 4 of 5 stars rating


 Jango.comlogo – When you build a playlist, they start to suggest other artists that are similar to the ones you have selected. You can leave them alone to hear them occasionally,  add these artists to the mix to hear them often, or delete them so you never hear them. Usually I’ll add artists that I don’t know to give them a listen. If I don’t like the, I just delete them later on.

Music Discovery  Again, I always seem to .

Rating: 4 of 5 stars rating


Last.FM logo

Last.FM – I’m not exactly sure how Last.FM determines which new artists to play for me. I’m also not sure that they’re any good at it either. Whenever I select the “My Recommendations” option I never really like what I hear. However, when I select the “My Neighborhood” option, which plays favorites of people with similar taste to me, I usually do like what I hear. Does that mean that the masses are smarter than them? Probably.

Music Discovery  Their suggestions are actually not that good, but the “Neighborhood” ones help me find some decent new music occasionally. (3 Stars)

Rating: 3 of 5 stars rating logo – Yet another thing that they suck at. I’m starting to wish I had just left them out of this series all together.

Music Discovery  Pure crap. (1 Star)

Rating: 1 of 5 stars rating Only because I don’t have a zero stars image. logo – Pandora uses some scientific mumbo-jumbo to find music that you’ll like. They constantly mix in “new” music with the songs that you already like using this algorithm. I’m not quite sure how it works, but boy does it ever!

Music Discovery  This is where Pandora leaves everyone else in the dust. They never fail to amaze me with the mix of great songs that I have heard and great songs from artists that I usually like. At least half of the cool new music that I’ve found in the last two years has come directly from Pandora recommendations. (5 Stars)

Rating: 5 of 5 stars rating I wish I could give them more than 5. logo – Shoutcast is just a collection of online radio stations. Your odds of finding good new music are only as good as the station that you pick.

Music Discovery  I’m not really that into how Shoutcast works, but I guess you could hunt around and find something worthwhile. (3 Stars)

Rating: 3 of 5 stars ratingDecent, but not for me. logo – Slacker gives you plenty of options to adjust your stations music selections. You can stick with more “familiar” music or go for a mix of “newer” artists. This generally helps you find lots of good stuff that I did not know about.

Music Discovery  If I’m in the mood to find a lot of good new music I can make Slacker send me a mix of mostly new music that I tend to like. (4 Stars)

Rating: 4 of 5 stars ratingNice job!


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Online Music Services with the Best Suggestion Quality

Give the People What they Want


The best reason to use any of these music services is to have them send you great music. There are many different ways of determining what “you” will like. They all seem to straddle the line between art and science with a touch of voodoo thrown in. I have spent a lot of time trying to get a stream of good music out of all of these services. Let’s take a look at my mixed results. (Don’t forget to give your feedback in the pole and comments below.)


Suggestion Quality Comparison logo – They base their selections on your iTunes history and favorites of other members with “similar” tastes.

Suggestion Quality  They do a decent job of sending you songs. (3 Stars)

Rating: 3 of 5 stars rating Good, not great.


 Jango.comlogo – Jango stations play the artists you add, along with similar artists favored by other Jango users who share your taste.

Suggestion Quality : I generally like the selections along with the ways that I can modify what it sends me. (4 Stars)

Rating: 4 of 5 stars ratingVery good.


Last.FM logo

Last.FM – Last.FM allows you to rate songs up or down and favorite songs that you love. You can also tag songs that you listen to. It also pulls your iTunes data to determine what you like.

Suggestion Quality : It does a very good job of selecting music that I like. (4 Stars)

Rating: 4 of 5 stars ratingVery, very good. logo – When you go to the My Recommendations page it shows you a bunch of songs based on your play history in iTunes. The recommendations are not really that great.

Suggestion Quality : This is just another disappointing feature of MyStrands. (2 Stars)

Rating: 2 of 5 stars ratingNot good! logo – Pandora lets you rate songs up and down and bookmark (favorite) songs and artists. It is very quick to put together a batch of songs that I just end up liking. They base their picks on the Music Genome project, which uses data entered by music “experts” to indentify what makes music similar.

Suggestion Quality : This is where Pandora really shines. It just keeps picking one great choice after another. (5 Stars)

Rating: 5 of 5 stars rating It’s not perfect, but it’s the best. logo – Shoutcast is really just a collection of radio stations. It’s a straight one-way push. They do have a ton of stations to choose from, so you can usually find something you like, but it does not adapt to you in any way that I can see.

Suggestion Quality : There are no suggestions. You just hunt around and hope you like what you find. (1 Star)

Rating: 1 of 5 stars ratingHit or Miss. logo – The web player and iPhone players both allow you to rate and bookmark songs that you like and dislike. After doing this for a while, you get a pretty good flow of songs that you like.

Suggestion Quality : It takes a little while to fine tune, but it does send you a nice mix of songs based on your feedback. (4 Stars)

Rating: 4 of 5 stars ratingVery, very good.


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Well, you know what I think, let’s hear what you think. You can select more than one choice below if you have a tie for your most reliable service.

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The Most Reliable Online Music Services

Who Can You Count On?

Online Music Services Reliability

One of the most important features of a streaming music service is reliability. All of the other stuff doesn’t matter much if the music keeps stuttering and dropping out or the site’s navigation flakes out all the time.

How Am I Rating this Category?

Interface and Navigation – How clean and usable is the interface? Can I quickly get into my playlists and stations? Does everything work; quickly and without hiccups?

Streaming Quality – When I click Play, what happens? 1 or 2 seconds, then music or do I get hypnotized watching a loading graphic? Does one song flow smoothly into the next or am I stuck in the waiting room?

How Did I Test?

I already use some of these services a lot, but I gave each one at least a half hour on my Desktop (Ethernet cable), Laptop (Wi-Fi) and my iPhone (over AT&T’s lousy 3G network). Let the games begin…

Reliability Comparison logo – I used to use this service a while ago, but I needed to go back and reacquaint myself before I could render judgment. 

Interface and Navigation In a word, iDon’tLike. The interface is just a mess. It takes too much work to figure out how to get a simple song to play. Then, when you click the wrong thing, you get this shuffle mode that only lets you listen to 30 seconds of a song before skipping to the next one. Huh?  (2 Stars)

Streaming Quality: Once you figure out how to work iLike, the music streaming is great and the audio quality is also. Not much to say here other than good job. (5 Stars)

Rating: 3 of 5 stars rating Could have been better if not for the crappy interface.


 Jango.comlogo – I dabbled with Jango a while back and generally liked it. Let’s see how it fares against the rest.

Interface and Navigation : Jango has a decent interface that allows you to figure out things pretty quickly. It does not have all of the features of a Last.Fm, which is exactly how they help keep the interface under control. Very nice! (4 Stars)

Streaming Quality: Songs play quickly and jump from one track to the next very quickly (aside from the occasional commercial). The audio quality is also crisp. (5 Stars)

Rating: 4 of 5 stars rating Jango has a nice mix of straight forward interface and solid streaming performance.


Last.FM logo

Last.FM – I use Last.FM just about every day and really enjoy it a lot.

Interface and Navigation : Interface is not Last.FM’s strong suit. They have so many powerful playlist, social networking, and music discovery features that it gets a little overwhelming. Still, it’s not as bad as iLike or Slacker. (3 Stars)

Streaming Quality: When you finally figure out how to get a song playing, it sounds and works well. At times, I do catch the occasional slow down, probably due to the huge amount of members that could be tuned in at a given time. (4 Stars)

Rating: 3 of 5 stars rating If they did an interface design they could easily break into the 4 Star group. Still, I really like this service. logo – About 2 years ago, I loved MyStrands (MusicStrands?). Since then, they seem to be making serious efforts to destroy the service. I think that they are trying to replace it with Strands or something. Whatever!

Interface and Navigation : The site is a mess. Everything is disorganized and a mystery. (1 Star)

Streaming Quality When it works, which is rare the streaming is OK. (3 Stars)

Rating: 2 of 5 stars rating This service needs to take a long swim in the dead pool. logo – I listen to Pandora every single day. On my Desktop, Laptop, and iPhone. I love it!

Interface and Navigation : This is absolutely the service with the fewest features of the group. Somehow, they make that work for them though. This has the cleanest, simplest, slickest interface of the entire gang. (5 Stars) If you’re listening Last.FM, please rip off their design approach.

Streaming Quality The streaming quality is excellent. Every now and then there is a pause between songs, but it never seems that bad. (4 Stars)

Rating: 4 of 5 stars rating Bravo! logo – This actually stream other online radio stations through it’s player or your favorite desktop player. It is owned by WinAmp (AOL), so it integrates best with that player.

Interface and Navigation : The interface is easy enough to get used to. Pick a Genre, then Sub Genre, then a Station. (4 Stars)

Streaming Quality: Fast and Clear, not a whole lot to say there. (4 Stars)

Rating: 4 of 5 stars rating Pretty good with tons of choices. logo – Slacker is also a collection of online stations that you can customize. They sell their own player that you can download your favorite songs to.

Interface and Navigation : Slacker has a simple player that lets you select from a bunch of online stations. Even simpler than Shoutcast; Select a Genre, then a Station and it starts playing right away. (4 Stars)

Streaming Quality: Songs play right away and come in loud and clear on my computer or iPhone. (5 Stars)

Rating: 4 of 5 stars rating I really like, especially on my iPhone.


Have Your Say

Well, you know what I think, let’s hear what you think. You can select more than one choice below if you have a tie for your most reliable service.

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The Best Music Service on the Internet

Separating the Contenders from the Pretenders

Best Online Music Services There are a bazillion services out there that will stream music to you over the interwebs.  A few are amazing an then there are well…”the rest”.

Loading up a few hundred thousand songs and streaming them is not really that big of a deal. The “special sauce” is what adds real value to these services.

Let’s to take a look a some of the major players in this space to see how they all stack up.

The Contenders

I will be evaluating the following seven music streaming services.

Music Services Compared -enables fans to discover and share playlists, new music that matches their personal tastes, and concerts by their favorite artists. iLike offers retail links to iTunes and Amazon to purchase music, Ticketmaster to purchase concert tickets and Thumbplay for ringtones.  – Jango is a social music service that lets you create and share custom radio stations. It’s the easy way to play the music you want online, legally and free.

Last.FM – is a music service that learns what you love.
Every track you play will tell your profile something about what you like. It can connect you to other people who like what you like – and recommend songs from their music collections and yours too. – MyStrands’ Social Recommender is capable of automatically learning people’s tastes and how their preferences evolve over time. It can be used to generate real-time music recommendations. – Together, ateam of fifty musician-analysts has been listening to music, one song at a time, studying and collecting literally hundreds of musical details on every song. It takes 20-30 minutes per song to capture all of the little details that give each recording its magical sound – melody, harmony, instrumentation, rhythm, vocals, lyrics … and more – close to 400 attributes! They continue this work every day to keep up with the incredible flow of great new music coming from studios, stadiums and garages around the country. – SHOUTcast Radio offers thousands of free Internet radio stations from DJs and broadcasters around the world. – Slacker is what radio was meant to be: personal, portable and free. Slacker attempts to deliver free personalized radio that is customized for everyone. Slacker combines the knowledge of the nation’s leading music experts from every genre and your own personal tastes to create the perfect radio stations for each and every listener.

If there are any that are missing, add them in the comments and I’ll try to cover them in a subsequent article.


How We’ll Pick a Winner

I want to base my analysis on a combination of science and art. I have broken out five categories on which all of the services will be judged:

  1. Reliability – How robust is a service? Does everything work solidly and smoothly or do the songs pause and jerk like a spastic drunken sailor?
  2. Suggestion Quality – How good is a service at playing music that you like? Does it send you a non-stop stream of awesome tunes or leave you scratching your head?
  3. Music Discovery – How good is a service at finding new music that you like? Is it more of the same old stuff or are you constantly saying, “I have to get more stuff by these guys?”
  4. Community – How good is the community around a service. Are your friends all there? Do you find and interact with other people who have a similar interest? Or, is it just a radio station on your computer?
  5. Integration – How well does a service play with the outside world? Does a service allow you to: import data from your desktop and MP3 player, send data out to other services like Facebook and Twitter, provide a client for your phone?


Each category will be broken down in a separate article where you will be able to vote. The votes for each category will be displayed in a sortable table so that you can decide which player is best suited to your priorities.

This is the Introductory article in a 5 part series on the Best Music Services on the Internet. See the rest of the series:

  1. The Most Reliable Online Music Services
  2. Online Music Services with the Best Suggestion Quality
  3. The Best Music Discovery Service
  4. Best Community Driven Online Music Services
  5. BBest Third Party Integration among Online Music Services

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