8/1/08

Internet Radio And Me

Radio image by flickr user 'The Rocketeer'I've been working at home a lot more since I became a freelancer earlier this year. For one of my clients, I spend most of the day connected to their VPN network. They don't use a standard VPN, instead they use software from a horrible company that used to manage my former company's IT. The point is, when I'm connected to their network, I can't access my NAS, which means I can't listen to any of my music when I'm working at home for this client. Obviously, this blows.

So what do I do? Lately I've started listening more and more to online radio - primarily using Pandora, Last.FM, and Slacker. Each of these has certain pros and cons, or "hots and nots" as I like to call them. I know these tools have been covered extensively elsewhere (including this fantastic article by Steve Krause on the different methodologies behind Pandora's & Last.FM's recommendation engines), so I thought I would just give a brief overview of my personal hots and nots for each one. [Editor's note: when listening to Pandora, I typically use Pandora.FM, which submits Pandora track data to your Last.FM profile.]

Pandora - Hot

  • Lots of exposure to new bands.
  • Really dig the focus on nerdy, music theory-based recommendations.
  • Very simple interface, easy to create new stations and edit existing ones.
Pandora - Not
  • Rating songs can throw your stations completely out of wack.
  • Song selection can sometimes be just plain terrible, or I get too long a stretch with nothing I know.
  • It can do too good a job and everything ends up sounding the same over a long period of time.
Last.FM - Hot
  • Really easy to start a station.
  • Song choices are very "comfortable" - never straying too too far from stuff you probably already know (this is also a drawback).
  • Desktop player has a really nice interface and it's easy to see artist information.
Last.FM - Not
  • Doesn't remember my stations.
  • Free membership doesn't come with "your radio" - the one where it plays you stuff based on all your past song-playing history.
  • Not enough exposure to new bands.
Slacker - Hot
  • Music selection is pretty good - nice mix of stuff I know and stuff I don't.
  • Ability to customize your stations and ban certain artists or include certain artists.
  • Ability to set how "familiar" you want the music to be - i.e. very close to your seed artists or farther away.
Slacker - Not
  • The interface is confusing and inconsistent.
  • Despite claims to the contrary, I couldn't turn off their stupid "DJ" who kept cutting in to tell me how great the Slacker portable player is.
  • Not enough range in bands - I heard the same bands over and over again on some stations.
With all of the above, you can customize your stations and settings to various degrees to address some of the "Nots" I listed, but I focused primarily on how they come out of the box without doing a lot of setup work.

When those tools wear out their sonic welcome, I often turn to woxy.com (thanks to Catherine Andrews for turning me on to this) which usually does a great job of keeping my ears happy for several hours at a time.

What do you listen to online? Do you use one of the big 3 tools I talked about? Do you have a favorite online radio station? What do you listen to during the day?

3 comments:

Amanda said...

I think it's funny that "just turn on your stereo and listen to a CD" isn't even an option anymore....

Lightnin' No Last Name said...

hey, I deleted my comment. that's what the button does. no wonder I still listen to cd's...

here it was/is:

...but that's exactly what I do! I have a stack of cd's at work of stuff that I would typically not listen to elsewise. And then there's the non-Internet radio (WAMU and sports talk.)

Also, this helps me disguise the true number of cd's that I own. Were I to take these cd's home, I would find myself shopping for new cd storage solutions, and Ms. Lightnin' would not be pleased with this turn of events.

The downside is forgetting that I own stuff, like the Velvet Underground bootleg series, "Without A Net" by the Grateful Dead, etc.

Nate said...

Good list! I'm surprised you missed one of my favorite "internet Radio / Music Discovery tools" though! The Hype Machine! http://hypem.com/ You can search music blogs for artists or just whatever and then queue up the results as a radio station. they also have a "what's hot today" station & a general always on station that plays a lot of interesting stuff.. Like Last.FM, it's a nice blend of user control and expert recommendations on music. I'm a big fan!