Grooving on Grooveshark

Thank you to everyone who commented (and wrote to me) with ideas and suggestions for good music options from behind an iron firewall.  I've been enjoying lots of them, from KCRW's "Eclectic 24" stream (just music, no talking) to Spinner.com's "New Releases" series (full-length new albums available for streaming) to the CBC's Radio 3 stream (a great way to hear new Candian indie bands, when it works).  But today I tried what might just be my new favorite:  Grooveshark.

I'd heard about Grooveshark a while back, but dismissed it at the time as being yet another "upload all your music here and we'll stream it back to you" sites - I had no need for such a service, since I already had all my music available via my Squeezecenter.  Well, now that the firewall has come between me and my library, Grooveshark is the closest I've come to replicating my Squeezecenter experience.  The site works thusly:  users upload music (any songs not allowed by Grooveshark's agreements with various record labels are automatically blocked, supposedly); users search for music; users stream music.  I wouldn't be doing justice to their interface to describe it as "usable, pretty, and simple" - though it is all those things.  It's also intuitive and doesn't make you jump through any hoops to start playing music.  You simply search for bands or songs, and if they are found in the library (haven't searched for anything yet that they didn't have) your song starts playing.  You can create your own library, add favorites, and save and share playlists.

Of course it has a recommendation engine built in, as well.  I don't know the details of how it picks what it does, but so far it's done a pretty decent job recommending music to me.  Mostly it's artists I already know, but there have been a few surprises.  Unlike Pandora, you can add whatever songs you want to your playlist as it's playing, and "Grooveshark Radio" (the recommendation engine) will adjust itself accordingly based on songs you add.  I'm not sure yet if it's just going off the last song played, or if it's really taking into account everything you add, but either way I'm finding it to be a really nice mix of "play what I want to hear" and "surprise me with stuff I might like" all in the same interface.

I still don't understand how they make money, even after reading the "How does Grooveshark make money?" FAQ entry on their site.  It just doesn't seem like the income streams would be enough to support a model where they pay artists and labels every time a song is played.  From what I've read, the key things you get with a VIP account are scrobbling to last.fm (very cool, but not worth money to me) and the ability to stream to your phone (also very cool, and possibly worth money to me).  Though the forums are awash with complaints about the Android version of the app, so maybe it's best to hold off on that one for now.

So far my only gripes with the site are that I wish the recommendation engine would go a little farther outside its comfort zone (a lot of songs end up being very similar), and I wish that the browser tab title would update automatically with the currently playing song.  Despite those minor shortcomings, Grooveshark is a great (and free) way to combine a huge music library with a decent recommendation engine, all for free.

What do you think?  Anyone out there using it?  Got any tips and tricks?  Let me know in the comments.


Internet Radio And Me, Part 2

A while back, I was working via a client's VPN which cut off access to some portions of my own home network (lame, I know).  One side effect of this horrible state of affairs was that I could not listen to my own music library during the day.  I wrote about some of the options I tried back then, and eventually I found a way around it and that was the end of it....until now.  I just started a gig with a new client which has me working in their fancy offices in midtown Manhattan.  Said client is a bit...touchy about security, and so they are employing all manner of port, proxy, and app-blocking against my efforts to stream my music from home.  I've found a way around most of their defenses (again, not to do anything nefarious, just to listen to my music, which I suppose could be nefarious, depending on the song), but the only method available to me suffers from a pretty long lag, and an overall lack of easy control of what's playing.  I basically just have to set up a playlist then sit through it - skipping around is a slow and frustrating affair.

So once again, I find myself at the mercy of internet radio.  I checked in again on the big 3 - Pandora, Slacker, and Last.FM and wasn't much happier than I was last time.  Pandora now has ads (I don't have a premium account), ditto Slacker (that is, when the stream is working), and Last.FM is convinced that I am really into emo.

So where does that leave me?  WOXY is out of business, Lala just shut its doors and gave everyone an iTunes credit, and there's only so much daytime NPR programming I can handle.  I know there's a million internet radio stations out there, but which ones are any good?  Santa Monica's KCRW and Seattle's KEXP are both great options, if you don't mind the occasional pledge pitch.  And I've been enjoying hearing a ton of new music on the hyperlocal (for me) East Village Radio.  But so far this month, the big winner in the "help me find something great to listen to" sweepstakes is NPR Music.  Thanks to their "First Listen" series, in the past 2 weeks I've been able to stream (for free) new full-length releases from The National, Flying Lotus, The Black Keys, Sleigh Bells, Dead Weather, and LCD Soundsystem, to name just a few.  And thanks to their "Live In Concert" series, I got to catch up on recent shows from Freelance Whales, Shout Out Louds, Hot Chip, The xx, and Caribou, among others.  In a word, rock.

What do you listen to when you can't listen to your own music library?  Online radio stations?  Recommendation engines?  The sound of silence?  Tell me in the comments.