Turn up the live stream!


Getting social with online music

by André Natta

Last month we took a look at the ways surfing the Internet could help you plan for that next trip. It only makes sense this month to figure out how to access the soundtrack for your journey.

The emergence of Internet radio as a more common solution means that it’s easy for you to hop in the car, connect that smartphone to the stereo (or use the Internet connection in the car) and take your favorite station along for the ride with you (or to the office in San Francisco during a business trip, listening to Reg to find out what show you’ll be checking out when you get back).

What about checking out suggestions from friends? Or discovering a new artist that’s not necessarily getting airplay locally? There are now a few more options available for folks to plug into.

Spotify has been available overseas for years, with music fans in the United States clamoring for access to its 15 million titles (iTunes’ library currently contains 8 million titles). It makes it easier to enjoy listening to playlists created by your friends. The service is available via private beta as of this writing, but I’d expect it to open up to the masses soon.

Turntable.fm lets individuals serve as a DJ for their friends. If you have a friend who loves music (with a Facebook account) that’s already on the service, you’ve got your ticket in. It’s the most interesting of the services I took a look at since it operates more like a radio station than a listening service aimed at the individual. An even better description may be to call it a digital listening room. You must have at least one other person in the “room” in order to listen to music. There can be up to five people at once taking turns adding songs to the queue, making it a little easier for several songs by the same artist to not appear in a playlist in rapid-fire order. It turns sharing music into a game, awarding points and allowing people to vote songs up or down. It could also turn testing out new songs into a much more targeted practice than it’s been in years. Luckily people are able to explore rooms, leaving hope for discovery of new artists. It’s sort of a self-curated version of Pandora.

Speaking of Pandora, I bet their fans have probably noticed a recent change from its long-time Flash-based site to one built using the HTML5 framework. It’s less important that you understand the mumbo-jumbo I just used and more important to realize that this change allows the music service’s customer base (currently including approximately 1/6 of the country’s population) to access the service via tablets and mobile devices without having to worry about being able to use it. This would be a major asset to its new investors, as the company recently went public.

I’ve always used Pandora as a way to increase my knowledge of the music that’s out there. People can build stations using keywords or artist names and the


Music Genome Project algorithm creates a dynamic playlist. The playlist is altered based on how you vote for certain songs. The changes in the website’s design will also allow for comments from friends and others on the site to play a bigger role in influencing what you discover next.

Pandora and Spotify offer mobile-enabled options for their services, as well as premium levels. Pandora’s allow for unlimited streaming without ads (the free service allows 40 hours per month). Spotify provides two subscription levels giving their users unlimited access (the free service only provides 10 hours per month) and access to their playlists from anywhere at any time (even if they’re nowhere near an Internet connection). All of these services try their best to build on the social network connections you already have: Spotify and Turntable.fm use Facebook as a driving force for connections while Pandora’s redesign essentially turns it into one itself.

I’d suggest that Turntable.fm offers the best opportunity for locals to spread the word about the ever-changing music scene here in Birmingham. It’s nice to think of possibly creating a room with four other friends and using it to help expose others to the latest releases from local bands.

Music continues to connect the world.These tools just help you decide when you feel like connecting on your terms. •

André Natta is the stationmaster for bhamterminal.com.

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