If you did in fact just crawl out from a cave… They are customizable internet radio stations that allow you to listen to almost anything you want. You sign up and you can begin creating your own station built from one of your favorite bands, songs, or genres. Here is a closer look at each of the sites.
The tag line above mentions the social aspect of this site, which basically allows you to add people as your friend and then in turn listen to their radio stations. Once you’ve signed up for an account and added some of your musical tastes you can then choose to listen to your own station which is populated by anything you choose to add or play through searching for a certain artist or genre. Do keep in mind that if you add a bunch of bands, and then decide to listen to a sampling from a genre or “tag station” then anything you hear will be added to your profile unless you ban it. You have two options when it comes to songs, you can “ban it” which will prevent it from playing on any of your stations or you can “love it” which the site also keeps track of for future reference. Personally I prefer not to use the “love it” option as it will then play those songs a little too much for my liking. The site also gives you the option of listening to your own “love it” station which is a nice feature. In addition to your “love it” station, your own library station, and those of your friends you can choose to listen to the recommendation station which is built by the site based on what music you’ve added, listened to, or tagged “love it”. The recommendations usually are fairly solid but basic. You won’t find too many suprises here but the selections make sense being made up of bands that have common sounds, have some sort of relation or share some other distinction. One of my favorite features is the ability to use an addon with most popular PC/Mac media players that will “scrobble” the music that you listen to. “Audioscrobbling” is just a term for uploading what you are listening to to your profile so you don’t have to manually add your tastes. This feature also allows you to publish what you are listening to currently, list your loved, or list your top tracks on your own website or social networking site.
I noticed after listening at work that the stations will populate themselves with certain artists each time you load them. For instance if you have added 40 artists you like it will pick out around 8 to continually cycle through. I found this extremely limiting and repetitive. I noticed some other things as well… Firstly, you will run into songs that are considerably louder than most of the music, this can be very annoying if you are playing this in an office with a bunch of people on the phone. I basically had no other choice but to ban each of those songs as there were no volume leveling options. Another slightly annoying occurrence is what seems to be the sites inability to play certain artists. Now if I manually put in The Beatles it may play a few songs, but I added them to my library I never once heard them pop up. This may be a glitch, if so its an extremely annoying one. On the flip side you will end up hearing a huge amount of other artists, like when I added The Stray Cats - I eventually had to get rid of them because I was hearing them so much for whatever reason. My last annoyance is a small one and it is that you will end up hearing a bunch of live versions of songs which isn’t always bad but usually the sound quality isn’t up to par. I have a suspicion that both the live music and the fact you don’t hear certain artists is because of licensing fees, but I not completely sure of it.
This site also has some interesting features to offer, the biggest being that it is based on the Music Genome Project. Which is basically a database that links songs by common musical elements (Read more about it here). An example of one of those elements would be “vocal harmonies”, so you might hear a song by The Byrds followed by a Crosby, Stills, Nash song - not because they share members but because they both rely heavily on that musical element. Although this is a really interesting idea I don’t find it to be all that helpful personally but I could see someone a little less seasoned discovering a ton of new stuff.
I have used Pandora.com at my office as well and I did find the stations to be controlled well and featured a little more variety. The service did have a couple really disappointing elements. My main issue with the site is after awhile it the service will begin to time out every hour. Now, this may not be an issue if you are just listening personally, but it can be extremely irritating if you are streaming the site from another computer hooked up to an office stereo system. The whole purpose of the hourly timeout is to get people to actually subcribe and pay for the service. I understand where they are coming from… you have to make money to continue streaming and pay license fees. But on top of that they also feature visual ads (thankfully no audio ads at this point). The time out and the ads lead me to pursue other options.
Compared to the choppy flow of last.fm’s insistence on picking a limited number of artists to play random samplings from, I found Pandora to be a little more pleasant. Basically as far as I could tell, it would pick one of your preferred artists or genres - play 4 related songs and then move on to the next random item and repeat. Which turns out to be a pleasant listen with a much wider variety. As far as the depth of the selections go, both site rely a little too heavily on the hits. If I had to choose which site had a better depth it would be Last.fm but both sites have the ability to surprise with an offbeat track.
My verdict: Out of the two sites/services I personally prefer Last.fm for it social connection and the ability to connect it to your own music library. I also find the recommendations to make more sense for the most part and find last.fm has more depth as a service and in the music available. For listening in a professional work setting I would say Pandora if somebody was willing to pay so you didn’t have to constantly babysit it, because of this I usually lobby for Last.fm at my place of work.
Posted originally: 2009-04-16 21:10:49