If you’re a music lover (audiophile goes up my ass sideways), you’ve probably realized by now that there is no single piece of software or equipment that does it all. You may have a CD collection. I do, but it’s mostly gathering dust these days because I have a laptop and headphones. Still, a CD player with real speakers is nice for blasting music around the house when you don’t want to be attached to a headset, or you want to listen to music with someone else. It’s also nice to have one in your car. But mostly I use the laptop and headphones.
My musical “needs” include listening to new music and even new genres that I will preferably like a lot. There isn’t a good chance of that happening while listening to mainstream radio stations. My tastes are my tastes and they don’t tend to run with the mainstream, so that can make it challenging to find good music that I can groove to. That’s where Pandora Radio comes in. The Music Genome Project uses a sophisticated algorithm which identifies many many different characteristics of music in general and–more importantly–music that you tell it you like, matches it with music that it has already analysed in its vast database, and customizes its musical offerings for you, creating your very own personalized radio station(s). So you get to hear all kinds of new music that you’ll probably like! I recommend buying the $36 annual subscription to Pandora. What you get with a paid subscription is a desktop widget (a music player of sorts) with your stations on it, a better quality sound (higher definition), and no ads. It’s well worth it.
So you no longer miss out on new music that fits your tastes, and it’s way cheaper than buying music from say iTunes. By the way, I’m listening to Daylight by Matt & Kim on Pandora right now. Inevitably you’re going to want to explore a band that you like in depth–check out their albums and find out if this is true love or just a fling. Alas! You can’t do that with Pandora, not easily anyway.
This is where you need to bring other tools into play, and the first one I’m going to recommend is iTunes. iTunes has a feature called Genius Recommendations that tries to do the same thing as Pandora in identifying music that you’ll like based on what you listen to. But that’s not really why you need iTunes. Pandora does that piece better anyway. What you need iTunes for is mainly for browsing bands and genres that you like, listen to samples, and buying individual songs and albums, downloading them, and playing them. So iTunes is a music player on your computer, but it’s also an online store, and it has great music organizing capabilities. iTunes does something else really well too. It rips and burns. You can “rip” music from your CD collection and organize it on your computer with the rest of your music. You can also “burn” music from your collection to CD to play in your car or boom box, or give to other people. So iTunes is pretty much mandatory. Yeah there are other programs that will do what iTunes does, but not everything it does and not as well (in my humble opinion).
One of those other iTune-like programs is Amazon Mp3. It does not rip or burn, but it does offer a huge collection of music, with the option of storing it all in “the cloud” (online), thereby not taking up space on your computer AND making your collection accessible to you from any computer, not just one computer, because it’s online. Because I have a cavernous hard drive, I don’t care about cloud based storage of my music. The only thing I use Amazon Mp3 for is finding music that I can’t find on iTunes. It does happen.
What else could you possibly need? Well if you like to share your music with your friends, you need a way to do that. You can do that with Pandora, but it’s a little bit awkward in some ways. I actually like the way Pandora shares. Other people can listen to your stations that you created, can see what you’ve listened to, liked, and bookmarked, and listen to it too. But they have to log onto Pandora to do that. And that’s ok.
More people use Facebook these days, and like it or not, it’s pretty much the only game in town of its kind. The best program I know of for sharing music on Facebook is called Spotify. Spotify is freaking amazing at what it does, and what it does is it licenses just about every piece of music out there so it can offer it to you free. There are no piracy issues or worries about sharing. Now I don’t remember what basic Spotify does, because I pay for the $5 per month upgrade version. I think paying the $5 gives you unlimited “free” listening and sharing privileges. The easiest way to explain Spotify is that it’s similar (especially in looks) to iTunes. It mimics iTunes playlists, imports and is compatible with iTunes. You can drag and drop from iTunes right into Spotify playlists! It will show you what music files are ones you purchased on iTunes and which are just “borrowed” into your Spotify playlists for free. You can share either kind. There’s an easy widget for sharing songs to Facebook that works very well. Anyone of your FB friends can see what you shared and play it instantly for themselves. They can also subscribe to your Spotify playlists. I mean Spotify is truly amazing and wonderful. Oh it’s also a player and it has better sound quality than iTunes.
Have you ever heard a piece of music on a movie soundtrack, or on the radio, or even in a TV commercial, that you really liked and wanted to find out who the band is? It happens to me quite a lot. I think that’s how I first heard the song, “In Ruins” by Fol Chen. It was on an episode of CSI New York. I also first heard “Elephants & Little Girls” by Loch Lomand in a TV commercial. As they say, “There’s an app for that.” It’s called Shazam, and it’s available for Android and iPhone, iPad and some other devices. You hear a song you like, you press the Shazam icon on your cell phone (it’s a little blue circle), and it “listens” and identifies the song. Now this is an amazing program, because it can identify songs at low volume with a lot of background noise, and it does it in about twenty seconds or less. Not just popular, readily identifiable songs either. It will identify songs you never heard of–songs no one ever heard of. I don’t use it that often but it never fails me.
Those are the tools of my music listening, playing, and sharing toolbox.