Life After Ruckus
Friday brought the regrettable revelation that DRM-based music service Ruckus, Penn State’s replacement for the once-free Napster, had shut down. If Ruckus’ inferiority didn’t have you downloading music illegally already, it’s sudden death might. So, in the interest of a lawsuit-free Penn State, a few of us at Onward State decided to explore the legal options still available. Enjoy.
Pandora is an internet radio service that automatically recommends songs as it learns your personal preferences. Instead of downloading specific songs or albums to a computer, users create individual stations based on an artist or song of their choosing, and Pandora does the rest. Created by the Music Genome Project, this unique service considers “over 400 different musical attributes” when selecting the next song. In addition to this, you can indicate your feelings for a particular song with a thumbs up or thumbs down – as you can see below, I liked I Luv It and Izzo, but drew the line at Come On Over – to further shape the selection process. Theoretically, if you use the service enough, you won’t even bother having to make a playlist.Pros: Pandora is meant to be a user-friendly, intuitive, and easy service – which is refreshing in Ruckus’ wake. As you can see, I created stations that span my musical interests from “Weezer Radio” to “Go Getta Radio” (which sounds impeccably gangsta to my un-hip ears), then made a QuickMix of these stations. This allows Pandora to select transition from Young Jeezy’s Soul Survivor to The Killers’ Spaceman to The Pussycat Dolls’ Buttons, without my intervention. On top of this, I’m discovering songs that I like, but had never heard before while enjoying the stuff I’m familiar with.
Cons: Pandora is not an “on-demand” service. Even on my “Circus” station, there’s no guarantee that the first song will be Britney Spears. It may be musically similar to her, but I’m not getting my guilty pleasure Spears fix. This can be problematic when you want to listen to a specific song RIGHT NOW, or the service hasn’t quite adjusted to your musical palette. Additionally, you can only skip songs 6 times an hour per station. If you get a few songs in a row that you don’t like (or just don’t feel like listening to), you find yourself budgeting skips for the next 59 minutes. This can be circumvented by changing stations often, but can be annoying.
The Bottom Line: Pandora is impressively high-quality for a free service. It’s music selection is deep and diverse, and advertisements are unobtrusive. If users don’t mind sitting back and letting someone else pick the music, they may find themselves better off than they did while using Ruckus.
Check out our thoughts on iTunes, Last.FM, Hype Machine, and Dreaming Tree after the jump.
With 6 billion songs sold as of January 6th, 2009, the iTunes Store is easily the most popular music downloading option. Opening as the Apple iTunes Music Store in April 2003, the Store also sells music videos and feature films. It is easily accessible through the iTunes music player application that I’m sure most of you use.
Pros: The iTunes Store interface is very user-friendly, as you might expect an Apple product to be. You can search by album, artist, song, or keyword. Additionally, through the main page of the Store you can go to other genre-specific pages to find new music that may be to your liking. You might say, “Hey, I have a PC, the iTunes Music Store couldn’t possibly work for me.” You’d be completely wrong. Music downloaded from the iTunes Store runs on PCs and, with iTunes-Plus being DRM-free, on any portable music device. You also might say, “Apple computers are sooo expensive, so their music prices must be astronomical.” Wrong again. Most iTunes songs are just .99 cents, while albums can be had from $9.99. Also, the Store often has free singles for download. Music in the Store spans the musical spectrum.
Cons: While the Store has music from a wide range of genres, some notable artists are missing, the Beatles and AC/DC to name two. You’ll have to ask your dad for those. Kid Rock is also missing, but no one seems to mind. Another con, i suppose, in this particular conversation, is that the Store costs money. Unlike Pandora or the services below, in order to listen to the music, you have to pay.
The Bottom Line: If you want to actually own your music and you feel guilty pirating it, the iTunes Store is the hands down best option. You can buy the music faster and cheaper than with actual CDs and also without the pesky jewel cases.
Pros: Hype Machine approaches music in a fundamentally different way from Pandora and iTunes. Hype Machine works by tapping the collective consciousness of the blogosphere. Basically, Hype Machine looks at what songs people are blogging about and then streams them on its site– an aural zeitgeist, if you will. The site is especially valuable for exposing yourself to songs that you wouldn’t have otherwise heard. Its Best of 2008 coverage is also different from any other I’ve seen, since it bases its rankings on how frequently songs were blogged about.
Cons: Using Hype Machine is a much more active process than listening to Pandora. While you can set up a play list of sorts by using the search option, it is not nearly as convenient as Pandora. Many of the songs are remixes, which will only appeal to some people. As for variety, a quick search for Frank Sinatra showed a bunch of hits but a search for Pachelbel’s Canon found nothing. Draw your own conclusions.
The Bottom Line: If you’re looking for background music for a homework session, use Pandora. But if you’re looking for new music, check out Hype Machine. Start by searching for an artist you know to get the feel of the site– you’ll probably find a dozen remixes you had no idea existed.
Formerly known as AudioScrobbler, last.fm is a free webservice and software (Compatible with PCs and Macs) designed with the music lover in mind. To use it, you register an account, download the appropriate software from the site, and start listening to music. As time goes on, your plays will accumulate, and your online library will grow. There are all sorts of nifty charts displaying your most listened to tracks and artists, among other things. You can even add your friends to a buddy list and see how compatible your tastes in music are! It also serves to eliminate poseurs. Now you can see if your friend who said they’re a huge Nickelback fan is legitimate or if they were just saying that to fit in with your group of friends.
What’s perhaps even cooler, though, is the last.fm radio feature. Last.fm will analyze your library based on what music you have played, and they will generate a radio station based on what they think you would like based on your tastes. It’s very similar to Pandora, but it uses your actual played library to generate the recommendations. Of course, you can also hone in on a specific artist/genre if you so choose or if you don’t have a last.fm account.
Pros: Last.fm is free and completely legal. It’s very easy to set up, and it has neat charts and a strong community. The recommendations provided by it are more often than not spot-on and the interface is smooth and simple. The user-to-user music compatibility mechanism is very cool and pretty unique.
Cons: Building up solid recommendations takes a solid amount of time, since you need to listen to music for the recommendations to generate (unless you do a specific search, but what’s the fun in that?). Also, although it’s a great tool for finding new music, it’s very hit-or-miss for actually acquiring said music. It’s up to the artists if they want their songs available for download for free, and more often than not, you can only stream a track, not download it.
The Bottom Line: Last.fm is a great way to find new music, keep track of what you’ve been listening to, and see how your musical tastes compare with your friends. I recommend it to any active listeners who are always looking for new groups to check out. I have my own last.fm page, so add me as a friend if you would like. We can discuss the finer points of music theory, or we can just compare our tastes.
If you’re a true music fan, than Dreaming Tree is the only site you’ll ever need. It has the largest collection of free, legal Dave Matthews concert bootlegs known to man. Honestly, if somebody shut off all of the sites on the Internet except for Dreaming Tree and Onward State, I would not mind. I mean, I wish they had a collection of Jack Johnson live performances, but I live and die by Dave Matthews Band, so it’s all good.
Pros: GIGABYTES UPON GIGABYTES OF DAVE MATTHEWS, MUSICAL GENIUS OF THE WORLD, FOR FREE. Does anyone need anything else?
Cons: You may spend so much time on this site that you could be late for your Ultimate Frisbee Club meeting.
The Bottom Line: If Dreaming Tree offered me a blog-writing position, I would quit Onward State.