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Arts & Culture

Google Music And Other Ways To Discover Music

The Lala music player pop-up after clicking on a Google Music search result.
The Lala music player pop-up after clicking on a Google Music search result.

To quite a bit of fanfare, Google launched its new music service about two weeks ago, called simply Google Music. Mos Def, Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park, and other high-profile artists took part in the launch on October 28, which was touted as the next big delivery method of music -- and another corporate music distribution method beyond the hegemony of Apple's iTunes.

The new system augments Google’s current search services by including links to music sites like Lala and MySpace. Perhaps more significantly, it saves clicks by allowing users to immediately stream and buy music when the name of band, album, song or lyric is searched. The service has limits. Lala allows users to stream a specific song one time. Subsequent listens are 30-second snippets.

Independent artists or bands with difficult names to search for (e.g., !!! or Final Fantasy) still seem to end up getting lost -- but another Google service produces results this new service does not.

Did Google reps not realize its music search already exists under the guise of its YouTube video results? Now -- and before Google Music launched -- users looking for music could find YouTube clips of associated artists that weren't limited to 30 seconds. Most music videos even contain embedded ads directed to sites like Amazon where users can purchase the music… just like this new service.

Google hopes that this new system helps its users “discover” music, rather than funnel users searching for specific music into their portal, which it currently does.

In an interview with theLos Angeles Times, Google product management director R.J. Pittman said, "We don't license the music nor sell the music directly on Google. We are merely a music search feature."

Google considers this addition to its search services an important step for the music world. However, there are plenty of other ways to look for music on the Internet, many of which use your existing musical tastes to produce results.

Last.FM – If one is willing to put in a little effort, this UK-based social music and Internet radio site is fantastic way to discover new artists. The site's most useful feature, called "scrobbling," tracks user's listening trends on iTunes, Windows Media Player and even iPods. Scrobbling sends a user's recent playlist to its Web site where it produces statistics on listening habits. The system tracks weekly trends based on artists, songs genres and most importantly, recommendations for new artists. The longer you use the service, the better and more fine-tuned the suggestions become.

If the commitment of scrobbling sounds like too much work, then using the site as a resource for artist info is helpful too. For example, if a user were to check out the page for The Mountain Goats, other artists like John Vanderslice, Neutral Milk Hotel and Okkervil River are suggested. There's no pretentious editor making these suggestions. They are based on the scrobbling trends of millions of its users.

Pandora – As easy as entering a band name in a search box, Pandora gives users limitless variety of tunes and new artists as if you are the DJ. Using a complex online media player, Pandora finds genre-related artists to your existing favorites and includes them in user-generated stations. With a wide-array of customizable functions, users can not only listen to their favorite bands, but possibly find some new ones.

If users plan on listening more than 40 hours of Pandora a month, which is the ceiling for free use, an unlimited web subscription only costs a dollar.

The Hype Machine - For those who want to know what bands are on the rise and could possibly be the next big thing, the blogosphere is the place to start. The trouble with the blogosphere is that it is so vast it can be difficult to know where to begin. Music blog aggregators like the Hype Machine are a great place to check out the latest trends in music. Hype Machine says, "Every day, thousands of people around the world write about music they love — and it all ends up here."

The most discussed songs on MP3 blogs on any given day show up on the aggregator allowing users to figure out what's hot and what's not. For example, as of Nov. 9, the most discussed artist is Brooklyn-based Yeasayer and the track "Ambling Alp" to be featured on their forthcoming album "Odd Blood", due out in February. After discovering that new favorite song, the Hype Machine also links to iTunes and Amazon allowing users to purchase music discovered in the blogs.

Metacritic – This aggregator tracks the reviews of critics, not Web users and bloggers, for new music releases (as well as TV, movies, video games and DVDs). Much like movie mainstay Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic averages the ratings and scores of professional critics to better understand how well-received certain albums are by producing a numerical value based on its ratings. It's not exactly the future of music, but it's a good place to test the waters.

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