Music Discovery: Beyond Pandora

I grew up listening to albums, then cassette tapes, and eventually CD’s.  I have an entire bookshelf full of CD’s that I have yet to import to my computer.  I haven’t purchased a new CD for several years now; we’ve gone digital. When I want to buy some new music I usually buy it in iTunes (and sometimes Amazon), sync to my iPod, and then connect it to portable speakers or our stereo system.  And now I find even that is considered old-school.

These days, you don’t have to buy music.  You can stream it online or from a mobile device.  There are many music services available to choose from.  Most offer free options, which are ad-supported, or subscriptions for a monthly or annual fee.  Pandora is a popular service that most people have heard of, but there are a slew of other options.  I haven’t tried them all, but here are the services I’ve tried and enjoyed.

(Side note: Being married to a musician I’m somewhat concerned about the business model of these services.  How do bands make money? They are paid a small percentage when their songs are licensed and played over these services. The details vary but personally, when there is a musician I like enough to listen to over and over, I buy the song or album rather than continuing to listen for free.  If you love music consider the musicians behind the music and make a purchase.  It’s like leaving a tip in a digital tip jar.)

Here’s my round-up of four online music services.  Have you heard of any of these? It not, give one of them a try and let me know what you think!




Mobile: available for iOS, Android, Blackberry, Nook, Kindle Fire – they’ve basically got you covered on the go.

Price: free for ad-supported music; monthly and yearly subscription for Pandora One which offers no ads, and higher quality audio.

Pandora is probably the most widely known of these music services.  Just enter a song or artist into the search box, and Pandora will instantly create a “radio station” for you with similar music.  Then you can rate the songs selected with a thumbs up or down, so that Pandora can customize the playlists based on your ratings.  If you create an account, Pandora will also remember your stations for your next visit.

If you don’t like a song, you can skip it, but you can only skip a certain number of songs per hour.  This is the message I got after trying to skip 6 songs: “Unfortunately our music licenses force us to limit the number of tracks you may skip each hour. If you want to hear something else, try creating another station starting with a different artist or track.”

Most of the other services also use the non-skip rule, which is how they can honor the licensing of the music.  Artists can only be “skipped” so many times.



Mobile: Available for iPhone/iPad, Android and Kindle Fire

Price: Free – no audio ads.

Songza is quickly becoming my favorite for discovering new music.

The unique feature of Songza is their “concierge”.  The concierge option chooses music for you based on the time of day, your mood, or activity.  For example this afternoon I could choose from “Easing the Tension”, “A Weekday Dance Party” and “Working (No Lyrics)”.  For Sunday late morning you might find “Recovering from Last Night”, “Cooking Breakfast” or “Game Day”.  From there you have further options – are you in a Greasy Diner mood, or more of a Classy Brunch mood?

Songza options for late Sunday morning   Songza concierge offers suggestions for Sunday morning breakfast

You can also choose music based on mood (Gloomy, Happy, Introspective), activity (Cocktail Party, Curing Road Rage, Girls Night Out), or the standard decades or genres.

From the Apple app, there is a direct link to iTunes next to the current song so you can quickly purchase a song you like.  Unfortunately I did not find this feature on the web version.  That would be a great addition.



Mobile:  Available for iOS, Android, Blackberry, Symbian and Windows phones.

Price: Free for ad-supported streaming music and mobile radio.  Spotify Premium gives you ad-free listening, better audio quality and offline mode for playlists.

Spotify works differently than the other services because it is not web-based.  It is a program that you download to your computer.  Then you can listen to just about any song you can think of from their extensive music library.  Type a song or artist name into the search box and see what Spotify finds for you.   I’ve discovered some interesting cover songs this way – Johnny Cash covering Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” is one of my new favorites.

You can create playlists, subscribe to others’ playlists, incorporate your own music library, and create radio stations based on a song or artist.

Facebook integration is a key feature in Spotify.  If you join using your Facebook account you can share music with friends, see what music they enjoy, and you’ll even see a Spotify “tab” on your Facebook profile.  Know however that you can choose to keep all your Spotify activity private even when joining through Facebook.

The mobile version offers radio and the ability to sync your playlists, but only for songs from your own library.  Streaming over mobile requires the premium service.



Mobile:  available for iOS, Android, and some “unofficial” apps available for Windows phone.

Price: Free for ad-supported music. 8tracks+ is available as a six-month subscription for ad-free listening.

I heard about 8Tracks from my niece and nephew, both tech-savvy college-age music lovers.  8Tracks is fun because it is primarily the users of the service who create playlists.  Each playlist must contain a minimum of 8 tracks, thus the name.   Playlist creators (referred to as DJ’s) then tag their playlist with descriptions such as genre, activity or mood.  You can then search and browse by tags, such as jazz, workout, or happy.  Since 8tracks draws off its user community, there are eclectic offerings.

For parents, a word of warning about the playlists.  These are named by DJ’s and may contain profanity and sexual references.  Indeed one of the tags you can choose from is “sex” and from there, anything goes.  Each playlist usually has a photo uploaded by the DJ.  I’ve seen a few semi-graphic images.

A nice feature is Safe Browse, which will filter out songs/mixes that have been marked as “Not Safe for Work” by the 8tracks community.

Now go online or on your phone, iPad, iPod, Kindle or Nook, and start exploring some new music! If you don’t find something you like on Pandora, Songza, Spotify or 8tracks there are other services you can try such as Grooveshark, iHeartRadio, Rdio, and more.  Happy listening!


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