THE BLOG
01/27/2014 11:08 am ET Updated Mar 29, 2014

6 Essential Music Apps (and Some We Don't Really Need)

I spend a lot of my time online discovering, listening and curating music. It's been a passion of mine since I was in high school, previewing albums on Amazon.com, discovering new artists in the "users also purchased" section, then illegally downloading them all on Limewire and burning CDs to play on my Walkman. Yes, the process has certainly gotten less criminal, but sometimes it feel just as complicated.

Even though none of the current music services are making any money, more and more companies think they have the magic key towards satisfying both music lovers and the music industry. Just this week, Beats Music launched to a buggy start. I tried it out and wasn't sure if I should feel overwhelmed or underwhelmed as the app desperately tried to do everything at once (including recommending music for when in the future, taking a shower, with my pets).

Demand to please both listeners and record labels is at an all-time high, so it's hard getting it just right. At the end of the day, something's got to give and it's usually the listeners' experience. Here are the six music apps we don't totally hate.

Trusted Tastemakers: HypeMachine

HypeMachine is a streaming service that surfaces the most popular songs being posted by music bloggers all over the world. Talk about musical authority. HypeMachine is integrated seamlessly with Soundcloud, giving Soundcloud, land of terrible GarageBand DJs, a layer of authority it does not yet have on its own. The HypeMachine mobile app costs a one-time fee of $3 but at least it's not subscription-based, And you can listen to any song on-demand. The thing that would take HypeMachine from the hip music lovers to the monetized mainstream is a way to create shareable playlists.

Social Discovery: Spotify

Spotify is the current king of social discovery, meaning finding a good song because a Facebook friend has listened to it on repeat for a week. Sure, it's easy to say that Spotify is obviously doing something right, but the service is far from perfect. Inside its own ecosystem, paid subscribers get almost a flawless experience. However, you can only share music with other Spotify users, the mobile app restricts free on-demand listening and a lot of unofficially remixes (a.k.a. the best ones) never appear on the catalogue. Still, it's more popular with our Facebook friends than Rdio and that is practically all you need for social discovery.

Real-Life Discovery: Shazam

Shazam is the best app for discovering that song the DJ is playing at your cousin's bachelor party because it's the only one built to do just so. It's also the only one currently focusing solely on this type real-life discovery. Sometimes it's better to do one thing well than try to do everything at once.

Expert Playlists: Songza

Spotify and Beats Music claim they're all about curated playlists, but Songza's got them beat. I mean, would you rather listen to a playlist called "BBQ Music" or "Sunset in Silverlake"? "Roadtrip Music" or "The Perfect Drive"? "Party Music" or "Unexpected Best Night Ever"? Plus, and perhaps more importantly, Songza is 100 percent free with unlimited listening and no audio ads.

Personalized Radio Stations: None

Pandora? Nope, this whole process has gotten rather predictable, especially considering we are living in the iPod's post-genre world. A little unexpected surprise here and there is the reason why playlists are great, see above.

Shareable Music: 8tracks

8tracks let's you create a digital mixtape using Soundcloud that can be embedded on the web and played by everyone. Why not just use Soundcloud to share songs and playlists? Soundcloud is great at that, but its catalogue is limited to upcoming singles or promotional music, often not entire albums. That's why 8tracks is great add-on: it lets users upload owned MP3s that are hard to find elsewhere.

Live Show Discovery: WillCall

Similarly to Shazam, WillCall is the best app for finding cheap live shows in San Francisco or New York City because it's the only one out there curating those unsold shows for live music fans. Expect the HotelTonight of live music in Los Angeles soon.

A version of this post originally appeared on Confessions of a Boy Toy.