A few months back, one of my favorite sources of raunchy, honest commentary -- a Twitter handle by the name of @NotGaryBusey -- ousted MySpace as "The PT Cruiser of the internet." Like most funny and offensive jabs, the humor here is planted firmly in truth. The website, which was once a haven for budding musicians and music streaming, has since been surpassed by other more innovative and user-friendly platforms. It's a sad shift for those who have been loyal fans of MySpace since the pre-Facebook years, and a delight to the current web-savvy music lovers who are ready to get their hands (ears?) dirty with a new breed of music websites.
If you are wondering where to turn now that the bar has been raised, here is a list of nine unique and well-run interactive websites targeting the web-browsing music enthusiast.
1. Soundcloud Soundcloud is possibly the most useful music streaming site for the widest variety of users. For artists who aren't backed by a publicist, the site provides a free, user-friendly way to display original tracks and establish an online persona. As a music blogger, I find that embedding Soundcloud players is the most effective way to share music within articles. The players are used by many of the more established music blogs and therefore familiar territory for most blog readers. Additionally, most of the tracks I am looking to share are already on the site with about 5-30 remixes of each song, by both universally known and relatively unknown artists. If a song I am looking for can't be found on Soundcloud, it can easily be uploaded from my personal stash. But perhaps the best part of the whole Soundcloud experience is the dialogue. Users can not only comment on tracks, but also pin their feedback to specific points in the song, making track responses effortless to follow.
2. Grooveshark When explaining Grooveshark to someone unfamiliar to the site, I always describe it in the same way: similar to iTunes in the sense that you can create playlists and save songs to your own library, but instead of having access only to the songs you've downloaded, you have every song which has been uploaded to the site at your fingertips. The party-friendly capabilities of this site are a main draw since you can browse songs and add them to a queue without interrupting the song in play. Why have a designated DJ when you can trade off picking songs? Another thing I love about this site (and Soundcloud) is that it is perfect for people who bounce around from work computer to smartphone to home computer. As long as you are connected to the internet, you can stream the songs you have saved from anywhere.
3. Shuffler If you're a fan of music blogs and discovering new artists by sifting through them, then Shuffler is a website you're going to want to check out. On this site, "the web is your player" and "bloggers are your DJ's," allowing users to browse tunes featured on thousands of music blogs by clicking on their genre of choice. The blog-based form of internet radio hosts channels ranging from folk and indie rock to electronic and dubstep, taking you from blog to blog for each new track. Bloggers looking to get their selections out in the open can also add their own blog to the collection, and readers looking for some new material for their RSS feeds can browse a collection spanning the entirety of the net.
4. Tastebuds Have you ever been on a second date with someone who told you on the first date that Creed was their favorite band? Neither have I. For anyone who ranks music taste as the most important deciding factor in a mate, Tastebuds provides a way to reveal a potential deal-breaker even before the first date. The concept is simple -- choose your favorite music and let the website pair you to those with similar tastes... or browse on your own and weed out the duds. The site is also great if you're looking to talk music with those interested in similar styles.
5. Stereomood There are a couple things I don't love about this website, primarily the unfortunate repeat of songs over multiple playlists, but the concept alone is worth mentioning. Surf over to the homepage and you'll find a list of moods ranging from "let's party" and "gangsta" to "rainy day" and my personal favorite, "road trip." Head into work, check the weather and assess your frame of mind, then simply click on the word or phrase that best suits your mood. The site will generate a playlist centered around how you are feeling. Perfect for the lazy as well as the busy and a great way to expose your ears to some new artists.
6. TheSixtyOne TheSixtyOne describes itself as a way for new artists to make music and for listeners to decide what's good. When you venture to the website, you are immediately greeted with a screen-sized photo of the artist or some form of artwork the artist has chosen, accompanied by a tune and sporadic pop-ups describing the musician or band. If you don't like what you're listening to, click through to the next song, and like a slideshow, a new one will replace the last. If you like what you're listening to, you can favorite, share, comment or even download the track to your personal iTunes library. You can also filter songs by top, popular and mood if you're looking for something a little less random. TheSixtyOne is sleek and not overly complicated or jumbled with ads -- a great way to hear new music without all the internet overkill.
7. Songkick In the past, I've always turned to Pollstar as my go-to concert aggregator. My one complaint was that smaller venues didn't seem to get much love, and in big cities (or in cities where big bands sometimes play small venues), I felt like the site was skipping over a lot of worthwhile performances just because they were not hosted in an arena or selling tickets through Ticketmaster. Enter Songkick, a concert aggregator that doesn't skimp out on the little guys. Of course you aren't going to find every show from every band in NYC on this site, but you will find many that you won't see on any other national concert aggregator. You can also track bands and venues you like best, allowing only the shows you want to know about come right to you rather than having to skim an entire list of shows to find the ones you're looking for.
8. 8tracks 8tracks is not the most innovative site on this list, but for what it does -- internet radio mixtapes -- it does it well. Users can browse 8track's collection of mixes by artist or genre and add those with the best mixes to a list of favorites. I like to think of this as the digital version of checking "yes" on a "will you go out with me?" note secured with scotch tape to a homemade casette. If you think you're a mixtape guru, you can test your skills by uploading your own set and letting the 8tracks community decide.
9. Tubeify If you're using YouTube to play and share songs quickly and without committing to the whole download process, then you may want to keep your eye on Tubeify. The site is currently run on an invite-only basis, but you can request an invitation easily by clicking here. The site is brilliant -- a nice and easy-to-navigate blend of two of my favorite websites -- YouTube and last.fm. Since Tubeify is run by last.fm's API rather than YouTube's, the site performs with more music-friendly methods in mind. For example, you can search for new music without interrupting the song you are playing and generate playlists which can be saved for your own ears or shared easily amongst friends. Although I am more concerned about whether the song is one that I enjoy, Tubeify throws a dash of Billboard into the website blend, notifying users if the music they are listening to has made it on to any charts worldwide.