Guest post by Adrienne Erin
Spotify rocks and Pandora has had plenty of time in the spotlight. We all know that. And if you’ve ever been to a party, you know the power of collaborative playlists and that fantastic 90s Pandora station. But if you’re a real new-music-phile then you need to broaden your search a little bit. But fear not, you won’t have to look far. And for that, we have the Internet to thank.
In this post I will highlight some of my favorite Internet radio options that aren’t the tried and true and (dare I say) overused. Go ahead, listen your heart out.
Jango has a pretty similar structure to that of Pandora in that you start listening by typing in the artist you want to hear. Sure there are genre stations and curated options, but the bulk of listenership happens with an artist as the starting point. Like Pandora, they try to customize your experience based on what similar users like. So there’s no need to “star” or customize your station yourself. You have a user profile with preferences and historical information (and so does everyone else on Jango). So why not take your starting artist and tailor the following shuffle to what similar users have liked? It’s a pretty simple concept.
Something I really love about Jango is that it gives new artists or unknowns the ability to easily and cheaply get their music played. My boyfriend used the service to share his music and got a number of new listeners. So, if you like to listen to music so obscure none of your friends have heard of it, Jango is an excellent place to start!
And what’s more, Jango has some seriously mainstream attention. With press mentions from CNET, PCWorld, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal, this is no up-and-coming station. It’s a full-fledged service with tons of support already out there. Give it a listen.
This station’s tagline emphasizes that it is “listener supported.” A far cry from the days of payola, Radio Paradise has what’s most important in mind—the listeners. And in turn, these listeners are crazy about it – my dad, a longtime Radio Paradise listener, can rarely be found listening to anything else. Each station is pre-programmed by two actual human beings, paying further homage to radio’s terrestrial past. Playlists are carefully constructed so you never get the jolt between styles and speeds that you often get with algorithmic options like Pandora. This is a great place to start if you don’t know where to begin!
Slacker Radio is probably the most intriguing trend in online streaming content. The service actually began as a hardware-supported, proprietary player. Touchscreen Slacker players were (for an admittedly short period of time) a viable alternative to the iPod touch for those who wanted a touchscreen music player. And it came preloaded with the Slacker radio app for streaming genre- and artist-themed playlists.
Now, even though the device is all but obsolete, Slacker Radio is a viable app on most major mobile devices and they also offer some pretty seamless desktop software. Upon logging in, the service populates playlists and tastes for you based on browser preferences so you can (as it seems) just hit play and be pleased. Really hunkering to listen to a particular song? Slacker gives you an option to point it out to the player and it will work it into the upcoming tracks
Indie fans, don’t look away just yet. And we don’t mean “indie rock.” We mean actual indie—as in up-and-coming artists that you haven’t heard of – yet. Earbits is a truly unique take on Internet radio. The service gives a forum for unknown artists and a means to pay them. While Spotify does pay royalties, there’s still somewhat of a barrier for acceptance when a young band wants to load their music for listening.
So Earbits provides a worldwide (but still vetted) forum for these young, budding artists to shine. And you, the listener, reap the benefits quite handily. Editors’ picks and curated favorites permeate this diamond-in-the-rough service. The homepage states clearly, “you won’t find the usual mainstream stuff here.” But for me, and perhaps you are the same way, that’s not a problem.
I’m cheating here a little bit. This isn’t one specific service, nor is it something that at first glance seems to be an “Internet” option. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find that college radio is alive and (very, very) well. An example, you ask? Let’s take a look at Emerson’s radio station WERS. This Boston-based (but LA-admired) entertainment college hosts some of the finest college-radio entertainment in the nation. And yes, they are a terrestrial station at their core. But with national listenership their online stream is one of the best you’ll find. But don’t stop there; check out college radio websites nationwide. You’ll find some of the best uncensored (and often hilarious) shows you’re likely to ever hear.
I’ll close this list out with something you’ve almost definitely heard of. Sure, NPR has a station you can tune into anywhere in the nation. But have you discovered their podcasts? There’s everything from comedy, to classical, to talk radio. And with such a breadth, it’s hard to cover everything. Rather, I’ll focus on one. Bob Boilen’s “All Songs Considered” is one of the best stations for genuine cutting-edge songwriting. But what’s more is that he offers an accompanying YouTube series that’s one of the cornerstones for discovering indie music: Tiny Desk Concerts. Here, new and excellent artists are brought into the NPR offices regularly to actually perform behind Bob’s desk in a tiny, intimate and often awkward space, providing some superb versions of artists’ music that you’ve probably never heard. If you aren’t paying attention to podcasts, you’re missing out.
And that’s my (surface) look at Internet radio if you’re tired of the Pandora-Spotify game. I’m not saying that these services are bad (I use my Pandora One subscription all the time!), but with such a broad, diverse music world out there, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you aren’t exploring further. Get those headphones on and get ready to open your ears.
Adrienne is a music lover and freelance writer. To see more of her work, feel free to follow her on Twitter.