The best ways to listen to music online

If it seems like every day there is another new way to listen to music online, that’s probably because there is. Over the years I’ve used pretty much all of them, and have purchased premium subscriptions to many of them as well. I think it’s good to support start-ups, and getting rid of the ads doesn’t hurt either. Note that my opinions are built on personal preference and that you should all of these because they’re all great in their own way. Anyway, here is a rundown on the best of the bunch:

Grooveshark
Grooveshark is my favorite way to stream music. Once you create an account, you can build a library of music that’s available to you on any computer you log in on. It has a huge searchable database of music or you can upload songs from your home computer so they’re with you on the road. You can create playlists and easily share them with your friends, which is a great way to hear new music. It also not only has pre-built radio stations to tune into but also the ability to create a Pandora-style similar music station.

Pros: lots of music; easy-to-build playlists
Cons: sometimes hard to find things
When to use: when you know exactly what you want to listen to

Pandora
Pandora was my salvation during long college nights. The basic idea is that you pick bands and songs you like and Pandora builds a radio station based on elements of that music (i.e. melodic sounds, acoustic guitar, etc). You can tweak the stations along the way by giving thumbs up or down to the songs the system picks for you. Eventually you have a set of music stations geared exactly towards your tastes. It’s great if you’re not really sure what you want to listen to but have a general sound or style in mind. Pandora is a monetized version of the Music Genome Project, which is pretty cool in its own right.

Pros: after a while you have some really great stations; lots of music
Cons: you can’t pick specific music, so even if you build a station around a particular song you may never hear it; only for US
When to use: when you’re not quite sure what you want to listen to

Last.fm
The really cool thing last.fm has going for it is scrobbling. In brief, once you create a profile scrobbling will monitor what you listen to across a variety of music players (such as iTunes) or streaming services (including Grooveshark/Pandora) and will record this information on last.fm’s website. You can get all sorts of information from the website, such as how many times you’ve listened to Careless Whisper or Britney Spears’s Greatest Hits collection. I don’t use last.fm to listen to music often, but it’s not a bad service. I would usually go to Pandora first, however I think it’s worth setting up a profile just for the scrobbling stats.

Pros: interesting statistics on your music; suggestions for bands you might like; active social user base
Cons: unlike Pandora, picks new songs based on band instead of musical qualities
When to use: when you want to listen to music that you’ve heard before (tracked via scrobbling) or similar bands

Turntable.fm
Turntable.fm is still in beta but it’s a really interesting idea. Each room supports up to 5 DJs who alternate picking songs. Other people can listen in and vote on whether a song is “Lame” or “Awesome” – “Lame” songs get skipped and “Awesome” songs net the DJ points, which can then be used to unlock different avatars (if that’s your jam). There is a decent selection of music to choose from, or you can upload your own. One stipulation is that “The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) says that we cannot play more than three songs from one album or four songs from one artist in a three hour period (FAQ)” so you should get some variety in music, which could be a good thing. You can get into the beta if you are friends with someone on Facebook who is a member, and it’s definitely worth at least a look.

Pros: a fresh take on streaming music
Cons: so. many. hipsters; can’t pause songs (since it’s a live stream); can’t make an all Rush playlist (DMCA restrictions)
When to use: when you want to listen to music with your friends or find some new tunes

Other sites to consider
Slacker is another popular site where you can choose from pre-built stations or “Users can also create their own stations by inputting artists they want and letting Slacker and Slacker’s professional DJs fill out the rest of the station with similar songs and artists. (wikipedia)”

Spotify is all the rage right now. It’s a desktop client with similar features to Grooveshark. Not in the US yet, but keep an eye out. Or you can use a proxy.

I also like taking a break from having to make all these decisions sometimes and just stream my favorite radio stations. Your favorite radio station probably streams also, just go to their website.

If you’re not trying to stream music through the browser the best way to get it for free is through a private music tracker, but the best ones are hard to get into. You could also always, you know, buy it. Amazon seems like a good choice for DRM-free music, and they usually have some good deals. Anything you buy will be uploaded to THE CLOUD (ooooh) so you can stream it anywhere.

A lot of you probably know about at least some of the sites in this guide, but I hope I’ve expanded your knowledge a little or at least introduced you to some new features of sites you’ve used before. Leave me a comment if you have some opinions of your own!