The boom in digital music has left a lot of iPods to fill and made millions of songs available online. But how to choose which ones? Music recommendation services are using tech wizardry to solve the problem.
With online music stores like iTunes and Napster offering millions of often obscure songs, users are searching for a better way. Two of the most popular services, Pandora and Last.fm, take radically different approaches.
Pandora (www.pandora.com) sets up a personalised online radio station based on a few favourite artists or songs, then adds new songs basing the selections on attributes of the music you've chosen.
The wisdom of crowds If Pandora recommends songs based on their inherent qualities, Last.fm (www.last.fm) takes a very different approach by relying solely on the power of social networks: If you and a lot of other music fans like one song, it’s likely that you also have other favorite songs in common.
The concept is known as collaborative filtering, and it often shows up on sites like Amazon that offer recommendations stating that ‘customers who liked X also liked Y’. Last.fm works through two separate pieces of software: One that monitors the music you listen to on software and another that streams a personalized radio station to your computer.
The site also allows searching for a given artist and finding similar music, as well as listen to 30-second samples of most songs. To each their own Last.fm and Pandora are far from the only services vying to separate the musical wheat from the chaff.
Other sites include Live365 (www.live365.com), offering some 7,500 user-generated radio stations and MusicStrands (www.musicstrands.com), a comprehensive music recommendation site.
Live Plasma (www.liveplasma.com) is a site that draws striking graphical maps that show the overlapping relationships between artists. Despite the use of technology, musical taste remains an idiosyncratic matter for most people, so it pays to try multiple services – and to remember tried-and-true real-world methods.