Table of Contents
This manual was created with the intention of helping to inform the general music lover on various ways to access, listen to, download, and manage music online as well as locally on their computer. Amongst other things, this guide also features tips on discovering new music, live performances, and organizing your music.
I hope you find The Guidebook for the Online Music Lover informative and useful to expand your knowledge of the wide world of sound.
2.1 Personalized Radio Stations
These sites are like personalized radio stations. They won’t always let you pick a specific song (we’ll get back on that later), but flex their playlists to match your likes and avoid your dislikes.
Last.fm is one of the more popular music streaming sites on the web with over 30 million active users and due to their deals with Warner Music and the Song BMG record labels, an absolutely huge library of songs. Listening to music is easy on Last.fm. Simply click “Play [artist] Radio” on any artist page and listen to an endless supply of related songs. Last.fm also lets you listen to similar artists to whoever you are listening to, listen to a radio station of certain tags, view certain artists’ next dates, biographies, photos, music videos, and find future live gigs.
To access all of what Last.fm has to offer you can register a free account and listen whenever you like. Last.fm also offers a paid option for $3 a month that gives you priority on the Last.fm servers, no advertising, status on message boards, more radio options, and the ability to listen to Last.fm radio outside of the US, UK, or Germany.
Another useful feature of Last.fm is the ability to use their Windows/Mac/Linux radio player to listen to and scrobble music from your desktop without having to go to the website. Paid subscribers can listen to their “favorite” tracks using the player any time they like.
A serious Last.fm challenger these days is Spotify. Sadly it isn’t available in all countries yet.
Pandora is another widely used streaming music site that has gained popularity for its extremely large library of millions of different songs and thousands of artists, as well as its ability to make suggestions following what you have “loved” and “not loved” as well as over 400 other attributes.
Another cool thing about Pandora is that you can create as many music “stations” as you want and, no matter where you are, will still be able to listen to your entire music library from their web interface.
Up until recently, anyone could listen to Pandora for any amount of time completely free, but due to an increase in royalty fees, Pandora now requires users that listen for more than 40 hours a week to pay $0.99 a month, which is truly not a hefty price compared to other, similar, services like Napster.
Pandora also features a downloadable desktop app and a free iPhone app for listening on the go.
(Note: Pandora is only available in the US.)
2.2 Music Directories
These sites are like huge online mp3-players. You can search their directories for any song, artist or album you like and determine what you want to listen to.
Grooveshark is a popular web-based music streaming site that boasts a large number of features separating it from other streaming sites on the web. While less popular then Last.fm, Groovehsark currently has over 400,000 active users and streams approximately 60 million songs to users across the world. Unlike Last.fm, Grooveshark is internationally
Deezer is a recently developed French music search engine/streaming web app that, although with limitations, gives access to a multi-million song/artist library not easily accessed on other rival sites. Simply type in a song, artist, or album name and up comes thousands of customized results catered uniquely to each search.
Similar to Pandora, Deezer allows users the ability to create a self-built online radio station for continued listening. For example, on my search term of “Jimi Hendrix,” clicking “Launch a SmartRadio” creates a massive playlist catered directly to songs related to the style of “Jimi Hendrix.” I can then select and love songs I enjoy to then set up Deezer to continually add to and create a playable list of tracks (SmartRadio playlists can also be set
2.3 Playing your own Music from a Distance
Now, with everyone’s busy schedules, how can we take our thousands of songs and favorite bands with us on the go? Maybe you just need to access your huge music library from your work without carrying multiple external hard drives to and from. Well, the internet has you covered. Check out these cool sites for hosting your own music collection in the cloud.
blueTunes is one of the most popular and user friendly online streaming music sites. Upon signing up, uploading your music archive is easy as blueTunes features a Java application that allows users to select as many folders you like and then allows blueTunes to automatically tag your songs while importing them into your profile. After the upload process users are directed to their now populated library to listen to any song using the flash interface (or the downloadable desktop app).
The only downside to blueTunes is the limited number of supported formats which includes MP3, AAC, and MP4 files. Another downside to blueTunes, though understandable, is that users are only allowed to upload 100 songs before having to pay $0.01 per song. Of course, although it is a very reasonable amount, if you happen to have a library of 10,000 songs it is going to cost you.
Another popular cloud based music streaming site, MP3Tunes boasts a huge number of features. Of course, it does offer basic music streaming, be aware it also offers a whole lot more.
Unlike blueTunes’ pay-per-song plan, MP3Tunes gives users 2GB free and then allows the ability to upgrade to any one of their 3 “premium plans” for $4.95 /m (50GB), $7.95 /m (100GB), $12.95 /m (150GB).
Like previously stated, MP3Tunes offers an enormous variety of features as well. Some of which include: internet radio, advanced open api, streaming to multiple devices (including cell phones and stereos), desktop app, video player, etc.
For extended reading on blueTunes and MP3Tunes read the Top 3 Sites For Streaming Your Music Anywhere, on MakeUseOf.
Lala functions as not only a cloud streaming site for your own music, but also as an online music store with a large community.
(Check out this article by Stefan on MakeUseOf for another look at Lala.)
With the “Lala Mover,” users can easily upload any amount of music from their desktop to the online library and have each song tagged and tracked by Lala on your online profile.
Another cool feature of Lala is that it mimics many of the popular desktop apps in look and feel, including traditional features such as playlists, ratings, selection tools, categories, and top listened to filters.
Alternative worthy websites and applications to stream your own music collection have been profiled on MakeUseOf as well. Check out Audiolizer, Mecanto and Nutsie to put your music directory on the web, or take a look at Simplify Media, which allows you to stream the music directly from your computer, without need to process and upload it first.
2.4 Discovering New Music
Although you now have all of your music managed on your local computer, you will probably find the need to discover even more music!
Fortunately, there are many, many different websites that allow users the ability to find new music based on their current tastes and even discover whole new genres. In no particular order, here are the top 3 sites.
StumbleAudio, very similar to the popular music radio Pandora, boasts over 2,000,000+ songs with a user friendly flash interface. All that is required is for you to select a genre (20+ with 20+ subgenres for each genre) and begin listening. Users can easily skip through songs by clicking on albums to the left or right, or go through an entire album using the skip controls. If you like the song, select the thumbs up and let StumbleAudio find more songs similar in quality to it and thus continue your customized listening experience.
If you wish to track your customized “stations” simply sign up or use your OpenID and have access to newly discovered songs on the go.
iLike holds many similarities to that of the popular music streaming site Last.fm and serves a great purpose in discovering new music. With a database of millions of songs and tens of thousands of artists, you will likely find any artist you are familiar with quickly. After which, iLike will give you recommendations based on your favorite bands, tour dates, free streaming ($0.89 song downloads), live performances, and free ringtones.
iLike also offers users a free downloadable sidebar app for iTunes and Windows Media Player for monitoring all of your songs/artists and listening trends to determine better recommendations as well as a Facebook app, iPhone app, Orkut, and more.
Musicovery does not relate very heavily to any other music discovery site although is exceptionally accurate in its own way. The basis of the site is a flash based sidebar that allows you to select multiple genres as well as the mood of the song you are looking for then Musicovery goes to work. Immediately, a group of connected songs will appear, distanced by their relation. Users are also able to “love” a song or skip and select another to receive a completely revised map of related songs.
Musicovery contains even more unique features though, including an app available for the Wii and PS3, iTunes, and cell phones.
If simply listening to music on the web is not appealing enough and you are one of those people that just need to have a huge archive of mp3, wav, flac, etc. files on your computer (like me), then there are some other, very easy ways of laying your hands on music.
3.1 Legal Music Downloads
If you would prefer going the legal and ‘just’ way, then online music stores are your best bet at downloading music. Here are just some of the most popular legal online music stores:
artist database to that of iTunes, Amazon is quite appealing. Fortunately, it is a good alternative to the previous monopoly of iTunes. With individual songs ranging from $0.45 to $0.99 and a large number of $4.99-$9.99 albums, prices are close to identical. One major difference between the two though is that Amazon’s MP3 downloads feature no DRM restrictions, which restricts transferring and listening to such songs on other computers impossible.
The fun does not stop there though, Amazon also features multiple free songs for download, unlike iTunes’ 1 free song a day, as well as quite a large variety of vintage vinyl records in digital format for download. If you are looking for an alternative legal download source, Amazon may just be it.
For more information, check out Ryan Dube’s Break Free from iTunes with Amazon Music Downloads on the website.
Although not as popular as sites like Amazon, 7Digital is certainly a noteworthy candidate as an online music store. With over 4 million tracks in September of 2008 and no DRM
restrictions on downloads. Not only does 7Digital have the backing of many international record labels, but it also has deals with Warner Music, EMI, Universal, and Song BGM Studies, four of the largest record labels in the world. (Note: The status of each vary for each country, but all of them are available in the US, UK, Germany, Ireland, France, and Switzerland.)
Another cool feature of 7Digital is the ability to create your own music store if you are an indie band. And unlike many other online music download services, 7Digital offers payment types including PayPal, ClickAndBuy, and a special SMS download service. Furthermore, also unlike many other similar services, 7Digital offers all of its downloads in 320kps MP3 format, which is the highest quality MP3 possible. They do offer other bitrates to save space and allow for transfers to other players.
iTunes Music Store
The iTunes Music Store – accessible via iTunes – is the most popular online music store of all. Made popular by the Apple iPod, it hosts millions of songs, movies, tv shows, games, applications, and more through a nice, neat and usable interface.
The only limitation of iTunes music is that all of the downloaded music is NOT DRM-free, which essentially means you cannot copy your music to a external hard drive and listen to it (or any other digital device). Fortunately, this is not entirely true as iTunes does offer some of their songs and albums DRM-free for an extra $0.30 fee per song.
(For more info on iTunes, download the MakeUseOf The Big Book of iTunes guide.)
For other online music download stores, check out 3 Ultra Cheap Alternatives to iTunes Music Store on MakeUseOf. By using legal backdoors, most of these sites are selling full albums for 1-2 USD!.
Open Sourced Music
Downloading from “free online music sites” can be illegal if the user downloads any copyrighted material. Fortunately, there are legal online alternatives that offer music under a creative license.
Jamendo is a fast growing online music download site dedicated mainly to indie and starting up artists. The great thing about Jamendo, though, is that anything you hear, you can download FREE! Not only that, but Jamendo features a very large variety of music for any interest, including: rock, jazz, classical, instrumental, techno, lounge, dance, hip-hop, and more. Simply browse a genre, tracks, etc. and download an entire album for unlimited personal use. The only limitations on downloads for Jamendo are in public places, for which users are required to get a paid account.
Registered users get the benefit of being able to review certain albums, artists, and tracks, and tracking all of their “loved” songs to get a better sense of what music to enjoy and discover.
Newgrounds is known for being a popular distributor of royalty-free flash games and now they have a good market of royalty-free music. Searching on the site is not as perfected or user oriented as Jamendo or similar sites, but certainly still easily navigate able. Search for the top songs, artists, and albums of the week or all time and receive a comprehensive list of numerous indie songs of various genres just waiting to be critiqued, not to mention downloaded for free. (Downloaded songs can be used unlimited number of times for free, but have to be paid for if used for commercial purposes.)
See Simon Slangen’s article on The Best Sites to Download Free Music for other legally free alternatives.
3.2 Less-Than-Legal Music Sources
Please note that downloading licensed music if you don’t own the CD is illegal in practically every country. Doing so will be entirely on your own risk.
File Sharing Sites
Another, generally safe and secure method of downloading music for free are online file sharing networks and file sharing search engines.
Katz is a relatively popular online media search engine that offers users the ability to access tens of millions of media files, including (but not limited to): movies, audio, videos, games, TV shows, eBooks, among others.
Do note that Katz does not necessarily offer a large selection of specific search terms, but does offer an extensive list of recent and new additions, such as popular movies, CDs, TV shows, and such.
FilesTube is very similar to Katz with regard to selection and choice, but more extensive – and I mean a lot more. As of the time of writing, FilesTube offers a collection of over 39,363,000 files (more than about 99% of all music stores, with the exception of Amazon and iTunes).
Upon searching for any term, FilesTube gives users an interface very similar to Google with search terms, advertisements, and video searches. Most of the search terms come from searches on Rapidshare (a popular pirated online file hosting site) as well as 4shared livepage.apple.com(another popular file sharing site).
One of the most common and controversial methods of downloading music, as well as many other forms of media, is the protocol called BitTorrent. Introduced in 2001, BitTorrent has gained a massive following for its ability to quickly transfer files between many computers.
It uses P2P-technology, which allows you to download tiny data packages from other users. As soon you’re done downloading any of those packages, you’ll start to ‘upload’ – send them to other users as well, thereby contributing to the network and enabling everyone to download without the mediation of a single remote host or server.
Torrent files simply contain some rough information on the file(s), as well as the addresses that’ll allow you to connect you to those downloading networks. To process a torrent file, you’re going to need a client application, like μTorrent. This sounds way harder than it is; you just have to open the right ‘torrent file’ in μTorrent, and wait for the download to finish.
For a more in-depth look, there is a whole Guide on BitTorrent available on MakeUseOf.
The BitTorrent protocol has been criticized to a large extent due to the ability of the user being able to share copyright files through the medium. The actual BitTorrent P2P file sharing protocol is not illegal, simply the actual sharing of the copyrighted files between computers using the BitTorrent protocol. Because of this, you should be aware of the proper copyright laws in your country.
Below are some sites where you can find and download torrents.
One of the most popular torrent indexes on the web, Mininova came onto the scene in the aftermath of the death of Suprnova. With over 1,200,000 torrents and over 9,961,350,000 downloads as of the time of writing, Mininova is by far more popular than any other torrent index.
Another useful aspect of Mininova is its dedicated, long time users of BitTorrent continuously uploading (and seeding) quality material not often found on other torrent indexes of our time.
isoHunt is another relatively popular torrent search engine, growing at a good steady pace, and with good reason. Currently with an index of over 3,901,621 active torrents and 21.3 million peers at the time of writing, isoHunt is definitely providing quality in massive numbers.
Another reason isoHunt holds such a large number of users is because of how many torrents the isoHunt site can index (a span of 511 sites in fact), which essentially means isoHunt has a massive directory that is consistently updated.
Coda.fm is one of the most helpful and user friendly online music torrent sites on the web. Indexing (not hosting) tens of thousands of high quality albums from all across the web, Coda.fm will not let music lovers down in their search for the perfect library. Some of the more interesting features include: individual sections based on genres, top artists, top albums, similar artists/albums suggestions, RSS feeds for particular catagories, and more. Read more about Coda.fm in Stefan Neagu’s full review.
For even more torrent trackers, check out my roundup article here.
Similar in protocal to Torrents, P2P applications connect with other file sharing users in a graphical interface, content search and exchange under one roof. Because these networks often aren’t as active as torrent trackers, they’ll turn up less results. Nevertheless, they’re an incredibly quick and flexible way to pull in music.
A popular online P2P network, Frostwire is similar to the P2P file sharing network, Limewire in many ways. Not only does the interface offer similar initiatives, but Frostwire also gives users access to millions of audio and video files, documents, applications, and more through access to hundreds of thousands of other people’s computers.
Furthermore, Frostwire serves as a .torrent application and connects to six ultrapeer networks so you truly do have access to hundreds of thousands of computers. Even cooler, Frostwire is built off of Java and thus is multi-platform.
(Note: For more info on Frostwire, check out this MakeUseOf article.)
Another common and just as effective method of downloading music is to use the world’s largest search engine, Google. Because Google archives billions of webpages across the internet, including files, and you can easily find virtually any song/artist/album/discography using a few simple tricks.
One of the most popular of these tricks is to do a Google search for:
-inurl:htm -inurl:html intitle:”index of” mp3 “brecker brothers”
Of course, you’ll have to replace the term “brecker brothers” with another band or album name. The corresponding results will be directories of mp3s from the band The Brecker Brothers.
Now, you have a large collection of your favorite tunes, artists, and live performances – all you need to do is organize them. Fortunately for you, we have come up with a list of the top 4 best free media players for managing your music.
MediaMonkey is a popular alternative to other media players like Windows Media Player due to the fact it is free and boasts quite an array of features not commonly found in many other similar alternatives.
Some of the best and most valuable features of MediaMonkey includes its large number of supported formats, including: MP3, FLAC, WAV, OGG, WMA, AAC, MPC, CDA, M3U, PLS, M4A, and more. Furthermore, MediaMonkey has a wonderful and truly exceptional ability to maintain large quantities of audio files and libraries with over 50,000+ audio files with little to no lag time in processing.
The features do not stop there though. Other MediaMonkey features include: CD ripping/burning, audio recording, track tagging, various auto-organizing techniques, auto-DJ, themes, visualizations, and the ability to download and install as well as program your own extensions/plug-ins for ultimate customization (MediaMonkey is also compatible with most WinAmp plug-ins).
Although MediaMonkey’s most popular product is the free version of their software, there is also an optional “Gold” Edition for $19.95 that gives users more features, including: automatic file updating, faster burning speed, support for multiple genre collections, unlimited MP3 encoding, and high performance multi-core audio playback.
4.2 Media Jukebox
Media Jukebox is not necessarily as popular as some of the other mentioned music management apps, but certainly deserves to be. While providing the traditional look and feel of other similar applications, Media Jukebox delivers a wide array of features beneficial to any music junkie.
Some of these features include: ability to sync with a number of portable media devices (including phones), ability to print custom CD covers, an extensive database of millions of songs and artists to automatically tag your music correctly, ability to add custom fields, high quality audio enhancements, support for a number of plug-ins/add-ons (including Last.fm), rip/burn audio CDs at full speed, built-in music stores (including Amazon MP3), a number of supported formats, and more.
Media Jukebox also gives users the capabilities to create an unlimited number of playlists as well as “Smart Playlists” – playlists that automatically run and make recommendations for you based on what you are currently listening to.
SongBird is another popular media player that boasts the title of being open-source, customizable and free. Don’t just take my word for it though, you can be sure Songbird is customizable considering it was created and is maintained by the open-source people at Mozilla, creators of the popular web browser Firefox.
Considering it’s background, as you might expect, Songbird allows users the ability to create and install other users’ add-ons for ultimate customizability. Furthermore, Songbird is multi- platform and can be used on Windows, Linux, and Mac computers.
WinAmp is the second most popular music/media management software ever created (behind iTunes); containing many of the same features as MediaMonkey and Songbird, WinAmp offers much more than the traditional media management application. Some of its more prominent uses and features include: optional skins, rip/burn CDs, plug-in support (which rivals that of Songbird), over 60 supported audio/video formats, 15 different language packs, video support, and an integrated web browser.
Although WinAmp’s most popular application is the free version, there is also an optional $20 upgrade to WinAmp Pro, which boasts faster ripping and burning of CDs and higher quality bitrate playing.
Another greatly popular media player is Foobar2000, Although it doesn’t look like much special, it’s got a lot of surprises under the hood. Foobar2000 plays pretty much any type of media you throw at it, and bothers your CPU and computer memory little to none. It tends to keep low-profile, but audiophiles know why they love it.
Apart from standard playback functionality, Foobar2000 can help you rip those CD’s, as well as convert audio from one format to another.
5.1 Sharing your Music with Others
You may be the biggest music junkie in the world, largest library, most efficient software, biggest stereo, etc. but what is it without sharing your wonderfully and newly discovered music with the world? Here are just a few of the many tech ways to share your music library with others.
tinySong is a growing sub-site to the popular and previously mentioned Grooveshark50 streaming site that allows anyone the ability to access and share any part of Grooveshark’s massive multi-million song library of tunes and get a unique, playable URL. All one needs to do is access the home page at tinySong.com, type in a song name or artist and up comes a list of over 10 related terms. Simply click on the song you were looking for and tinySong returns a nice, short URL that can be easily accessed and listened to in your browser.
Playlist.com is another one of the most popular free online streaming apps, but also is the most popular online playlist manager. Registered users can easily search for any song, artist, or album and compile an embeddable widget, easily place able on any website, blog, or even MySpace/Facebook profile(s).
Although registering is not necessary, registered users of Playlist.com can share links, playlists, and even individual songs/artists.
Imeem is a relatively popular alternative to iLike and Last.fm as the site offers a wide variety of similar features and a large library of music. Members of Imeem can easily create sharable playlists with others by just searching for a band, song, or album and then clicking the “Playlist” icon to create a new playlist. When you have created a playlist of songs to share, simply click “Save Playlist” at the bottom right of the window and share the public link with any friends (including non-members). Viewers of your newly created playlist can download all of the songs through iTunes, add the playlist to their profile/favorite it, share it on any number of social networks, or even tweet it.
Imeem offers users the ability to upgrade their accounts to a “VIP” account which offers an exclusive web player, ability to upload music to your player (which varies in price based on the number of songs), ability to upload entire playlists, and premium customer support. The “Light” package is $9.99 per year.
5.2 Record Streaming Audio
Streaming audio is one of the most popular forms of listening to music on the computer through the web, and rightfully so. But what if you want to download what you are listening to right now? Well, here are a few wonderful sites and applications that might be able to do just that.
TheLastRipper is possible the most useful streaming audio recorder ever created. Using the massive online library of Last.fm, TheLastRipper can easily record audio from almost any band you could ever want to record from. And, like Streamripper, TheLastRipper is cross- platform and can be used on Mac OSX, Windows, or Linux.
Users can easily enter a band/artist, song, or album name and tell TheLastRipper to record the audio to your My Music folder, with META information and separated by band name, album name, and then song name.
Streamripper is a simple and easy to use add-on/plug-in for the previously mentioned, popular music management application, WinAmp.
In its most basic form, Streamripper automatically records all streaming audio onto your computer in a nice, easily manage-able format. Unlike many other streaming applications, Streamripper does an exceptional job of locating new songs once they start, even without proper META tags through streaming files. Furthermore, Streamripper is platform independent and can be used on Windows, Mac OSX, or Linux platforms.
For more info on Streamripper and TheLastRipper, as well as a third alternative, check out Tina’s article on 3 Easy Tools to Record Streaming Music as Mp3.
5.3 Monitor New Album Releases
Getting the latest albums of your favorite bands can be a hassle unless you are notified. If I was to check the Amazon MP3 Store for new music from my 750+ artist library, it would take forever. Fortunately, there are a few sites to help us:
Album Reminder is a very useful and dead-simple, as well as extremely helpful, online album notification application that really takes the weight and hassle of off checking for new albums.
Signing up is simple and once you have activate your account, search for your favorite bands out of Album Reminder’s over 146,400+ artists (at the time of writing) and click “Add.” When anyone of your added artists comes out with a new album, Album Reminder will send you a quick email with helpful info. Definitely worth trying out.
Mupsy is very similar to Album Reminder and offers an equally satisfactory experience, at the least. Signing up is very simple (a 2 step process) and once you have logged in, you can start adding artists. One feature, though, that really stands out is the option to add all of the artists from your Last.fm profile into Mupsy – something that will save countless minutes and hours and certainly worth checking out. Mupsy also gives users their own customizable RSS feed for use on feed readers, or web browsers.
For more info on Mupsy, check out the directory entry on MakeUseOf.
5.4 Track Band Performances Online
No audiophile is complete without an extensive history of live music. The next best thing to listening to high quality FLAC files neatly organized on your computer is seeing your favorite band(s) live in concert. Here are a few ways to track your favorite, newly discovered bands.
Bandsintown is a simple and easy to use band/artist tracking web app that automatically checks past and future dates for virtually any band. Bandsintown can even search your entire Last.fm or Pandora profile for all bands you ever listened to and track each of them as well as notify you when a certain band is coming to your town, or any town near you.
The fun does not stop there though. Bandsintown searches over 60 different online ticket providers to find hundreds of thousands of exceptional deals scattered across the web so you don’t end paying a ridiculous high price as is often the case for live concerts.
Although the features are quite limited, Oodle BandTracker is still just as effective as any other similar app. Simply enter a band/artist name and up comes a list of upcoming concerts, locations, and the option to purchase tickets from Oodle (which often happens to be relatively cheap).
Gruvr is one of my favorite sites for tracking touring artists of all. Unlike many other similar sites, Gruvr maps all performances, festivals, public events, and bands coming within any number of miles of your city (which is automatically detected). Gruvr even creates a customized RSS feed for your city/area for easy access at any time.
Of course, Gruvr also boasts many of the more popular features as well, including emailing users about their favorite bands, ticket buying options, among others.
For extended reading, be sure to check out MakeUseOf.com – 3 Web Apps for Staying on Top of the Music Scene, 3 Ways to Track Tour Dates of your Favorite Rock Bands and the Songkick directory entry.