You’ve probably heard of social-networking Web sites such as Facebook, Flickr, and MySpace.com—online communities that let you establish a linked group of friends and contacts. But social networking is not merely a way to meet new people. It’s also a good way to discover new music to replace the aging tracks on your iPod.
Software for music lovers
Although iTunes can tell you what other people have purchased and what music is popular right now, there are also Web sites and applications that take things a step further, helping you find a like-minded community simply by playing your favorite tracks in iTunes.
MyStrands If you’re interested in discovering music via the power of social networks and the hive mind, the free MyStrands service is a great starting point. MyStrands tracks informa-tion about the music you listen to, builds unique online charts, and has several interesting commu-nity features.
MyStrands scans your iTunes library and compares it with the MyStrands database. As you play songs in iTunes, MyStrands runs in a separate window, displaying track information and a Recommendations list of similar songs you might enjoy (recommendations are based on several aspects of the entire community’s listening habits). There’s also a field for entering tags—user-contributed keywords that describe the song. MyStrands downloads community tags from its database for each track, and you can add your own (see “Leave Your Mark”). Tags can be anything—not only simple genre keywords, such as jazz and folk, but also keywords that express how the music makes you feel, what it reminds you of, or anything else that you think categorizes it.
MyStrands builds a database of all your tags, which you can view by clicking on the Tag Cloud icon in the lower right-hand corner of the MyStrands window. The Tag Cloud window can display all your tags or all the community tags for songs in your library. Click on any of the tags, and MyStrands will list all the tracks in your library that share it. You can then click on the Create Playlist In iTunes button, and MyStrands will make a new iTunes playlist with all those songs. Even if you’ve never tagged a track, you can use MyStrands’ community tags to generate playlists.
The program also helps you find compatible friends. On the MyStrands Web site, you can click on the Discover Members link to find people with musical tastes similar to yours. The site will even generate a list of potential buddies—the list is based on what you’re listening to right now, what you’ve listened to this week or month, or your all-time listening habits, and it includes percentage ratings that show how likely a match MyStrands thinks each person is. Visit the site to browse user-created playlists and more.
Last.fm Designed to help you find fresh tunes, Last.fm combines a social-networking Web site with Mac software. To get started, you create a free account and download the Last.fm application—either the full app or the (currently unsupported) iScrobbler iTunes plug-in. Like MyStrands, the full Last.fm application lets you tag tracks and view community tags for songs in your library. However, its strongest features are its charting and networking options.
Launch the Last.fm app, and as you play songs in iTunes, Last.fm submits track data to your user page on its Web site; iScrobbler lives in OS X’s menu bar and submits track data in the background. (A handful of third-party applications, most notably Menuet, can also submit song data to Last.fm.) The Last.fm site maintains a database of every submitted track, and it records the information in charts on your user page. You can browse your charts by artist, album, and track to get a better idea of your weekly, monthly, and overall listening habits. Last.fm even gives you the code for publishing your charts on your blog (MyStrands has a similar feature).
As your user profile grows, Last.fm’s database becomes increasingly valuable. After analyzing your listening habits and comparing them with those of other users, the site will put a Neighbours list—people with similar listening habits—on your user page.
Your neighbours’ charts are an excellent resource—just as you can browse your own charts over time, you can browse theirs, too. Checking out their top tracks will help you find new releases that might interest you. Find an intriguing artist or track? Click on the track name, and if the track is in Last.fm’s database, it will play in your Web browser.
Neighbour Radio is another great way to discover new tunes. You can access this feature in the Last.fm application itself, or by going to your Last.fm user page and clicking on the Neighbour Radio link. This will play a stream of music that your neighbours have been listening to. As you listen, these songs are added to your charts so you can find them later. The player also has a heart-shaped Love button you can click on to add a track to your Recently Loved list.
When you find a neighbour who really shares your tastes, you can click on an icon on his or her user page to add that neighbour to your Friends list (see “With a Little Help”). You can also add people you already know to your Friends list—this is especially useful when you’re just starting to establish a pool of recommended music (to kick things off, feel free to add me as your friend ).
Music in the Web world
Although software that works with iTunes is a great way to find new music, you don’t always have to download a program—you can turn to the Web as well.
Del.icio.us The popular social bookmarking site del.icio.us lets anyone upload a link and tag it with keywords. Since del.icio.us users update the site millions of times a day, searching its tags can help you find the absolute newest music on the Web. To access all its features, start by signing up for a free account.
You can view URLs associated with any tag on del.icio.us by entering a keyword in its search box. You can also enter a search string directly in your browser; for example, if you wanted to see all the URLs tagged with the keyword jazz, you’d enter
http://del.icio.us/tag/jazz—the site would return everything users had tagged with that keyword, with the newest items presented first. To further refine a search, you can combine keywords by putting a plus sign (+) between them. So, for example, you could enter
http://del.icio.us/tag/jazz+MP3to find all the URLs tagged with both jazz and MP3. If you’re unsure how to start, try searching for one of your favorite bands—the site will not only return a list of links with the band’s name, but also display a Common Tags box, which you can use as a jumping-off point, on the side of the page.
If there are certain tags or tag sets that you want to check daily, you can subscribe to them in two ways. The first is by clicking on the RSS link at the bottom of the del.icio.us page to send newly tagged items directly to your RSS reader of choice. The second is by clicking on the Settings link in the top right-hand corner of the page, and then clicking on the Subscriptions link on the following page (this works only if you register). In the resulting page, enter the appropriate tag or tags (connected with a plus sign if there is more than one) in the Tag field; then click on the Subscribe button. New URLs will now show up in your del.icio.us inbox on the site.
The del.icio.us site lets you see not only what people are linking to, but also who’s doing the linking. Notice that a lot of your favorite links come from one person? You can use either of the aforementioned methods to subscribe to a particular user’s del.icio.us links. Many MP3 bloggers maintain a page of del.icio.us links that point out new bands and singles.
MP3 Blogs Speaking of MP3 bloggers, music Weblogs are another way to find new music by harnessing other people’s tastes. A good place to start is The Hype Machine, an audio-blog aggregator that tracks uploads across a wide range of music blogs. It can also help you find music blogs suited to your individual tastes.
[ Mathew Honan writes about technology for the National Journal’s Technology Daily and Wired. He keeps a Mac-oriented Weblog.]Leave Your Mark: In MyStrands, you can use tags to categorize your tracks in all sorts of ways. With a Little Help: See what your friends have been listening to lately, and click on song titles to preview them online using Last.fm.