January 18, 2012:With Teeth: Three Music Discovery Services That Genuinely Deliver

Music discovery online has always been something of a sticking point for me. Despite innumerable services launching over the years, I’ve always been of the view that nothing came close to the good old days of chatting with the staff at Rough Trade, Beggars or any of the other fine indie stores (most now sadly closed down) in my general vicinity.

Of late though, that situation has changed dramatically and I wanted to highlight three services which I’ve found myself using more and more to discover new music. All three work in slightly different ways and in doing so also reflect other critical changes in the music industry which warrant highlighting as a glimpse of the future.

1. Discovr (iOS app)

What it does: Aptly-named, Discovr lets you type in any band name and having done so it presents you with artist related to whichever band you typed in. Clicking on any artist gives you a biog, discography, album reviews, YouTube links and more. So far, so good. Until recently though, it lacked one critical element: full streaming audio. This has now changed with Spotify being fully integrated (albeit via a 30s preview linking out to Spotify’s client for the full album) to allow you to check out all available music for any artist in question. Try it if you have an iPhone or iPad. Grab your headphones, tap in any artist you like (or have heard of but want to know more about) and tuck in.

Why this is significant: This app encompasses the ultimate intent for Spotify perfectly – namely to become a facility you pay for just like electricity, water etc. Pay for Spotify and you can enjoy apps like this that leverage the platform to deliver rich music discovery experiences. In time, you can expect to see a lot more apps like this.

2. Shuffler.fm (website and iPad app)

What it does: Where Discovr starts with an artist name, Shuffler begins with a genre. Pick from one of the innumerable genres listed and Shuffler aggregates in music blogs writing about – and posting audio from – that specfic area. Presenting the blog site with a separate transport above to listen to (and skip through) the music being written about, Shuffler allows you to not just find new music, but new blogs writing about that music. What blogs you see is (I believe) random, making this a great-but-controlled means to find new music around a set genre. If Discovr is about starting with artists I at least know the name of, Shuffler is about throwing you curveballs within a set genre of music. For me, its become an incredible way of stumbling on awesome new artists.

Why this is significant: Shuffler addresses a simple issue facing us these days, namely that instead of having one or two main outlets for news and coverage, we have millions. Rather than a one-to-many model of old, we now live in a many-to-many world. Traversing that mass of sites can be a nightmare; unless you know the names of the blogs or are searching a specific artist, your chances of finding those killer below-the-radar sites is minimal. Shuffler acts as a critical filter, and in doing so makes finding those great sites (and great artists) so much easier.

3. Tomahawk (Mac/Windows program)

What it does: Tomahawk is something I’ve written about in a separate article for Music Ally before now. In short, it is an umbrella music client that aims to sit above all other services and pipe them to you via one unified client. So, it is possible to navigate your local music collection alongside your Spotify playlists, YouTube favourites and Soundcloud tracks, for example. It then goes one step further by leveraging Echo Nest’s excellent database to allow you to create dynamic playlists – for example “slow ballads under 100bpm in the key of E that sound like Prince”, mining all the services you have setup to deliver the audio.

Why this is significant: To me Tomahawk represents the next generation of music discovery and consumption. Rather than taking our audio from one service (iTunes, Spotify, Deezer etc) it accepts that we consume across any number of services – some of which may not even be a defacto streaming audio service even though they really are (cough YouTube, Vevo). Tomahawk is the vision for music Facebook should have rolled out, rather than the rather sterile, Spotify-favouring one we got. Its a “fuck you hero” of an app; the little guys showing the big companies how it should be done. And those companies would do well to take note.

As little as 18 months ago I’d quite happily cop to the fact that no online service quite matched the recommendations of the staff of the UK’s finer indie stores (stand up Spillers, Beggars, Rise, Rough Trade et al!). The above three have changed my view on that. Check them out if you can – your musical world will be all the better for it.

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Darren Hemmings
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