A confession: I’ve been covering innovative digital music developments for more than seven years now at Music Ally, yet over that time my own music listening was getting stale.

Really stale, to the point where I spent most of my time listening to albums I knew I liked by bands I’d known for a long time. In 2012, I probably wrote 100 times more stories about music discovery apps and services than I actually listened to new music by new artists.

That’s changed in 2013, and while I’m far from the mainstream consumer that streaming music services like Spotify are gunning for as they grow their businesses, the changes I’ve made this year still seem to illustrate the emerging opportunities for these companies.

In short, it’s all about playlists. Other people who are much more clued-in than me’s playlists, to be specific.

At the start of January I spent an hour finding and subscribing to Spotify playlists that would reliably throw up new music on a regular basis. They include:

Finetunes Alternative, Finetunes Electronic and Finetunes Bass from distributor Finetunes, which are excellent

– Spotimy’s This Weeks Releases playlist of new albums just added to Spotify, and its Hot New Tracks (Not Yet On An Album) playlist of singles

Best of Indie, which is Domino Records’ playlist of new music from its own artists and those on other labels

– A BBC 6 Music Playlist, er, playlist – a list updated every week of the actual playlist for the British radio station. Also the Radio 1 Weekly Playlist playlist, which does the same thing for that station

– ShareMyPlaylists’ New Releases UK playlist, to mop up other new stuff that comes out

I’m also using a smattering of Spotify apps: ShareMyPlaylists, We Are Hunted – which provides a simple way to turn its current Emerging Chart into a playlist – and (from today) Shuffler.fm, which is pulling in buzzy blog tracks.

All of these sources throw up new tracks throughout the week, which I’m chucking into my private Stuff to Listen To playlist in the Spotify app. Every morning, I stick that playlist on and star the tracks I like.

I’ve been doing this since the start of the month, and there are already 59 tracks in my Starred playlist – with the majority being from artists I’ve never heard of (Junip, Matthew E. White, Wave Machines, Deap Vally, Digits, Bleeding Rainbow, Godblesscomputers, Alex Winston…).

The stuff I really love goes into a (yes, dodgily-titled) Curating the Curators playlist. And both of these playlists are set to cache offline on my smartphone, so I can properly immerse myself in them when wandering around the real world.

It’s genuinely thrilling: I’m excited about discovering music, just like I was in the days when I read NME and Melody Maker cover to cover on their day of publication and home-taped the Evening Session on Radio 1.

Oh, and I’m using the Songkick Concerts app to find out when some of these new artists are playing live in the coming weeks and months, so there could be a similarly giddy impact on my gigging life (similarly in need of reinvigoration given my big nights out last year were Blur, Primal Scream and Tim Burgess. Which was marvellous, but…)

As I said at the start, I’m a lapsed music geek of a certain age, so I’m not suggesting I’m the normal use-case for streaming music discovery. And as you can see from reading this post, the process is still quite… manual. It’s not just pressing a button and having music I might like played at me.

It does show the potential of these digital music services though: and it also shows the challenge for Deezer, Rhapsody, Daisy… all the other companies jockeying for consumers’ hearts, minds and subscriptions who are looking to build their own playlist and apps ecosystems.

I’ve been using Spotify because it’s the streaming service I pay to use, but another change I’m making for 2012 is to spend serious time every week using all these services, to get a real sense of how they compare.

What seems clear for me is that Spotify’s playlists and apps are really working as a discovery mechanism, albeit with a certain amount of extra work on my part. I’m hoping to see the other streaming services match this and roll in their own innovations, to keep pushing things forward.

In the meantime, here’s that Curating the Curators playlist, pumped through the Toma.hk website to match tracks on Spotify’s rivals where possible (an interesting exercise in itself), so you can hear the results so far: