It’s time to give up on the record store for good. Even if you’re in love with strolling among racks and racks of CDs, the smell of vinyl, and salespeople who can tell rattle off the name of every obscure indie band ever to pass through town, the future of music undoubtedly lies online. But you don’t need to turn to the dark side of piracy (or even paying money, necessarily) to get your music fix on the Web. We’ve rounded up ten of our favorite online music sites, each one of which offers something unique in its own right. So unplug the headphones, turn up the volume and read on.
Despite the fact that it didn’t make it’s debut in the US until 2011, Spotify has been a big player in the music streaming game for years. It works much like its competitor services GrooveShark and Rdio, allowing you to stream music for free from its huge digital library. It can also be used to generate radio-like playlists based on your preferences and can connect with Facebook so that you can see what your friends are listening to. The free version gets you a limited amount of streaming and a few ads, but Spotify also offers Unlimited and Premium accounts that are ad-free and relatively cheap.
Any number of online music sites can deliver streaming music at the press of a button, but Pandora offers something unique: It knows what you want to hear. The entire Pandora library has been cataloged by music qualities, allowing you plug in a title or artist and hear songs in the same vein without any effort on your part. And if you want to refine the playlist, a simple thumbs up or thumbs down on songs will let Pandora further tailor its automatically generated playlists to your tastes.
While it might not be the best choice if you want to hear all your current favorites, The Hype Machine is an awesome music discovery site that’s unmatched when it comes to finding hot new tunes. The site keeps track of thousands of music blogs and lists new tracks that people are buzzing about around the web. The more times a song has been blogged about, the higher it rises on THM’s charts. It’s got a wonderfully clean interface and tons of customizable features. It’s definitely worth a look.
Grooveshark is a web-based music streaming service that’s comparable to Pandora and Spotify. Back in the site’s infancy, it was just a simple music streaming service, but over the years it’s developed a bunch of sweet features that make it incredibly useful. It boasts a massive library of free-to-stream tunes and allows users to do things like make and share playlists, subscribe to other users’ steams, and browse charts. GrooveShark can also generate playlists for you based on what you like or dislike, which makes it great for music discovery as well.
Ever wish you could follow all your favorite musicians and whenever they release a new track it would instantly show up in your feed? That’s exactly how SoundCloud works. Once you make an account you can follow any other user, whether they happen to be a musician, a blogger, or just one of your friends. Any time they post a new tune, it’s delivered to your dashboard so you can play it immediately. In addition to acting like a musical inbox of sorts, you can also use SoundCloud to browse tracks by genre or popularity. The site has been around for a few years and attracted millions of users, so there’s plenty to browse.
Shuffler.fm is a music discovery service that takes a somewhat unconventional approach. Rather than using a database of collected tunes on a dedicated site, Shuffler is something like a music player that’s part StumbleUpon and part Pandora. All you have to to is choose the genre of music you’d like to hear and Shuffler will whisk you away to an tune embedded in a random blog post. The best part is that it has an extremely minimalist design that doesn’t dominate the page, and it allows you to explore the blog you’re on without stopping the track.
Big sites like Spotify and Pandora are great, but they typically fall short when it comes to featuring and supporting independent artists. TheSixtyOne is a site similar to Pandora, but it focuses on music created by independent musicians. Not only is it a great place to go if you’re looking to find new and undiscovered artists, but it has some unique gamification features, social features and customization options that make it a joy to use. Our favorite feature is one that lets you change the music according to the mood or feel it has. You can set it to things like mellow, trippy, party, or crazy, just to name a few. Oh, and did we mention the gorgeous full-page interface?
Studio tracks are all well and good, but if you’re looking for a quick way to check out bootlegs, music videos, fan covers and other rarities, nothing beats YouTube for sheer selection. Catch anything from bizarre fan-made Radiohead videos to epic live footage of Jimi Hendrix – for free. Not to mention that the availability of music on YouTube that’s posted in high-quality continues to grow, so finding stuff that’s worthy of being played on your massive Harmon Kardon speakers is increasingly easy.
You won’t find the local bands that play at music festivals, bars and small shows on any of these other online music sites, but you will find them on MySpace, which has become the de facto promotion tool of choice for up-and-coming bands everywhere. Each artist page hosts a handful of free sample tracks from bands big and small, and a partnership with SnoCap even allows you to buy individual tracks from albums you might never get a chance to buy in person. The social networking aspect of the site also makes it easy to jump from band to band and hunt down new music based on what you already enjoy.
Somewhere between the randomness of discovering new music on the radio and the tediousness of researching new bands manually lies Last.fm. The site automatically keeps track of what you’re listening to on its player to both recommend more music you might like, and to let other users know what’s popular. Even better, you can view commentary on individual tracks to read what other people think about the tracks you know and love.
Looking for free music you can listen to with or without an internet connection? Check out our guide to the best free music download sites.