As the major music labels slowly continue to wake-up to the fact that the future of music lies online, more and more services are offering music streaming. Rdio, from the makers of Skype, is the latest offering and enables users in the USA to listen to a catalog of 7 million songs for around $9.99 a month on their desktop and mobile device. However, there are still plenty of applications out there that deliver music for free. Here are 5 of the best - note that all of the basic versions of these applications are free but most have a premium version which offers ad-free listening or other enhancements:
Spotify (Europe only) The moment I tried Spotify, I was blown away by its ease of use, elegant interface and most importantly, enormous back catalog of music. That's not to mention the excellent streaming quality, mobile integration and most recently, social networking features that make sharing music on Twitter, Facebook and via e-mail easier than ever.
Last.fm Last.fm was one of the first free music applications on the net and its still going strong. Last.fm is a radio application that delivers songs to you based on your own music interests. It's similar to the Radio function in Spotify which was clearly inspired by the Last.fm concept. You can also use it to listen to your own music and as it "scrobbles" what you're listening to its server, it suggests other songs and artists you might like.
Pandora (USA only) Pandora was another early innovator in free online music distribution and offers listeners free music from their favorite artists as well as suggesting other music you might like. Started as part of the Music Genome Project back in 2000, it works via a series of "channels" which you can refine and modify according to your music tastes.
Grooveshark With still only around 400,000 users, Grooveshark is often overlooked by music fans but its popularity is still growing as more people prefer the concept of a web application to a desktop one. Grooveshark Radio is one of the things that continues to attract users by allowing them to find music that other like minded users are listening to using a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" feature.
Hypem An MP3 aggregator rather than an application, Hypem (full name The Hype Machine) is one of the best ways to find the latest cutting edge music that you won't see heavily featured in any of the above apps. The reason is because Hypem monitors music blogs and those writing about music that have uploaded music online and brings them all together so you can listen to what's hot.