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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.jpgSpotify (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.

lastfm.pngLast.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.pngPandora (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.

gshark.pngGrooveshark 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.pngHypem 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.

Commented

  • Matt Perkins |
    09/08/10
    Matt Perkins

    Slacker Radio should be on this list and Hypem should be removed. Slacker Radio is a lot like Pandora but allows caching of stations which none of the others allow for.

    Not to mention those who like Pandora and Slacker don't want to listen to groups or bands that may or may not make it.

    There are a ton of sites that offer free music downloads of groups, bands and artists that are trying to make it in the world. But if people really cared about the unknown, there wouldn't be any unknown. Some of these sites even allow you to choose the format of your choosing rather than stuck with MP3 and some allow you to download entire albums for free. Why would we seriously want to listen to music from unknown people? Hey let's all make an album and release it to the public for free, we could count that as cutting edge too. See my point?

    Still a good article just can't see anyone leaving Slacker out in favor of a service that provides "cutting edge" music.

  • Jon Riggall |
    09/08/10
    Jon Riggall

    I see your point, but sometimes people might want something different, and Hypem gives you that.

    Personally, if I used services like Spotify all the time, I'd get bored just listening to what I know. Sometimes it's great to hear something new you wouldn't have otherwise heard. There are plenty of places offering popular stuff - I think we should also support sites that do something else.

  • Matt Perkins |
    10/08/10
    Matt Perkins

    Yes I understand where your coming from in which case I would recommend Blip.fm for those who want to support new and upcoming artists.

    Blip.fm allows anyone to create their own custom playlist and share it with the world so new artists can make a list of their best songs and everyone can discover those songs and better yet allow those who discover those songs to also share it by creating their own playlist with those songs. So in the end Blip.fm works for both new artists as well as up and coming djs and people who just like their own custom list of music. It's also free. And in the end is the best way for everyone to discover and share music.

    And I have been dying to try Spotify but so far it is not available in the states. I doubt it ever will be with our strict music laws thanks to Lars and the RIAA.

  • Alan Bombria |
    10/08/10
    Alan Bombria

    Not to mention that Slacker has smartphone apps that let you listen anywhere even if you have an old crappy Blackberry!

  • Matt Perkins |
    10/08/10
    Matt Perkins

    Alan,

    Pandora also has apps as well. I know for a fact Android and iPhone have a Pandora app. Not sure if they make one for Blackberry users, but it's hard to see why they wouldn't.

    My actual argument when it comes to Pandora and Slacker is the features. Slacker has an advantage over Pandora having this one feature called caching. It allows you to cache an entire station and listen to it while your offline. Very useful for those who have a weak signal and for Android users whom aren't blessed with the music syncing that iPhone and iPod Touch users are blessed with.

    I just don't get the love Pandora gets over Slacker especially now that Slacker has the caching feature that Pandora lacks. I've used both Pandora and Slacker and I always end up making Slacker my main app due to the fact it offers more.

  • Nicholas Mead |
    10/08/10
    Nicholas Mead

    @Matt, thanks for your interesting comments and suggestions.

    You've mentioned two web applications I wasn't previously aware of - Slacker Radio and Blip.fm. I see that Slacker is only available to US users at the moment but Blip.fm looks like an interesting "Twitter style" music service.

    As regards Hypem, I'm really impressed with it and think it does definitely deserve to make this list. As Jon says, it's refreshing to use a service that suggests cutting edge and new music that may be on the fringes of the market at the moment to the more predictable commercial offerings by Spotify, iTunes etc.

    It seems to me your argument is based on which application has the best features. Since we can't use them in Europe, I take your and Alan's word for it that Slacker offers more than Pandora. However, they are both a very different concept from Hypem. Hypem effectively monitors the music blogosphere for new and cutting edge releases and Mp3's from established and little known artists whereas Pandora and Slacker work by recommending other people's music with tastes similar to yours.

    There's a difference there and I think Hypem has filled that niche very well. And it doesn't necessarily mean that Hypem only stumbles across "unknown artists" that no one cares about. A brief look at the Popular section reveals artists including Notorious B.I.G, Kanye West and Steve Angello. Since I'm not exactly the coolest cat on the block when it comes to the cutting edge of music, it does the hard work for me and almost makes me feel cool :)

    http://hypem.com/#/popular

  • Matt Perkins |
    10/08/10
    Matt Perkins

    If you really want to keep up with the up-and-comers, I do recommend following http://www.billboard.com/ and check out their charts like their Heatseeker charts which is soley for seeing who's the hottest unknown or up-and-coming artist around.

    The other way to keep up is just word of mouth. Talk to as many people from as many different countries as you can and find out what is hot there. Usually artists start big in one country before they catch fire in the country you live in.

    Finally the other way to keep up is find out which online radio station caters to everyone in your favorite type of music. For me, I like KISW which is a Seattle based radio station that plays rock music. They don't dwell on the older stuff, like you won't find many 60s rock groups there. It's mainly 90s to present and not all the artists they play are familiar to most.

    You combine that with Blip.fm and you should end up pretty damn knowledgeable.

  • Matt Perkins |
    11/08/10
    Matt Perkins

    I found a way to get Spotify to work in the US. Does anyone have any invites so I can get rid of the monthly time limit?

    My Email is ViciouslyCold@gmail.com

  • Matt Perkins |
    11/08/10
    Matt Perkins

    Im liking Spotify a lot, I wish it would play WAVE, FLAC and Apple Lossless not just mp3 and AAC which are lower quality than the three above mentioned.

    Still a great player that allows you to search for songs, make playlists, and share music. Though I can't share my music since I only use WAVE and FLAC files.

    And thanks for the guy who sent me the invite. I finally can give an unbiased opinion of Spotify.

  • Tony Mantell |
    16/08/10
    Tony Mantell

    I like Spotify, but the best deal is Napster. £5.00 per month buys variety of streamed musci formats PLUS 5 MP3 track, so the membership cost effectively only say £1.00 per month!!! Regards

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