words among

Monday, January 21, 2008

getting better tunes

I have been aware for a long time that there was a lot of great music being produced that I simply wasn't hearing. Some of the best music that I have heard, I have few ways to find. I like asking friends for tips but I also wanted a way to get things my friends didn't know about. The internet isn't always a good place for that because you have to type an address or a search query before you get anything; you can't just get something for nothing, or without having a lead to it already.

Lately some sites have been doing a much better job at making that possible. Last.fm is a great way to find music and share what you've found. And Garageband.com has created something for facebook and itunes called iLike that lets you download tracks by less-known bands that resemble the stuff you listen to. After you figure out which ones are good, and begin listening to them, last.fm will compare them to your other bands and start recommending them to other people who have your taste. Then in the coming months, your recommendations will reflect their selections, giving you the benefit of their exposure to new music that you haven't reached.

Decentralized brains like this can become tremendously powerful without much effort on any one person's part, and most people already go to the effort of playing music on their computer, choosing some tracks and skipping others. Install last.fm's software and it will invisibly track your playlist and upload it to your profile, essentially sharing your wisdom with everyone else who's looking for good music. The cool thing is that neural networks like this can make judgments about songs without any clear rationale or any single criterion. This allows them to draw the line between good and great more accurately than most other means of evaluation.

Once I identify an artist I'm interested in, I download everything of theirs I can find to discover the few gems. For years I have used Acquisition to do this, and been impressed by the several special features it uses to trim busywork out of the process. I purchased a family license back when I was in college, and shared it with several people (the few who had macs, back before everyone did). When I recently upgraded to version 2, my license was unexpectedly voided, and I was pretty annoyed that I had not been warned. But after using the unlicensed software for a few weeks now, I am planning to pay for another license because this program is an important part of my quest to become a dj and help make my friends better djs. I'll explain why I like it soon.