IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Listen up! Music is everywhere on the Web

OK, so the idea of paying for radio seemed a whole lot better back in the good old days, when phrases like “financial crisis” weren’t in every other news story. If the Sirius XM subscription doesn’t seem like such a good idea anymore, well, you’re not alone. According to the tech blog CrunchGear.com, the company CEO Mel Karmazin is apparently now dreaming up ways to get cash-strapped wou
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

OK, so the idea of paying for radio seemed a whole lot better back in the good old days, when phrases like “financial crisis” weren’t in every other news story. If the Sirius XM subscription doesn’t seem like such a good idea anymore, well, you’re not alone. According to the tech blog CrunchGear.com, the company CEO Mel Karmazin is apparently now dreaming up ways to get cash-strapped would-be listeners to subscribe.

The problem is that for music buffs, terrestrial radio usually doesn’t offer much, unless you happen to be lucky enough to live near cool stations like eclectic indie mainstays KEXP in Seattle or WTMD in Maryland. Then again, you could just click on those links no matter where you are and hear everything from the Black Kids to the Gourds to the new Kings of Leon, served up by knowledgeable DJs. For free.

It may seem like a Captain Obvious comment to claim the future of music is on the Internet, but if you do a lot of listening at home or at work, a bit of knowledge about online music is the way to recession-proof your music listening routine. Others are already doing it: AOL’s Online Radio service reported 23.9 million unique visitors in July, up 56 percent over last year. But Sirius XM recently reported its subscriber base as 9.7 million, up only 17 percent from the year before.

The drawback to Internet radio, of course, is that you can’t easily listen in your car. But that’s changing. According to John Whalen, founder of the 5-year-old all-Grateful Dead station GD Radio, “each month there are new advancements in technology.” The Sony Playstation Portable, he says, carries his station, as does the iPhone and some Nokia phones.

The popular Web-only oldies station Radio Bop also offers a cell phone listening service (which costs a few bucks). The Live 365 Internet radio network is also now offering a free mobile service, which means their thousands of stations can be heard on a Windows Mobile 5/6 Smartphone, pocket PC or Wi-Fi.

Also, for around $20 you can send any audio signal from your computer to any nearby FM receiver with the Dynex Portable Wireless FM Transmitter.

Free to choose

What you lose in convenience with Internet radio you gain in variety, though. Spencer Vliet, the 26-year-old drummer for the Washington, D.C. band the City Veins says he burned out on listening to the Sirius station Left of Center because they played “the same bands over and over again” — such as songs by the much-hyped U.K. duo the Ting Tings.

So Vliet turned his attention online and found more variety — sans subscription charges. For cutting edge indie there’s WOXY, and for uncensored rap and hip-hop, try checking in with Dirty South Radio (not safe for work).

But it’s easy enough to find current music by scrolling through the zillions of stations on the Live 365 or Shoutcast networks. What’s really surprising is the amount of older stuff that can be ferreted out if you take the time to search.

You can take a trip back to the shakin’ 1960s, with Beyond the Beat Generation, which exclusively plays collectible garage band records. If you wanna set your wayback machine for long ago, try the 1920s Radio Network, which plays ancient tunes that probably made your great grandma shake it. And the evenings-only Top Shelf Oldies has disc jockeys like Dave the Rave that spin rare discs from their personal collections.

These stations can play pretty much whatever they want because they’re operated as a labor of love by music nuts, not for profit by corporations. And they grow by word-of-mouth, not advertising. Take Paul Moews’ all-psychedelic music station the Technicolor Web of Sound. In 2000, the Wisconsin native started broadcasting to a scant few people on an old dial-up modem. These days, he estimates he attracts around 85,000 listeners a month.

Sites to hear

When Washington state publicist Kaytea McIntosh, 29, wants to find out what’s new in the world of indie, she hits the blogs. McIntosh, who founded the company xo publicity, says she keeps current and stays economical by taking advantage of the free MP3 downloads offered by blogs like the trendsetting Brooklyn Vegan, Daytrotter and Pampelmoose (run by former Gang of Four member Dave Allen). Largehearted Boy, Stereogum, My Old Kentucky Blog and Gowhere Hip Hop are also great free music destinations.

If you can’t be bothered to comb through music blogs, you can hit up the Hype Machine, an aggregator that collects the MP3s they post. MX Play, which bills itself as “the first social media player,” does much the same, but also with videos.

Speaking of social networking, there’s also MySpace, which is outgrowing its origins as a gathering place for exhibitionists and morphing into a music destination. Recently, it premiered the new CD by the Japanese new wave band the Polysics and offered streaming of the new Pussycat Dolls CD (well, so much for breaking out of that exhibitionist thing).

For the past few years, dedicated free sites like Last FM, Pure Volume and Garageband have been the places to go to stream emerging artists, while Pandora is where your (semi) cool uncle gets his fix of Bruce Springsteen. That may be changing.

According to New York-based Aaron Leeder, 25, of the indie band Exit Clov, MySpace has brought his band more attention than any of the above sites. And as a listener, he likes that “they’re trying to have every song from every album ever available for free streaming.”

For now, the advertising model keeps these sites and blogs from having to charge fees. But good things don’t always last, especially when the music industry is involved, so enjoy the free goodies while you can. The Golden Age of Free Internet Streaming may one day be looked upon as the equivalent to the old late night AM radio dial that turned so many ’60s kids on to great sounds.