Music fans may soon look back on these times as the "glory days" for Internet radio.
The Washington Post recently picked up the latest strand of the ongoing battle between a legion of copyright holders with very expensive lawyers and the conglomerate of big companies, tiny start-ups, and passionate hobbyists who make up the net radio contingent.
It would be nice to believe that since this battle has tangled up portions of Congress for a few years now, there may be years yet to come where the outcome remains undecided, during which us little folk who just want to stick in some earbuds and hear a song on the damned web can enjoy good music to our heart's content.
Instead, let's all make hay while the sun still shines, and give our favorite Internet radio sites the time and affection they deserve. Like Pandora, Last.fm, or Slacker Personal Radio.
Based on my time spent with the site, Slacker Radio seems to be aiming for a monetizing model driven by subscriptions to their Premium Radio service, available for as little as $7.50 per month (paid in one installment of $89.99 annually). A free account offers access to the site's existing stations and the power to create your own stations, but is missing several powerful features exclusive to the Premium version. They've also got a portable player they're selling which allows you to load up the device with tunes randomly chosen from Slacker's formidable library of tunes, along with whatever songs you've slotted into your personal library, to replicate the Slacker experience on the road.
Like Last.fm, Slacker Premium Radio enables listeners to save tracks they enjoy to a personalized area where they can shuffle their favorite tracks into a unique radio station full of only songs they like. Premium users can also skip unlimited songs on each station (regular accounts can only skip six songs per station), avoid hearing any ads, and request songs to be added to their stations.
That's all well and good, but my personal interest in net radio stems from a desire to hear new bands, old bands that are new to me, or new songs by bands that are old to me. In that sense, I give Slacker a bit of an edge over Last.fm and Pandora.
All three possess recommendation engines that can help point you in the direction of music you might like, and Pandora's engine is certainly compelling, stemming as it does from the results of the Music Genome Project, which analyzes the musical "genes" of every song it plays and attempts to match music based on those individual elements.
What I prefer about Slacker is that the site enables you to view the artist list for any station and make edits — you can delete artists or add artists at any time, then save the station to your personal account. For example, I put "Ben Folds" into the artist search, and up came a list of about thirty different artists, some of which I loved, and others I had heard of but never listened to. I was able to add a bunch of artists to a station and instantly listen to it, getting a mix of exactly what I wanted in the way of new/old/new-and-old tuneage.
The Premium account then enabled me to save tracks I enjoyed to my personal library, which is incredibly useful if you want to track down more music by the artists you've discovered, or even just return to those tracks after you've heard them the first time.
For a die-hard music fan who loves discovering new bands and enjoys Internet radio, Slacker Premium offers a great service. Casual fans might find the free basic account fun to toy around with as an alternative to other Internet radio sites. Anyone who loves music should get thee to an Internet radio station sooner rather than later, because it may not be long before the online music party's over.