Music websites of the year

Larry Ryan
Friday 19 December 2008 01:00

This new music service is similar in feel to iTunes, except it's free and the music is streamed rather than downloaded. In place of a payment, you get a short advertisement every so often – not much to endure in the face of what's on offer. People might bristle at not getting to download the music, but in the always online, "cloud computing" world, and the age of the iPhone, the difference is negligible. Though nothing replaces the thrill I get from actually buying a CD in a shop, looking at the sleeve notes on the way home and then playing it on my stereo. Perhaps I'm lame, but that feeling won't go away, will it?

The Hype Machine
Collecting links to the latest new music posted on various hipster blogs around the world, the Hype Machine gives its rapidly expanding community of users the chance to vote on their favourite songs. The result is an alternative hit-parade for the modern era.
April saw a fine addition to the online music world: the massively successful indie music site Pitchfork Media started a sister web music television channel. Combining its own content of interviews, live performances and other specially commissioned shows with an extensive bank of music videos and a rotating roster of independently produced music films and documentaries, it is a great resource.

Kanye West Blog
Kanye West engaged with music online even further this year. In September, he posted two demo versions of "Love Lockdown", eventually the first single off his latest album, 808s & Heartbreak. In a case of truly interactive music-making, he then put up a third take of the song, in which he appeared to acknowledge criticism made by fans in the comments section of the blog (, with adjustments made to version three accordingly.

Radiohead Remix
There was no great leap forward for Radiohead this year, à la the honesty box download release of In Rainbows in 2007, but the band still found ways to be innovative. They made the constituent parts of two of their songs, "Nude" and "Reckoner", available to purchase for the price of a single, and then asked people to remix the songs. There were thousands of responses, from the professionals on down, most of which are hosted on Radiohead's website, with a good old-fashioned public vote for the favourites.

Black Cab Sessions
In its second year, Black Cab Sessions continues to grow quite nicely, with yet more high-profile artists clambering into the back of a cab to play stripped-down gigs, including Spoon, Martha Wainwright and Bon Iver. In September, it had its most memorable performance yet, when Brian Wilson took up the Black Cab challenge. It also recently started a weekly mail-out newsletter, "The Knowledge", giving its take on the best in music and more going on in London. http://www.blackcab

A continually excellent site, this online label releases its own music independently and serves up more in conjunction with other labels and blogs. All of which is neatly provided in daily MP3 downloads – which are delivered to your inbox if you so wish. Simple, effective and always a source of interesting music by new and emerging artists.

Nonesuch Records
Earlier this year, I took my first, tentative steps into discovering the confusing world of "new music" by purchasing a Steve Reich retrospective from Nonesuch Records. The label's website thankfully aids such introductions by streaming vast swaths of its back catalogue, which extends beyond new music, into alternative pop and rock, jazz, classical, world and soundtracks. It makes for some impressive and fascinating listening.

Though it may have the somewhat irritating paw-prints of Bono on it, (Red)Wire, the musical offshoot of (Product) Red, is an interesting, worthy and potentially massive new music site. At a cost of £4 per month, you get a subscription to a digital-music magazine providing exclusive tracks from some of the biggest names in music. The proceeds go towards buying medicine for people living with HIV in Africa.

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Universal Music Group's YouTube channel
Amid all this excellence, there has to be one dishonourable mention, and this is it. The major labels continue to flail around trying to figure out how to handle music online. One such example is the YouTube channel of Universal Music Group (UMG). Here they place videos from their artists in the usual manner, but they don't allow embedding of said videos, meaning other music websites cannot show official UMG videos. Now there might be a valid reason for this, but I don't see it. People have rarely, if ever, paid for music videos, and television shows them less and less, so why would UMG be so protective, essentially prohibiting other websites from giving their artists free promotion? It seems pig-headed and indicative of a major label's inability to grasp technology that is barely even new any more.

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