Rock on

We study with music. We drive with music. We work out, dance, cook, take the bus, walk the dog and clean the house, all while listening to music. Most of the people I pass on the street or sit next to on the bus are listening to music as they go. It’s an important part of our lives now. We all have a soundtrack running through our day.

One of the hardest things about this, for me at least, is finding new music. My iTunes library gets a little old after a while, and every so often, I need to add something new. But how? How do you find new music that you like?

There’s the radio, music television stations and recommendations from friends, but that never gets me very far. Usually, the songs that are on the radio are the songs on the television, and that’s where my friends are getting their music, too. So I turned to the Internet and, as it turns out, that’s where the good stuff is.

Pandora. Spotify. 8tracks. All of these are essentially customizable online radios, although they each have their own unique spin.

Pandora is an internet radio station that uses what is called the Music Genome Project to present users with music similar to a specific artist, genre or composer – whatever is entered into the search box. The Music Genome Project, according to Pandora’s website, analyzes each song “using up to 450 distinct musical characteristics by a trained music analyst,” allowing the site to build a highly personalized set of radio stations for each user. and Spotify are similar. They both offer a selection of personalized music stations based on the artist, album or genre that the user selects.

I used to use Pandora, mostly because I just couldn’t get the hang of or Spotify, but it began to bother me. For example, the stations that I used, specifically a Film Soundtrack station that I listened to when I studied, seemed to lose variety after a while.

Several months ago, though, a friend of mine sent me the link to an ocean playlist (I love the ocean), and I made one of the best Internet discoveries of my life –

8tracks is a site for mix tapes. Users make an account and can upload any mix, or playlist, that they’ve made and want to share with the Internet. They can tag each playlist in several different ways. For example, if you want a study playlist that is only instrumental music, you can just search “study” and “instrumental” and you’ll have pages of playlists to choose from.

The thing that I like about 8tracks more than Pandora, or or Spotify, is that it’s a space for user creativity. The playlists aren’t put together using the Music Genome Project, or whatever it is that Pandora relies on – they’re put together by real people who put a lot of thought into what songs fit the theme of the playlists and how they should be set up in the track lists.

There are the basic playlist themes: studying, sleeping, working out, partying, road-tripping and more. There are some slightly more eccentric ones: playlists for singing along in the shower, for getting high or for committing a Southern Gothic-esque murder. And then there are my favorites: the fanmixes.

Fanmixes are intricate and extremely interesting things. You can find a fanmix for pretty much any TV show, book, movie, play or video game. If it has a fandom, there’s gotta be at least one mix for it on 8tracks. But it’s not as simple as that. Nothing created by a fandom ever is.

For example, not only can you find a playlist for the Harry Potter series, you can find playlists dedicated to each house, to specific characters and sometimes to their (real or imagined) romantic entanglements. Heck, you can find playlists dedicated to the Marauders – a section of the Harry Potter universe that exists almost solely in the minds of the fans. All of the mixes on 8tracks can be searched using multiple tags, depending on the theme of the mix and the type of music used.

These aren’t the playlists I make. My playlists are broad and have the barest of common threads. “Oh, these are all songs from the 1970s? Same playlist!” That’s kind of a really terrible way to make a playlist. A good playlist tells a story. It uses each song to compliment the others. The playlists on 8tracks are so carefully constructed from any number of musical genres that to call them anything less than magical is to do them an injustice.

That sound is overblown and ridiculous, I know, but consider this: a playlist dedicated to a father-son duo in Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim. These characters are antagonistic, angry and have no communication skills to speak of. Things do not go well for them. This playlist opens with angry, antagonistic songs and ends with two of the saddest and yet, strangely hopeful songs of loss that I’ve ever heard. I cried the first time I heard the the mix.

All of these sites have mobile applications, and I encourage you to try them all until you find the one you like. Just because 8tracks is the only one that works for me doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you (although I do think it’s the first one you should check out). Music is deeply personal, and that makes it important. We should think about it that way.

ART — Headphones, music notes, a mix tape?