This Week in the Mercury


Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Free Music Archive is Incredibly Awesome

Posted by Maranda Bish on Thu, Apr 16, 2009 at 3:11 PM

The latest development in online music content/social networking is here, and it is truly awesome, combining elements of existing music sites but with the potential to be cooler than any of them. The Free Music Archive is the love child of longstanding New York radio station WFMU, who are working in collaboration with audio "curators" around the world—including Northwest radio stations KEXP and KBOO, as well as other types of digital music aggregates—to compile an online library of music tracks available for free download and authorized use.

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As their mission statement reads:

Radio has always offered the public free access to new music. The Free Music Archive is a continuation of that purpose, designed for the age of the internet.
To which I say: holler!

I went over there today and did some listening and exploring, testing out the process of creating a profile and a playlist (which you should check out here). At this stage, most of the available songs are live recordings, with a smaller number of catalog tracks. The roster of artists includes a bevy of prominent underground rock/pop bands, a healthy list of PDX groups (Starfucker, Au, Dragging an Ox, Blind Pilot), and of course, many bands that we haven't even heard of—yet.

I did have a bit of trouble navigating between areas of the site—it is a beta version, so hopefully the features will be refined. However, I am already quite sold on it. FMA's ultimate achievement is that it creates a network of exposure that benefits both bands and music lovers: it gives browsers the chance to freely connect with music (monetarily and spirit-wise), while promoting the respect for musicians that is in my opinion the key to making true fans, the kind that will go to shows for life and thus keep music-making viable. Follow the jump for my observations on how FMA stacks up to—and handily defeats—the features on established sites like Last.FM and Myspace Music.

The simple aesthetic and user-oriented approach to exploring the site is very reminiscent of the original Muxtape. Yet since all these tracks are legally posted, there's no threat of losing our playlists (RIP, original Muxtape). In fact, as this database grows we can expect to see more & more content keeping FMA vital.

The presence of both musician and fan profiles that complement each other nicely are similar to the layout of Last.FM—but the FMA has the lure of exposure to new, unheard songs and bands, not just the most popular tracks from bands everyone listens to.

RCRD LBL set the stage for free downloads authorized by musicians. FMA wins precisely because it manages to be less, well, record label-y... less pushy with the songs and musicians, more like a laid-back shop you're free to explore than a super-hip boutique pushing it's wares on you.

The general site and the profiles have some of the elegance and style of Virb, but the prettiness of Virb was never enough to keep me coming back to that site. I forgot I even had an account at Virb!

Lastly, the ability to create playlists and become fans/friends with other users is similar to MySpace Music and Facebook features, but the absence of ads makes browsing & listening at FMA an infinitely more pleasurable—and music focused—experience.

Don't take my word for it! Go check it out and let me know what you think in the comments. I have already stumbled upon a new musical love: People Like Us, a female and more awesome version of Girl Talk! I think this is the beginning of a very beautiful relationship.

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