Cover art from assorted record albums

It was simple when I was, say, 17. I could tune my radio to 93 XRT and just leave it there to hear my favorite music and some exciting new stuff at any time of the day or night.

Now, it’s been years since I listened to WXRT. If I look at what they’re playing this minute, I guess I might enjoy some of it, but it will probably be a while before some Dwight Yoakam comes around, and the chance of hearing any Sidney Bechet is zero. My tastes have become more eclectic, and music radio has become more tightly formatted.

I don’t buy albums like I did when I was young, but I do spend a few dollars at the iTunes Store, mostly on single songs that I’ve heard somewhere else, and there is the dilemma. iTunes is fine, but every track in my library is in my library because I already know and like it. iTunes will never slip in something unexpected that blows me away. Even the most random shuffling is going to play nothing but a steady stream of familiar music, which eventually becomes annoying. So how can I find more music — either new or old — that I might love?

The Internet offers several answers, one of which is Pandora, a music-streaming service that I read about in a Los Angeles Times story early last February. Pandora employs musically-knowledgeable humans in Oakland who listen to and classify songs according to hundreds of criteria, building an ever-expanding database, the Music Genome Project. Then, based on the likes and dislikes you provide to Pandora, it selects and streams other music that you may or may not take a shine to.

I have spent a fair number of hours letting Pandora do its thing over the past year, and it has occasionally introduced me to music that I appreciated enough to buy (some of which is included in my one iTunes iMix to date). But I have also spent a lot of frustrating time suffering through godawful garbage like “All Your Women Things” by Smog. For all the feedback I’ve given Pandora, I can’t say that it’s really getting any better at catering to my tastes. It’s very hit and miss, and when it’s missing, there might be five or six clunkers in a row. Also, Pandora’s music selections seem very much weighted toward the obscure and the unprofitable. As much as I love the Beatles, I’m far more likely to hear a live track of Paul McCartney doing a Beatles song than an actual Beatles record. Should you want to suffer along with me, here’s a link to my Mark Czerniec Radio station.

Meanwhile, just yesterday I got a Last.fm account. Last.fm is more of a musical MySpace type of “community,” and it includes the requsite profile, blogging, and messaging components, most of which I’ll probably never use. It also includes a software application that not only streams music to you, but conversely registers (or “scrobbles”) the music you play in iTunes, gradually assembling a musical profile which is then compared to other users’ profiles to recommend both new music and potentially compatible friends to you. I haven’t put in enough Last.fm hours to know whether it’s really useful, but so far it’s kind of impressive. It does seem more skewed toward popular music — for example it just fed me some Madonna and some Franz Ferdinand — which is probably to be expected considering its populist basis.

A third music-related somethingorother that I’ve stumbled across is MOG. I have a MOG account too, but I have no idea what to do with it. I don’t know if MOG even plays music, or if it’s just a place for me to create yet another list of my favorite artists against a wIcKed kEWl baCKgrOUnd. The whole MOG experience completely baffles me. Apparently, it wants me to blog. Fat chance.

As for the radio, Milwaukee’s public station, WUWM, does have a couple of music shows I don’t mind when I catch them: Café Tonight and Saturday at the Café, both of which are based on the nationally syndicated World Café, which also airs on WUWM. There’s still no Sidney Bechet, but there is some Dwight Yoakam now and then.

Sometimes, I can still relate to this guy:

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