Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Finding good music on the Internet is very important to me. I don't want to discuss what's good/bad, because that wouldn't make any sense - everybody has their own idea of what "good music" means, and that meaning can change for you as your mood changes, as the years go by. I know it has for me. Music can be a kind of healing medicine for your emotions when you need it. It can be a driving force when you have to get work done. It can be a way to calm down and relax after a hectic day in the life of you.

Finding Good Music on the Internet

Here's how I find music that I like on the Internet.

First, I try to listen to music that I've never heard before. But I don't just randomly play whatever I hear about; there's way too much crap out there to find anything that way. If someone recommends a group or a song, I will check it out, but that's not usually the best avenue for discovering music I like.

The best way right now is Pandora, http://www.pandora.com/
Pandora rocks. It's a sophisticated music comparison database - you start by entering the name of a band or a song, and it "discovers" more music similar to what you chose.
You can have many "channels", each based off of a different type of music.
Then, as each song plays, you can tell Pandora "thumbs up" if you like it or "thumbs down" if you don't like it. If you choose "thumbs down", it immediately skips to the next song.

Pandora has special licensing deals with major labels all over the place, to stream high-quality complete songs over the Internet without charging you for it. It's pretty amazing. The only problem is you cannot choose the order which the songs come out; and you're limited to how many times you can skip a song; it will block you if you overuse that feature.

You can create channels for: Evanescence, Ricky Martin, and Linkin Park, and fine-tune Pandora's understanding of what kind of songs you like/dislike over time. Then, anytime you feel like some spanish/salsa music, your Ricky Martin channel is right there. Later when you're really upset about something unfair in your life, Linkin Park-like songs are waiting for you.

The most important part: When Pandora plays a song for you that you really like, write down the group name and album name (or at least, song name). After you have 4-5 of these, go to the next step.

Another good way is by playing music you like in your favorite music player (I use Winamp on my Windows XP PC), with Last.fm hooked up to it. It's a free download, and is very cool. It's a "scrobbling" application, which simply means that it watches what you listen to, and sends the info to a database on the Internet. It's collecting statistics on what you listen to. After you've listened to enough songs, you can have it recommend other music to you that you haven't heard, but might like - based on what other people in the world seem to be listening to! You can also ask what's the most popular music being played to day, according to their database. It's fascinating to see the differences compared to what plays on the radio, sometimes.

Again, if you find something new that sounds really good to you, write it down - band name and album/song name.

Finding More of What You Found

You'll want to hear all the songs on the albums you've found, and other albums by the same group you found. This way you can get a better feel for what kind of music the group creates, which you may not realize from just 1 or 2 songs.

Go to Amazon.com and choose "Popular Music" from the search menu, and enter the band or song or album. If it find multiple albums, click on 1 album to start with (usually the first one).

Scroll down quite a ways until you see the list of tracks on the album. Most of the time there are links next to them, you can click on to hear the tracks. Use the Amazon Music Sampler column, because it can play the songs in a browser window, and skip thru them all automatically. You can listen to the whole album this way (about 10-15 seconds per track). If you hate the song that's playing, click the next one right away - no reason to waste your time on bad music.

If you hate the album, skip to another one - either choose one from the 4 choices at the bottom of the Music Sampler window (use the arrows to find even more albums) or go back to your main Amazon window, hit Back button, and try a different album.

Amazon also has "people who bought this album also bought" other albums. Check those out too, for variations on the one you just heard.

Wandering the Musical Landscape

You're doing a kind of search for what you like, eliminating anything that you don't like. It's a kind of wandering of the musical landscape, always heading towards the bigger and brighter flowers, away from the smaller, duller ones.

If all the leads dry up and you're out of choices, make Amazon display the next album on your list, and listen to that - or go back to Pandora again for more ideas.

And then, all of a sudden, it will hit you from out of nowhere - that one album from that one group you've never heard of, that just blows you away. You can't believe how good it is! You may be the only one who thinks so, but that's OK! It totally rocks. This happens to me about once every few years. Something just clicks, and you know you're gonna like every song on the album. You have to play it again - and again.

For me the last 3 groups I found like that are:

  1. Garbage
  2. Evanescence
  3. Kill Hannah
See what I mean? If you just checked those out, you may not even like them - and that's fine. You have to find what music stops you dead-in-your-tracks.

Acquiring the Good Music

If you like good sound, you won't be buying your music on Apple Itunes - the compression is too low, resulting in poor quality sound. You want to acquire the CD itself, for any music you found, and rip the tracks into your computer (at whatever compression ratio you like), so you get the best quality sound.

Notice I said "acquire the CD", not "buy the CD". Of course you want to own it, but you may not have to "buy" it. One of the cheapest ways to find good music is on music trading sites like Barter Bee http://www.barterbee.com/ or LaLa http://www.lala.com/

If you want to buy it but save a lot of money, consider buying a used CD on Amazon.com or Ebay.com. Or, if you want it brand-new, Amazon will be happy to oblige (and give you a discount usually). All of these methods result in delay, though; it will take days before your cool new music arrives in the mail.

If you're OK with paying full retail price (which I am not OK with), you can just drive down to your local music store and pick it up there - if they carry the album. Instant gratification.

Extracting the Music

Once I get the CD in the mail, I rip it into my computer using Winamp. I use Winamp so much that I went ahead and paid for a license - this opens up full speed ripping, which (today) can be extremely fast. No reason to lock up your computer for more than about 3-5 minutes per CD, anymore. I don't rip with Itunes, because I want unencumbered mp3 files. I usually rip at 256Kbps, because anything less than that is irritatingly not-good-enough for me anymore. My ears can hear the difference.

After ripping the CD, I put it somewhere safe in a closet or something - that's my emergency "backup". If I need a CD for my car stereo, I will burn a fresh CD from the mp3 files on my computer and leave it in my car. Now if my CD's are stolen from my car (it can happen), they only got a bunch of burned CD's - nothing really lost, since my originals (and mp3s) are safe at home.

This way I have my favorite music in my car and on my computer/ipod. This seems to work well for me, and I've been using this basic technique for a couple of years now.

So - how do you find new music?

Monday, April 16, 2007

My business has changed as of late last year. It's now Fastech Web Solutions, a web site design and development company here in the east valley of Phoenix Arizona (Mesa, Gilbert, Chandler, Tempe, Ahwatukee).

I design and build custom web sites for small to medium sized companies. Anybody needing a web site or not entirely happy with their current web site, can use my help.

I also create advertisement campaigns around existing web sites, to attract more customers from the Internet to their business. Even if you're a service organization and not selling things directly on the Internet, this can help you. Because your potential customers are on the Internet, doing searches for service providers near them. They will find your ad, and a certain percentage of them will click on it and discover you, be impressed with what they find, and call or email you to engage your services, if I set things up properly.

I can also build internal database applications within a larger company, such as an inventory tracking system, or multi-user information logging system. You won't see these kinds of apps on my Samples web page (http://www.fastechWS.com/samples/) because you don't have access to them - they're only available internally to the companies I build them for.

I am good at creating administrative areas for key employees to control the content of the web site I build for them. If you have pictures or information that regularly changes, like news & events, products, etc., you'll want to manage that stuff yourself without going thru me all the time to make changes. For a little extra work up-front, I can build a very easy-to-use interface, password protected (with SSL security) for you, or whomever you nominate, to control the content on your web site.

I love building web sites. Give me a call if you want a free estimate - I just need to ask a few questions about what your needs are - I find that every project is different. If nothing else, you'll learn about the capabilities your future web site could have, and a guesstimate of what it will cost to build.

You don't have to live in Arizona, either - thanks to the global connectedness of the Internet, I can build web sites for anyone in the world. My only limitation today is that I can only speak English.

Paul Balyoz
Fastech Web Solutions
(Outside Arizona 1-866-464-6688)
The Internet breaks down barriers. I used to have a barrier in my life, which was this:

I cannot seem to find a reliable source of ground coffee that tastes good!
No matter which brand I buy in the grocery store, it's all bad.
It doesn't matter if it's a steadfast brand I remember my mom buying when I was growing up, or something with "crystals" (whatever the heck that is), or some coffee hand-picked by a one-eyed, peg-legged man who's been at it for the last 122 years in peru or guatemala or egypt or some place. The price doesn't matter, the brand doesn't matter, the roasted-ness doesn't matter - it's all much worse than the coffee most restaurants serve today.

Starb**ks used to have the best coffee in the universe, when they first opened. Once they became a multimegacorp, their coffee began sucking too. Why, I asked; why?

So how do good restaurants have good coffee? Only the Internet had the answer.

I saw a Google ad on some web site taunting me about knowing the secret to best tasting coffee - which led me to the CoffeeFool web site: http://www.coffeefool.com.

I ordered 2 types of coffee, which, surprisingly, cost no more than purchasing similar-sized packages from my local grocery store (except I had to pay for shipping).

On their web site you can specify what kind of "grind" you want - I just went with "drip", since I have a plain coffee maker. Their web site is easy to use, very clean and neat and informative.

And, wow! Good coffee man. You gotta taste this stuff if you're sick of bitter coffee you can hardly choke down. I highly recommend Coffee Fool for all your coffee needs.

So, for me, another barrier has fallen - the barrier between me getting good tasting coffee, and restaurants getting good coffee. I can now do it just as well as they can - and not through my grocery store.

And no, I am not paid by them in any way - I just like to write about stuff I like on my blog.