In a case of too much of a good thing, digital music services offering catalogs of more than 18 million songs can paralyze you when you're trying to choose what to listen to.
Music-discovery apps sort through that crowd, though, by finding tunes similar to what you already like. In the best cases, these apps introduce you to new acts that you'll also enjoy. Recently, new iPhone apps from eMusic and Hype Machine emerged, promising to act as your mobile music guides.
Emusic's free Infinite Discovery app for iOS marks a new option from a longtime contender in the digital music arena. Even if you're not a subscriber, you can use eMusic's recommendation engine to generate extensive options for exploration.
Enter a band or artist's name, and the app displays dozens of related albums, using cover art to represent them. That presents challenges if you don't recognize the image. But tap on the cover, and you'll see the artist and album names.
You can listen to samples of songs from the album and use the artist as a pivot point for a new search. If you're an eMusic subscriber (starting at $12 a month for 24 downloads), you can download individual songs on MP3. Or you can follow a link in the app to buy the album on the iTunes Store.
The app can certainly take you down the rabbit hole when you're looking for something to listen to, with plenty of new options on each search. But while the app looks slick, it doesn't offer much beyond finding new music. To be truly useful, the app should let users listen to full tracks.
This $4 iPhone app is essentially a mobile interface for Hype Machine's website, which searches music blogs for new tracks. Through the Hype Machine, you can play songs found on the 878 music blogs it indexes. Users can also follow the music posted on any of those blogs, check out featured playlists, and — most importantly — listen to full songs. [See also: Latest Pandora App Makes Music More Social, Mobile ]
Since the Hype Machine offers only music found on blogs, you aren't always going to find the song you're looking for. But if you're not sure what you’re in the mood for, or if you want to discover the latest releases, the app can help. The Hype Machine app, and website, works particularly well for indie and electronic music. Classic rock and country fans may not find it as useful. Check out the free website first to make sure it matches your tastes.
Both of these mobile apps bring to mobile what apps available through Spotify's desktop software started to offer earlier this year. Spotify apps like Any Decent Music? and Rolling Stone Recommends offer reviews of new albums, providing access to the full tracks through Spotify.
But these Spotify apps don't work on its mobile version, and the company hasn't announced plans to change that. For mobile music discovery to reach its full potential, an app will need to combine the ability to find a large swath of music and the option of listening to full versions of any song.