Songza, your online 'music concierge'
There was a time in my life when I spent hours listening to the music streaming service Pandora. Whether I was working or studying, doing chores or hanging out, it was my go-to resource for background music. I extolled its virtues to the uninitiated. I found new artists - new to me, at least - to get excited about, along with deeper cuts I'd somehow missed from my favorite musicians.
Then came Spotify, which was, and remains, perfect for times when I wanted to listen to, say, "Push It" right then, or hear the entire new Rihanna album in one sitting.
But then I was introduced to Songza, and everything changed.
Songza is free of automated playlists that pick at random songs that may "sound like" an artist or song but too often don't. There are no audible commercial interruptions - ever. (Ads are displayed on the site but are easy to ignore, especially since the service is free.) What you'll get when you arrive at Songza's website is a "music concierge" tailored to suit your life. If it's Wednesday afternoon, for example, you may get a sampling of situations.
Once you've chosen say, "Working (No Lyrics)," you may be offered "Blockbuster Film Scores" and a choice of three curated playlists. Then you're on your way to sonic heaven.
The playlists, made by DJs, musicians, music critics, and musicologists, are what set Songza apart (not to mention the absence of fees and audible ads). You can browse for practically any theme, occasion, mood, or genre: "Early Texas Blues," with artists like Bessie Tucker and Blind Lemon Jefferson; "Dawson's Creek," every song heard on the late-'90s teen soap opera; or one of my favorites, " '60s French Pop." Planning a "formal dinner party"? "Breaking up"? There's a playlist to suit your circumstances. Want to feel like you're "shopping at a vintage store" when you're not? Ditto.
Like Pandora, Songza has a six-song skip limit, but in the months I've listened, I've only reached that limit once. And I'm not alone. "People have said to me, 'That's great, you don't have a skip limit,' " cofounder and chief operating officer Peter Asbill says. "We do, but I guess if you're not reaching it we're doing something right."
What Songza has eliminated is the seeming arbitrariness other streaming services are prone to in their selections. Every song picked for a playlist actually belongs - so if you decide to give "Cool Like Debbie Harry" a try (and you should, it's great), you can be confident that you'll get great songs that are indeed as slick as the Blondie front woman (or close, anyway). And you'll often find an excellent blend of the mainstream and the fringe, so you can enjoy your favorites and also discover music you might never have encountered otherwise.
When I mention Songza to friends, the typical reaction is "Huh?" The growing company has captured only a tiny fraction of the market, which is still dominated by Pandora. But other sites, including Spotify, have begun copying its curatorial method. Meanwhile, it just launched "Club Songza," an entirely ad-free service for 99 cents a week, which should help it expand even more as a business - and, I hope, keep the regular site as is for the rest of us.