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Where My Ears Wander – Part 2: Internet Radio

By: Darrin Snider (darrin at indyintune dot com)
Tuesday, March 6, 2012 6:00:00 AM

  

As I mentioned in part one of this series, I am quite fond of terrestrial radio, particularly terrestrial radio from parts of the world where I've never been and where the iron fist of Clear Channel has not put a stranglehold on personality and individuality. There is one thing that you can't get from conventional radio stations, however, and that is genre programming – unless of course your genre of choice is popular, of which very few of mine are. Obviously listener or advertiser-supported stations have to appeal to some sort of common denominator in general population, so I can't fault them for that, but sometimes, you just don't want the light banter. Sometimes, you're in the mood for something very specific, or maybe even completely new. That's where Internet radio comes in. Like podcasting, I see this largely as true music fans creating exactly the kind of content they want to hear, but are sorely lacking because some suit can't figure out how to make money off of niche audiences. Truly there is something for everyone here, and I am constantly amazed by the niches I have never heard of before, much less explored to their potential. What follows is a run-down of the Internet stations that I listen to most often, broken down by mood/style.

Work / Writing

The most-intensive brainpower-wise part of my job is going to meetings and writing big-assed documents, therefore you need something atmospheric to set a mood. It's also vitally important that there not be words (or at least none in a language you understand), otherwise song lyrics could tend to start to creep into your technical documentation either by accident … or on purpose. That is to say, it's very unprofessional when your requirements document states "The final output of the reporting sub-system shall take you where you want to go and give you all you need to know." ( Actually the rhyme was rather nice and it proved that nobody really reads anything I write anyway.) For better choices of music, check out:
  • SomaFM: Mission Control – I dislike the moniker "New Age Music," mostly because it's dim sum of music -- it all looks the same on the packaging, and you never know if you're getting steamed lobster or urine-soaked rams bladder until you bite into it. While most of it seems to be some guy on his back porch with a tape recorder cutting the National Geographic Presents the Sound of Crickets and Farting Squirrels boxed set, there is one little branch known as “Space Music” that relies heavily on multi-layered synthesizers and heavily structured, usually rhythmless chords. I eat that stuff up. Throw in actual audio recordings of historic NASA missions, or (back when we had a shuttle program) live audio from the current shuttle mission, and I'm sold.

  • SomaFM: Suburbs of GOA – Never sell the "Shake" feature of the TuneIn app short. After about half a dozen or so, you end up in some very strange neighborhoods (musically speaking) where you wouldn't dream of going on your own. That's how I found this station. Wasn't sure what a Goa was, or what the difference between Desi music and North Indian music was, but thankfully there is Wikipedia, so I now know more about the history of the Indian subcontinent that is really necessary to appreciate this station. It's hard to describe the music, except to say that if Alan Wilder were to write music for Indian takeout restaurants, it would probably sound a lot like this. It's definitely rhythmic, with some nice synthetic and vocal atmospheres, but lacking the crass "Unnnn-Tsss" that normally makes me grind my teeth in annoyance.

  • DCSoundstream – Like New Age, Jazz is another of those generic labels where a lot of instrumental music gets filed. The only difference is, when a jazz musician uses wind-chimes in a song, there is a plan involved, or at least a damned good reason. This particular station generally focuses on current fusion jazz, which is one of my favorite forms. I've found a lot of music here that I didn't know about like Joe Zawinul and Alex Machacek, along with old favorites like Alan Holdsworth and Al DiMeola.

  • Coffee and the Muse – Everything from light jazz, to new age, to light classical. The station is actually funded by the sale of fresh coffee beans you can order of their website, when you download your daily crossword puzzle. Absolutely brilliant marketing, and great music. It's almost like a virtual coffee shop in this regard, only without the hot soccer moms and pretentious art student chicks in cats-eye glasses and knit caps trying to read you poems about the first guy that ever tried to feel them up.

Work / Programming

There's a definite mindset you need to be in for programming, and music is critical to getting a rhythm down. Let's face it, you'll go postal (or at best destroy a couple of keyboards and/or monitors) trying to find that one elusive bug or logic error if you don't have something feeding your happiness quotient. I often find myself shaking my fist and muttering gibberish at the ceiling like a neglected SIM if I try to program for too long without appropriate tunage playing. Lyrics are okay, but familiar songs generally lead me to playing air keyboard or singing along when I should be working, which really annoys the rest of the engineering bay. Therefore, I tend to gravitate more towards the progressive rock or metal genres, as there is always new, unexplored material to be had here.

  • Morow.FM – Europe, particularly the Scandinavian nations are light years ahead of us musically (and sexually ... but that's a different blog post). I'm sure this is Obama's fault and directly related to cutting the funding for NPR and other things cultural. This station, out of France no less, focuses mainly on the more modern end of the prog spectrum (Dream Theater et al) and the European prog metal (why don't we have more prog metal in the states?), but they do occasionally dip back into the well. So far, this is my favorite of all of the prog stations.

  • Aural Moon – Leans more towards the classical end of the prog rock spectrum. Not that there's anything wrong with that music, but one can only take about three hours of Marillion's endless wailing and Jethro Tull's 16th century brand of rock music without really craving just one good power chord. A lot of what they play is like being at a renaissance fair, only without hot chicks in corsets serving beer and stew, in which case, what's the point.

  • RadioIO Progressive – I was initially disappointed, having selected much of my listening habits by geographic region, that this station does not, in fact, broadcast from one of the moons of Jupiter, but still, it makes for good listening. Mostly 60's and 70's prog once again. Similar to Aural Moon, but with a slightly more diverse playlist that plays around in the fringes of mainstream music from the era as well.

  • Prog Rock and Metal Radio (PRM) – Will Mangold puts this one out, the station is similar to Morow, but features more of the straight up heavier prog with a large selection of stuff I've never heard of, and this is my sweet spot for music, so if you can get a few past me, you're doing pretty good and I tip my proverbial cap to you.

Around the House

If I'm not cooking or feeding the baby, "around the house" for me, these days anyway, is putting up walls, spackling, or painting down in Studio B. You know, sweaty, manual labor stuff. Therefore the order of the day is good old rock and roll, preferably stuff that I've never heard and isn't already in my MP3 collection (which is, shall we say, extensive). Therefore these stations offer a more unconventional mix of great rock that you are either not familiar with, or haven't heard in a while.
  • The Legacy – Love these guys. The station features classic rock, but the deep cuts, or album rock for those of you who were around in the early days of FM. Usually the kind of stuff I am notorious for liking better than the so-called "hit singles," much to the annoyance of my musician friends who often, but not always, regard the tracks as the "leftover fluff" they threw on just to take up space. Sure you've heard of Kansas, and you know the hits, but how many of you are familiar with “End of the Age” from the Drastic Measures album. That's what we're talking about here.

  • PEARadio – Not sure if it's "Pea" radio or "Pear" adio, or what fruits and vegetables have to do with music, but I'll just go with the marketing flow on this one and assume they had a vision and a reason for the name. The station bills itself as “eclectic.” Also not sure what that means, exactly, but you get a huge mix of music covering about 80 years and spanning blues, rock, folk, country, and everything in between covering both the hits and the more obscure stuff. It's great if you don't know what you want to listen to, but the biggest selling point is that you can listen to this station for days without hearing a repeat.

  • 1FM: 80's Euro – Okay, back in the 80's I was all about hair metal, blues, and towards the end of the decade, jazz fusion. I wrote off a lot of this stuff as cheap pop back then (even though I was an under-utilized synth player in a couple of bands), plus considering the circles I ran in in high school, admitting you really liked the Fixx would probably get you beaten up and thrown in a locker by your friends (instead of by the cheerleader squad). Lately, however, I have relented lately and admitting that a lot of it is really good. This is the Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, Tears for Fears stuff that was huge, along with stuff that was bigger over in Europe, but maybe not as popular in the states, like the upbeat part of Spandau Ballet's catalog.

Party Time / Any Time

These stations represent the best of good ol' rock and roll and go well in just about any situation.
  • Third Rock Radio – Another of my favorite stations. NASA really knows how to throw a party, it turns out. The station features mostly upbeat rock and powerpop and is equally divided between hits and indie stuff you've never heard before. Absolutely perfect if you're throwing a party or cookout for a group for friends who include both mundanes and music snobs. Plus, for every four hours you listen, you get about 5% smarter.

  • Planet Rock – Straight up hard rock stuff from London covered on both terrestrial and satellite over there. Pretty conventional with a few deeper cuts thrown in. Best part of this station are the array of veteran performers turned disc jockey they feature. I've heard everyone from Alice Cooper, to Rick Wakeman, to Tony Iommi, to Joe Elliot, to Fish manning the boards at one time or another.

  • Leeds Indie Radio – For those of you who crave new music, this is an excellent station that is sure to fill your needs. The station is completely dedicated to unsigned artists in the northern metropolitan area of England, and features a lot of blue-collar punk-influenced powerpop, but usually very high-energy stuff. You know, someone needs to do this for Indianapolis.

Chilling Out

Music from the softer side, perfect for sitting around in a kid-free environment, maybe drinking some wine with your main squeeze … I'll leave the rest up to your imaginations.
  • Smooth Jazz Tampa Bay – Started by a guy from Tampa Bay who, apparently, had way too big of a collection of contemporary Jazz music. Mostly the fare you would expect, George Benson, Braxton Brothers, Diana Krall. Sometimes they surprise you though by throwing in a Peter Gabriel track, however. I'm not a huge fan of “smooth jazz,” and along with electronica/club music, there's way too much of it in Internet radio, but this is pretty smart stuff.

  • Mostly Bop – Bebop is like a good, cheap white wine that goes with everything or does just fine on its own. There are a number of stations covering the genre, but for some reason they keep disappearing, so I don't feel good about recommending them. These guys mix up traditional bebop with more modern “hard bop” and “cool jazz.” If you can't tell the difference, don't worry, the lines are pretty blurry, and it's all good.

Sleeping

Going to sleep is usually something of a challenge for me. I have one of those brains that runs about 200 miles per hour as soon as the lights go out, usually scheming, planning, designing, or other random nonsense. Therefore, I like the soothing, picturesque stuff as I drift off to nevernever land, as it were.
  • Online Chinese Classical – This isn't the pseudo whiny pop stuff you are used to hearing in Chinese restaurants, it's the old koto and flute stuff you get in old Chinese movies. You'd be surprised. It also makes for great dinner atmosphere (well, unless you're serving Italian or something) and is very atmospheric stuff for just sitting around, since there's no toe-tapping or humming required.

  • Sky.FM: Movie Soundtracks – Always good, unless you've seen the movie and recognize the music. Then you've got that stuck in your head. Fortunately they play a lot of the more obscure stuff as well. Living proof that Bernard Hermann is better than John Williams, though it is important that you turn the sleep timer off, since you don't really want the shower scene from Psycho to play as background music to your otherwise pleasant dream.


Previous Post:
Where My Ears Wander – Part 1: Underground/Community Radio
Next Post:
Show #108: Nick Rapley


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