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Having a bit of a music tech tester week here on stranded, prompted by some new products releasing apps or irish services in the past little while so here’s a round up of the newbies.

Having been bereft of Spotify in the Irish market it’s nice to see a couple of new music streaming services being announced for Ireland, namely eircom’s music hub and We7.

eircom’s offering is innovative in that it’s the first Irish ISP to offer free streaming to its customers (or you can pay for the service if you’re not a broadband customer), plus it offers cheaper downloads than iTunes at 32c a track. In fairness to them the overall design of the service is good; a nice player on a simple site which is very easy to navigate, to find, play and save tunes to playlists.  The big down side is the database however. They might be pointing to their 4million tracks, and their deals with multiple record labels, but once you move out of x-factor /top 40 territory it’s hard to find music you want to listen to.  I’m not sure where the database comes from but it seems unusually skewed toward pop, country, world music and americana. They began with a very poor selection of irish artists before christmas but although that does seem to be slowly changing the selection of contemporary irish acts is staggeringly bad. A glaring omission, for example, is Mercury and Choice Prize nominee Villagers which is nowhere to be found, and many irish acts have a patchy album list on the music hub which doesn’t seem to have all of their albums on hand.

Interestingly, for a UK based service, We7 has gone to much greater lengths to get a contemporary irish database going, with lots of newer acts represented on the site. They cleverly asked Nialler9 to put together a top 50 irish acts of 2010 playlist for the site which he’s published today. We7 seems to play really smoothly and has a nice “favourite” feature where you can “heart” a track and send it directly to your favourites playlist to collect them up.  The free version works by having occasional ads pop up on the audio, which are less annoying than you’d think, but you can turn this off by paying for your subscription.

We7 is linked in to both facebook and lastfm, the being another music service that streams free music. I’ve been using lastfm for years but it’s been going through a lot of changes as it responds to licensing laws. If you want to play tracks on demand it’s essentially a subscription service, albeit a low cost one, but artists can choose to make full tracks available for listening for free so the artists are very much in control of their listings (not sure how that works on eircom or we7).

What I love about it lastfm though is that it tracks all your itunes plays, and based on that info, makes pretty accurate recommendations for new music you might like. It’s also a great resource for artist info- with biogs, discographies, gigs etc all available as you’re playing a song either on the site or via your itunes.  Very handy when you’ve been given a cd with tracks by artists you don’t know a whole lot about.  Interestingly Lastfm has a partnership with We7 whereby any plays you make on We7 are linked into your lastfm account to help inform their recommendations to you, so I wonder if they’re going to start using We7 as a route to providing their audio content, rather than hosting it themselves.

Of course a big new player that’s emerged in the last year is Soundcloud which allows users to upload and share music. It has special deals with some record labels, like Domino, resulting in new releases often being previewed on the site, and it allows artists to use the site to upload their music either to stream (and insert a “buy track” link to itunes) to users or to make it free to download. A huge bonus with soundcloud is that it makes the tracks and playlists easy to share so you can embed them in blogs, link them to facebook and so on making it a highly visible application.  Soundcloud has a great iphone app so you can play music straight through your phone or docking station, and a great new desktop app for mac, which allows you to search for tracks, play them or create playlists through a really simple interface. Total winner so long as the content keeps up.

Not to be outdone, however, the major labels are getting in on the act with Sony launching a new music streaming service called Qriocity (what a name) at Midem this week, as reported by Jim Carroll on OTR. As you can see from the comment thread there’s not much belief in this particular option, but only time will tell.

So a plethora of options, over and above YouTube, for accessing free, legal music online then, though I’m still wishing Spotify was available here.  Before I sign off one great app that’s been launched this week is irish app Breaking Tunes. Only available on iphone for now (android to follow if they can get the funds) it’s an extension of the Breaking Tunes website which First Music Contact (FMC) run, and has been made possible through last years excellent Cultural Technology Grant Scheme. Irish artists can create a profile on Breaking Tunes and then the app displays all of the artists registered, plays their music, shows images of them and lists their upcoming gigs (providing they’ve entered them on the site). It’s really easy to search by genre or county, and the gig listing service has a handy little option that shows you gigs happening near you on that particular day.  A whizz of a thing, if irish artists register for the site (free) in their droves and keep their listings up to date it’ll be invaluable for music lovers, both in ireland and visitors that want to get their gig on during their trip.

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If you want to get a great online guide to what's on in Sligo then head over to Sligo Events or if Music is your bag head to Sligo Music

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