by Nick Starr

If you find yourself spending a lot of time working or playing on the computer and enjoy listening to music while doing so, an internet radio service may be for you. Two of the more popular choices these days are Pandora Radio and Last.fm. Both sites let you listen to the music that you most want to hear. All you need to do is provide a user name and a valid email address.

Pandora Radio is owned by Pandora Media Inc. and is part of The Music Genome Project (this could be an entire article itself). With Pandora’s free service users are able to create up to one hundred stations, using either an artist or song title. Users have forty hours of free streaming a month. They also have the ability to customize their stations, which is done by liking or disliking a song by giving a thumbs up or thumbs down. If a user likes a song it is likely to be played more often on that station.

On the other hand, if a user dislikes a song it will not be played on that station again, and if you dislike two songs by a single artist or group, that artist or group will not appear on that station again, unless they have been given prior thumbs up. People using this service also have options to add variety to a station or to not have a certain song played for a month. Be forewarned: if you dislike a song it will count as one of your skips (users can skip six songs per station per hour, but cannot skip more than a total of twelve in twenty-four hours). Of course there is an upgrade available. For just .99 cents a month you can purchase Pandora One which allows unlimited listening time, no advertisements, and more skips.

Last.fm is owned by CBS Interactive. Like Pandora, users can create stations with artist names. However, here you can also create stations by typing in a specific genre of music. Your free service can be enhanced by downloading "The Scrobbler," a desktop application that replaces the internet browser player. Once you have completed this download, if it is still not enough for you, there is the option to upgrade your service. For $3.00 a month users can get uninterrupted radio listening and ad-free browsing and streaming. The site has some extra features that are both great—like the ability for unsigned bands to promote their music—and unnecessary (a slide show). The biggest plus of this service is its ability to be used outside of the United States, unlike its competitor.

Both sites have many pros—great sources for finding music you have yet to discover—and cons—restrictions because of licensing agreements—in common. However at the end of the day whether it is the seemingly easier customization ability, getting more music from the specific artist you want, or more surprises—for example, a Johnny Cash track on Deftones radio—this writer has found enough favorable to give Pandora Radio the nod.

Which do you prefer? Do you have a third internet radio provider that you'd recommend? Sign In and share your thoughts below!

© Nick Starr, 2010