I hadn’t considered the dual meaning of the title of this post when I chose the topic earlier today. At first you might think that Slacker is descriptive of me, having gone a full 11 days since my last post here, and, well – you would be right.
But it’s also the name of a very cool web radio service that I just (re)discovered. Apparently I had signed up for it ages ago and dismissed it but an email from them alerting me to updates prompted me to give it another look, and I haven’t stopped listening in days.
I always have music on when I am working and being that I sit at at a PC nearly all day, I am a big fan of the variety of Internet radio. While it’s nice to choose choice cuts from my own collection, the randomness of a good radio station is really great at keeping me focused and energized. Music sets the mood for my work and having it just "there" and playing is a good thing.
I’ve been using various radio services since way back in the echo.com days (now defunct) with varying degrees of success. Jango and Meemix disappoint and my accounts languish unused. Pandora is great for finding new music but it can distracting when in work mode when I want things a bit more tightly controlled. I am sure there are others I’ve tried that were unremarkable enough to have completely escaped my memory.
Launch (now part of Yahoo) gets the majority of my listening time right now and the addition of the Unlimited service gives me on demand listening to a large catalog. But honestly Yahoo has let Launch stagnate, and since they are closing the doors on the Unlimited service any day now, I’ve been looking for replacements. Yahoo is steering folks toward Rhapsody which I used to love, but their radio functionality is poor, stations aren’t customizable at all, and I try to avoid Real stuff if I can.
So back to Slacker.
Upon logging in, I was faced with an attractive web based player. Standard playback options on the top, a tree view of stations to the left and a detail pane to the right. Nothing revolutionary but it looks clean and functional. I like that the whole player fits on the screen on my laptop at 1024×768 – scrolling would have likely been a deal breaker, or at least a major usability issue.
The ready made stations look plentiful and I browse through them. Ugh – it’s the standard Classic Rock, Southern Rock, Jazz, Blues, etc… genretization thing. I cringe. I know this probably works for most folks but I just hate how limiting genres are when it comes to music. I’ll admit that I’ll occasionally get into "moods" where this sort of thing works for a bit, but for a station to really grab my attention and have any extended playability, it needs to cross genres and be customizable.
And then I see it – a create station button.
My hope is renewed. I click and am given the opportunity to seed my station with my favorite artists. First test – I search for Gov’t Mule and they pop right up – Pass!! I click on a couple other favorites from the related list and add a couple of others before checking out some other options.
Still pretty standard stuff but so far so good. I click on Fine Tune and see more options to let me, um, Fine Tune my station even more.
Artist Discovery lets me adjust how far it strays from the artists I chose during the seed phase. Interesting option but very cool – will give me related artists and a varied station.
I then read that Popularity adjusts whether it plays just the hits or whether it delves into deep cuts. If you have read any of my BYOBO lists, you know that my faves tend to differ quite a bit from the normal hits and definitely lean more toward the obscure tracks. Now it’s getting interesting indeed.
OK – enough of the set up, let’s get on with the tuneage. I click play and get a Gov’t Mule track right off the bat. A couple of songs later, something cringe worthy comes on and I investigate the skip and ban buttons. Skip is self explanatory and with the free service are limited. I read about the ban option and find it is available for both song and artist – and are specific to the station that I am listening to at that time. I dig some more and find that making a song a favorite is also station specific.
I think I have to repeat that – the banning and favoriteing songs and artists is station specific. It may seem like a minor distinction to make but I have to admit I got a bit giddy thinking about it. This means that I can craft and tailor a station in extremely powerful ways. A song that is appropriate for one mood might be completely wrong for another and Slacker is the only service I am aware of that allows this level of customization. It’s something that has bothered me about Launch since I started using it.
There are two levels of service – the standard free option does limit the number of song skips you get per hour while the Premium level gives you even greater customization options and the ability to add songs to your library for on demand listening. They offer a 7 day trial to Premium but I have been sufficiently pleased with the free service for now.
They offer a portable device that plays your favorite stations but I don’t have much use for it so haven’t investigated it too deeply. They are giving one away though so if you want to help me win one, you can sign up at this link and give me an extra drawing in the big sweepstakes. <contest link went dead – sorry –Â you can sign up here> Wish me luck.
There is a desktop client available for download but I’ve been using the web client, mostly because of LastSlacker which is a third party script which adds last.fm scrobbling integration. I haven’t had any issues, crashes, etc in my use so far. No complaints about the sound quality either, it all sounds quite good through my Shure phones.
If you are a regular reader here at all, you know I’m a bit of a freak when it comes to music and can be a bit hard to please. So far though Slacker seems up to the task and I give it my hearty (unsolicited and unpaid) recommendation.
While my primary station will constantly be tweaked and adjusted as I listen, it’s off to a great start and is really quite enjoyable. Why not sign up for a free account and then give a listen to The Esoteric Thermos and let me know what you think. Even if my station isn’t quite to your liking, if you’re a music fan I think you’ll really enjoy the Slacker service.