It's pretty safe to say that until science develops a pill that quenches hunger and thirst and offers non-stop euphoria with no health risk or monetary cost, the internet is basically the best thing ever. Along with being a terrific megaphone for hyperbole, it also provides a number of avenues to follow for music information and access. And to top it all off, a number of them are almost entirely legal. Though this is certainly not a comprehensive list of what the web has to offer (that would be practically endless), these are some free music-related websites that I frequent:
AllMusic - This is by far the web's most comprehensive music site. It's pretty tough to find an artist they don't have a full discography for, and usually there's a lot more information than just that, including a number of individual song reviews.
Amazon - Okay, most of the stuff here isn't free, but as I've noted before, labels can be pretty generous with free music samplers. For instance, David Byrne's Luaka Bop label has a pretty solid sampler up for grabs right now.
The AV Club - A more straight-laced off-shoot of The Onion, The AV Club covers all things pop culture, so they've got plenty of music articles to go around, and they post a batch of new release reviews every Tuesday. Best of all, though, was last year's Popless project by Noel Murray, a year-long exploration of his music collection, which offered a slew of thoughtful essays and an even greater slew of musical discoveries.
Hype Machine - A shining beacon of music-giving light for all, Hype Machine compiles multitudes of songs posted on mp3 blogs all over the world, with easy searching and streaming. It's a great resource to discover artists, songs, and music websites that suit your fancy. (For example, it turned me onto the DC-based Vinyl District, which, along with posting mp3s, hosts ticket giveaways for local concerts.)
Imeem - A terrific service for streaming songs, it has such a vast selection that many tracks are lumped into full album streams. And to the possible annoyance to my regular readers, the songs are very easy to embed.
Last.fm - This is probably the most ingenious website of the bunch, utilizing a "Scrobbling device" that connects to iTunes and other media players to catalog your listening habits. From there, it compiles a list of music recommended for your tastes. Local concerts too, and the listings are quite thorough. Plus, there's also a personalized radio service.
Metacritic - Along the same lines as Rotten Tomatoes, except covering more ground (music, movies, TV, video games) and weeding out more of the critical chaff, Metacritic compiles new release reviews and assigns them a number grade based on the consensus, with special notification for highly acclaimed albums.
Pandora - Back to personalized radio service, this is pretty much a quickie version of last.fm's radio service, streaming an ongoing playlist of songs in the same vein as an artist or song that suits your mood.
Pitchfork - Love 'em or hate 'em, these guys have a pretty strong presence on today's music scene, with the ability to make or break an up-and-coming band. Certainly, it's rather bothersome when they seem a bit too eager to break, but their "Best New Music" categorization is usually spot-on and their year-end best-of lists of songs and albums are practically goldmines. Plus, many of their reviews offer a full album stream of the new release via lala.com (another great resource).
Rate Your Music - Up there with AllMusic in terms of comprehensiveness, this site takes sort of a Wikipedia approach (though with a lot less editing freedom) to providing artist and album information, letting users update entries. It's also a great way catalog your own music collection, rank albums, and write reviews. The user community also has a number of music and movie discussions, polls and games to take part in.
Rolling Stone - I have more complaints about Rolling Stone in its current state than compliments, but one thing they were smart about was getting their archival reviews posted online, as a hindsight glimpse into an album's reception is always interesting. They also yield some striking double-take moments, such as the opening line of their Blind Faith review, "The year 1969 has not been a very good one for rock and roll," proving that rock critics have always been overly cranky. But like Pitchfork, they too usually get their act together by the end of the year and put out solid best-of albums and songs lists.
Oh yeah, there's also MySpace, which I doubt I have to say much about, just that it's a great way to feel connected with your favorite bands and like many other sites on this list, offers ample music streaming. YouTube too, mainly for music videos, but the sound quality is often rather iffy. And of course, it's a good idea to still buy music. After all, money does make the world go round. At least until we get those pills.