I've been having quite a lot of fun with the social-networked music scene via Last.fm. While I have made a few nice musical discoveries, the real selling point is really just seeing my listening habits plotted out weekly. It's strangely compelling and addictive. Around the same time that I started looking at these online discovery services, I read a couple articles at Pitchfork and The Guardian that mentioned some toys to take music discovery back to your own music collection.
I've been playing with MusicIP for a couple months now, and absolutely love it. Basically, it indexes your entire music collection, and compares each artist and song to its database where currently 20 million songs have been analyzed and 'fingerprinted.' After going through my MP3 collection (currently sitting at over 25,000 tracks), MusicIP makes connections between the songs and artists and can create custom playlists based on a song or group of songs that you select. There are sliders and options to fine-tune how varied you want the mix to be. Click on 'Send To' and it sends the playlist to whatever media player you're using. It's truly cool, and makes a real fresh way to discover music in your own collection. Test out the playground to see how the concept works.
Here's an example. Right-clicking on The Clash from the library, I can select Similar Artists just to see what kind of artist connections there are. Some are a obvious (T. Rex, Blondie, The Dead Milkmen), some not (Prince, Twisted Sister?!?). Overall, much more post-punk (Smiths, Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Echo and the Bunnymen) than their punk contemporaries (The Stranglers, The Damned, Sex Pistols, Ramones, etc are all missing). Also, no ska or reggae artists to reflect The Clash's Jamaican influences. Ok, so not perfect, but what does the actual playlist look like? I chose London Calling and a rather narrow mix to create a 10-track playlist of:
Visage - Pleasure Boys
New Order - Perfect Kiss
Siouxsie _ the Banshees - The Killing Jar
Rhythym Mission - King Blood
The Replacements - Achin' To Be
Berlin - Now It_s My Turn
David Bowie - Diamond Dogs
Power Station - Murderess
Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers - Roadrunner
The Clash - Spanish Bombs
Overall, not a bad list, but predictably more in the 80s groups that followed The Clash (not just because I have more of those in my collection- I have plenty of 70s punk). And no, I didn't even know that I had Twisted Sister in my collection.
There are a few other alternatives to MusicIP: Audiobaba and Echo Nest. I would have tested them, but Audiobaba never got through indexing my collection without crashing (MusicIP's two-pass process works really well in comparison), and Echo Nest isn't released yet.
Nowadays, instead of putting my whole collection on shuffle or manually picking out a playlist I'll let MusicIP do the hard work. Even if the results don't always fit what you'd expect, isn't that the point of rediscovering your own music collection?