Music is important. The right song at the right time can make a big difference, as Hollywood has shown us countless times. But soundtracks aren’t just for films – they work for life, too. Sitting down in front of the computer to work, like I’m doing right now, is an emotionally neutral experience. Music is what adds that human flavor, and it can make the difference between a bland, boring (or even sad) day, and a fun, energetic one. Songza is a free online service for streaming music that’s appropriate for the current time and circumstances, and it’s wonderfully effective. It’s also US-only, but don’t let that stop you – we’ll get to that in a moment.
Songza is far from the first music streaming service we’ve reviewed. We’ve previously looked at Grooveshark, shared tips about using Spotify more effectively, and looked at an add-on that lets you enjoy Pandora with no ads. But there’s something that makes Songza unique: Its ability to help you find not just “music you like,” but music that’s right for this very moment – music that works with whatever you’re trying to do.
Accessing Songza Globally
First, an important word on availability. There are few things more frustrating than reading a rave review about some service, only to discover you’re barred from using it due to your location. So, yes, Songza is geographically limited. But don’t let that stop you! I’m using the excellent UnoDNS to access it (and Hulu, and many other services) regardless of my location. You could also use a VPN to access Songza from anywhere. The bottom line here is that it’s easy and inexpensive (and if you happen to be reading this from the US, well, lucky you).
The Music Concierge
Like so many other streaming services, Songza lets you search for artists you like, or hunt for playlists. Yay – that’s nice, but not overly exciting. Where it shines is the unique Music Concierge feature, which is a concept I haven’t seen anywhere else:
Whereas other services just find music I like, or maybe music based on artists, Songza uses a time-based approach. As I access the site, it detects the current time and date (in my own location – geolocation isn’t an issue for this feature). I then get to pick one of five probable activities Songza could help me with right now. These change according to the day or week – for example, Songza tends to offer “cooking” as an activity on some evenings. I find the icons beautifully descriptive, and there’s always at least one activity that describes well what I’m trying to do. In this case, I’m going to click through to “Easing into the Day”:
This takes me into the second stage of the Concierge process, asking me to pick a genre. Again, the descriptions are succinct, but they work. Not just “Indie,” but “Warm & Wistful Indie.” The adjectives help. “Easy-going folk” sounds appealing to me right now, so let’s go with that:
Finally, Songza boils down my selections into one of three possible playlists, each with a nice handwritten description, and artist thumbnails. Let’s zoom in one one to get a closer look at the text:
You don’t have to read the whole description, of course. One of the few drawbacks of the Concierge interface is that the thumbnails are almost useless at this point: They’re tiny, and hovering the mouse over them yields no further information. Worse still, clicking on a thumbnail (perhaps in hope of artist information), just takes you to the station and starts playing. Annoying, but a minor point overall.
Once you find a station that seems nice, just click Play, and go back to whatever it is you were doing before. The right music will effortlessly fill the room (or your ear buds, as the case may be):
Described in detail, the Concierge process may seem lengthy; it really isn’t. It usually takes me about 15 seconds between the time I go on Songza and the first song starts to play – and it’s almost always a song that’s right for the moment.
There’s More to Songza
This isn’t an exhaustive review of Songza, because a part of the fun is about exploring the service on your own. As you can see above, you can navigate playlists – something I haven’t gone into at all.
It does, however, showcase Songza’s crowning feature – the Concierge. To me, that’s the real reason to use the service. That, and the lack of audio ads, make it better than Pandora, at least to me.