The Playlist: Net Radio Made Easy

Innovation: You just can't stop it. Sure, the record industry can kick and scream and drag its feet, but eventually it will have to come around on this Internet thing.

Thankfully, the technology industry is all about innovation. Napster gets shut down? Fine, let's try MP3.com. That won't work, either? Okay, how about a distributed peer-to-peer network? Oh. Wow, you really didn't like that one. Hmm... how about... well, how about Mercora?

Legal Music Sharing

Mercora IMRadio lets you share your music with friends and other people on the network by Webcasting a stream of music. The service boasts 25,000 to 30,000 channels of streaming music at any given time, hosted by Mercora users.

You can use Mercora in a number of interesting ways. The easiest is to add a few friends (in the same way you'd add friends in an instant messaging client) and browse through their music collections. A "Similar" button can help you find new friends by comparing your music library to those of other Mercora users.

I'm "edahl" on Mercora, by the way. Feel free to add me to your list if you decide to try it out.

Alternatively, you can search the Mercora network for songs currently being Webcast. That's a cool feature, but it's far from perfect. With fewer than 30,000 users logged on at any given time, you're obviously going to get better results searching for The Beatles or U2 than any of the random indie stuff I often listen to. Still, you can usually find something interesting playing at any moment.

If you find a collection or a Webcast you particularly like, you can record it and play it back later. You can't save those recordings indefinitely, but you can use the record function to time-shift good Webcasts much as you would use a TiVo to record your favorite TV shows. In the free 30-day trial of Mercora, you get a small amount of storage for time-shifting. Bump up to the Premier subscription ($47.88 per year, or $5 per month for a month-to-month subscription), and you'll have 20 hours of space.

Mercora lets you browse the music collections of friends and DJ your own Web-based radio station by queuing up tracks in IMDJ.
Mercora lets you browse the music collections of friends and DJ your own Web-based radio station by queuing up tracks in IMDJ.
Premium subscribers also get access to Mercora's IMDJ, which gives you a lot more control over which songs you're Webcasting. Normally, Mercora starts streaming something from your collection the moment you log on. (As I write this, it's decided to play a Radiohead track.) But with IMDJ, you can queue up as many songs as you want and program up to five channels in any way you like.

Pay the Artists

So yeah, Mercora seems pretty cool--which, if you're like me, makes you wonder why the Recording Industry Association of America hasn't shut the service down already. But, as it turns out, Mercora is perfectly legal. Part of your user subscription fee goes to pay artists the royalties they're entitled to for noninteractive Webcasts of their songs. And however you feel about record labels, I think we can all agree that getting artists paid is a good thing.

I alluded to some of Mercora's limitations earlier. Even with the IMDJ feature, you can't simply set up a playlist that just repeats one album or one song over and over. In fact, there are limits placed on how many songs from one artist you can play in a certain time period. Those limits are defined by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's restrictions on noninteractive Webcasts, and Mercora enforces those rules. Queue up songs that would violate them and Mercora will simply fill in other tracks until the time limit passes.

In Heavy Rotation

Chi City Hip Hop: Kanye West single-handedly made last year a good one for Chicago hip hop, and this year Common is taking things to the next level. Common's new disc Be is already being anointed a classic. It's more than worth a look.

Eric Dahl knows you didn't think he was just an indie rock geek. To comment or ask a question, send him an e-mail.
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