Le Soixante et Un
When people ask me where I find out about new music, I've always referred them to "XMU", the unsigned/indie channel on XM satellite radio.
I think I'm going to have to change my standard response. A couple of ex-Electronic Arts guys have created TheSixtyOne, an odd but well-conceived (and, more importantly, free) online music site. Artists upload their songs, and listeners can rate them by "bumping" songs that they enjoy. Higher-ranked songs make it onto the "Playlist of Democracy", where they get exposure to thousands of new listeners.
Internet music sites for unknown artists are nothing new or special, so here’s the hook: Listeners can gain experience and level up. You can earn points by listening to new and underrated music in "The Rack", and then spend those points to bump songs. From then on, you’ll get points every time someone else bumps the same song. The less total bumps a song has, the more it costs to bump it, so there is a bit of risk involved. However, if you get in early on a popular song, you can make a ton of points from your initial investment.
As you gain points, you advance to the next level, which gives you the ability to bump multiple times per song. Eventually, higher levels will give you other perks (built-in games and such), but the site is still in beta testing, so a lot of the upcoming features are still on the drawing board.
Since all songs are artist-uploaded, and since anyone can make an artist account, you do get a fair mix of crap. However, there’s a decent number of underground and indie bands that have taken up residence on the site – I’ve already heard My Morning Jacket and The Good Wolves on the site, two bands that are fairly popular on the college music scene. Fortunately, the "Never play this song again" button is always within easy reach, so you can keep the "badly-played guitar recorded in the bathroom" listening to a minimum.
I’ve already discovered quite a few artists through the site that I’ll probably start following. A new favorite is The Callen Sisters, whose hauntingly beautiful album I’m probably going to have to pick up very soon. Most artists on the site have links to their songs on the Amazon Music Store (DRM-free MP3’s – hooray!).
I definitely recommend TheSixtyOne to anyone who likes checking out new music. Oh, and did I mention that another good way to get points is through new listener referrals? When you sign up, be sure to put "WhiteHowler" in the referral box. I’ll try to throw back some of those extra points by bumping your favorite songs.