By Gamal Hennessy
I hear a lot of good music when I go out. I also hear quite a few suspect DJ’s, bartender iPods and other random forms of bad music in bars and lounges. This is not a recipe for a good time. To reverse this disturbing trend, I decided to start 2012 by going to see more up and coming live musicians play.
As well intentioned as this idea was, it created a big question: How would I find music I liked without wasting time seeing bands I had no interest in? There are thousands of good musicians who play in New York every year, but I’m like you, I don’t have a lot of time to sift through a lot of white noise. I started looking for ways to focus in on the bands that sounded good to me and avoid everything else.
Like any other problem in 2012, I tried to solve it with an app* or a website. My research has led me to a few contenders that each attempt to connect you to the music you want to hear. This is by no means an extensive survey, but hopefully it will help you find your way to a decent show or two.
Live Music Apps
Gigbeat: The best thing about this app is that it only finds the concerts of artists you want to hear. When you download the app, it scans all the music on your phone, compares it to a database of artists on tour, and then gives you the listings of every musician you listen to who is currently performing. It will also give you an alert to let you know when your artist is playing in your area and allow you to buy tickets to the show.
But the reliance on your music collection is also the worst part of the app. By definition, music discovery isn’t part of the experience because it will only tell you about artists you already know. Also, there is a lot of information on this app about shows you probably can’t go to. It’s all well and good to know that your favorite singer is playing in Seoul, Sydney and Tokyo this month, but if you live in Brooklyn that’s not really helpful. Gigbeat is good, but a function that can suggest similar local artists to the ones on your phone would bridge the gap to make this app completely amazing.
Gigbox: This app has several layers that make it a good source for shows. It focuses on your location and pulls upcoming performances. When you scroll down and find something you like, you can add the event directly to your calendar, share the event with your friends, buy tickets, read the bio of the artist and see videos of them from Youtube. You can also search for specific artists and venues, but this function didn’t work as well as the location search.
As a music discovery tool, Gigbox works well. For every artist in the database, it also cross references with similar artists and the ability to see and hear them before you go to the bar is key. Once upon a time people were willing to hang out in bars and listen to new bands hoping to find something special. But this is New York in 2012. Who has time to sit through 10 bad to semi average bands to find one good one?
JamBase: JamBase is unique because it has both a website and an app, although neither one is very appealing. The website will allow you to search for artists and shows around the world and once you find something you like you can buy tickets, add it to your calendar, buy their music via iTunes, read articles about the artist, join contests and a lot of other different things. The app is a stripped down version of this. You can still add the event to your calendar and get a map to the venue but I found the rest of the interface rather clunky and annoying to use.
The major downside of both aspects of JamBase is the lack of samples. There is a lot of information to wade through on this site and when I was done I didn’t feel like I was any closer to deciding on where I wanted to go. I would avoid this site and the app until they clean up the interface and provide more solid discovery aspects.
Last FM: A lot of the apps on this list are powered by Last.fm, which is surprising considering how unfriendly this app turns out to be. It has functions featured shows, recommended shows and local shows, but it looks like none of those functions work unless you pay for the last.fm service. I can’t tell you how much that service is or if it is worth it because I never checked. There are too many other free services out there to pay for a subscription. I guess that’s why Last.fm has to make money licensing its system to other apps.
Live Concert: This app allows you to import information from other music services (Soundkick and Last.fm) and then lets you search for shows in your area. As a stand-alone app, Live Concert is redundant. It offers the barest of information about the shows, no suggestions or samples that I saw and no ability to export the show information out of the app. It also crashes sometimes, so it’s probably best to skip this one altogether.
Live & Local: This app sponsored by MTV will access your Facebook music likes and then suggest local shows based on your preferences. It sounds good in theory, but the execution was very underwhelming compared to the other apps. It took me several tries to get it to work at all and when it did analyze my preferences it only gave me two shows compared to the dozens offered up by the other services. This service needs a lot more integration and functionality before it is useful as a live music source.
Reverbnation: This might be the best website for live music discovery. Once you create a profile, you can search by artist, genre, location and date range. As you browse through the results, you can hear samples, save shows to your profile, buy tickets and reach out directly to the artist through FB, Twitter or the Reverbnation social network. As a music discovery site, this has almost everything you need to plan weeks and weeks of live music.
Unfortunately, there is a downside. Reverbnation has an app, but it is for musicians, not for fans. You can get to this website on your phone, but the experience is much better on a computer.
Technology has made live music much more rare in New York nightlife, but it can also lead you directly to the live music you want to see. If you have another site or app that belongs on this list, let me know. I’m always looking for more info.
* All the apps listed here are available in the Android app store. They might be available for iPhone too, but I can’t confirm or deny that.