Thanks to my mom, I just became acquainted with the free music service Pandora. For the uninitiated, Pandora asks you for an artist, album or track that you like, and then creates a custom virtual radio channel playing songs that are similar to it.
The thing is, Pandora's algorithm for determining similarity is good. Scary good. I haven't devoted much energy to familiarizing myself with the current crop of musicians in a while -- I listend almost exclusively to classical music on my car radio -- and it takes quite a bit for a group to penetrate my consiousness, let alone make my playlist. So, musically, I tend to listen to the same albums over and over.
Pandora saves me from the rut. For instance, one of my favorite CCM groups is Casting Crowns (and even here, the only album I had was Lifesong). So I gave Pandora "Casting Crowns", and it promptly served up tracks I hadn't heard before from my other favorite artists (Newsboys, Mercy Me) . . . and then proceeded to play the work of artists I hadn't even heard of and yet were perfectly pitched to my tastes, ie. not Creed, but not Amy Grant either (Chris Tomlin, Reuben Morgan). And it isn't repetitive: I've stopped and started the application several times and always hear a new set.
Similarly, my "Taylor Swift" channel played Carrie Underwood and introduced me to the group Boys Like Girls.
Pandora is available not only on a PC but on most smartphones, even the Pre. It plays happily in the background while you use other apps, pausing only for telephone calls. I may have to get myself a quality FM transmitter to replace the $10 one I bought a few years ago.
What a wondrous age in which we live!