There was a time in my life when I spent hours listening to the music streaming service Pandora. Whether I was working or studying, doing chores or hanging out with friends, it was my go-to resource for ambient background music. I extolled its virtues to the uninitiated. I found new artists to get excited about -- or, rather, artists that were new to me -- along with deeper cuts that I'd somehow missed from my favorite musicians.
Then came Spotify, which was -- and remains -- perfect for those occasions when I wanted to listen to, say, "Push It" right then and there, or hear the entire new Rihanna album in one sitting.
But then I was introduced to Songza, and everything changed.
Songza is free of those automated playlists that pick and choose at random songs that may "sound like" an artist or song, but often don't. There are no audible commercial interruptions -- ever. (There are ads displayed on the site, but these are easy to ignore, especially since the service is free.) What you'll get when you arrive at Songza's website is a "music concierge" tailored to suit your life at any given moment. If it's Wednesday afternoon, for example, you may get a sampling of occasions.
Once you've chosen say, "Working (No Lyrics)," you may be presented with "Blockbuster Film Scores," it'll give you three specially curated playlists to choose from, and then you're on your way to sonic heaven.
The specially curated playlists -- made by DJs, musicians, music critics, and musicologists -- are what set Songza apart from other streaming services (not to mention the absence of fees and audible advertisements). You can browse playlists for practically any occasion, mood, theme, or genre you can think of: "Early Texas Blues," featuring artists like Bessie Tucker and Blind Lemon Jefferson; "Dawson's Creek," featuring every song that appeared on the late-'90s teen soap opera; or one of my personal favorites, "60s French Pop." Planning a "formal dinner party"? "Breaking up" with your significant other? Songza provides you with several playlists that will suit your circumstances. Want to feel like you're "shopping at a vintage store" even when you're not? Ditto.
Like Pandora, Songza has a six-song skip limit, but in the many months I've spent combing through their playlists, I've only ever reached that limit once. Apparently, I'm not alone. "People have said to me, 'That's great, you don't have a skip limit,' " co-founder and COO Peter Asbill has said. "We do have a skip limit, but I guess if you're not reaching it, we're doing something right."
What Songza has eliminated is the seeming arbitrariness other streaming services are prone to in their song selections. Every song picked for a playlist actually belongs -- so if you decide to give "Cool Like Debbie Harry" a try (and you should, it's great), you can be confident that you'll get a ton of great songs that are indeed as slick as the Blondie frontwoman (or close, anyway). And you'll often find an excellent blend of the mainstream and the fringe, so you can enjoy your favorites and also discover music you may never have encountered otherwise.
When I mention Songza to friends and acquaintances, the typical reaction is "Huh?" The growing company has captured only a tiny fraction of the market thus far, which is still dominated by Pandora. But other sites, including Spotify, have begun copying its curation method. Meanwhile, the company just launched "Club Songza," an entirely ad-free service for 99 cents a week, which should help it expand even more as a business -- and, I hope, keep the regular site as is for the rest of us.