By day, Chauncey Canfield is a systems analyst for a federal contractor in Washington. But by night, he's a disk jockey on the Groove Palace, an Internet radio station of his favorite tunes that streams over the Live365 network.
Live365 (www.live365.com), a Web service that's sort of like a blog-hosting outfit for music fans, has thousands of amateur deejays such as Canfield who share their favorite tunes with the world.
And like traditional radio stations, those hosted on Live 365 allow listeners to tune in at no charge. For folks tired of what's in their iPod and at a loss for what new tunes to listen to, Live365 can be a blessing.
In part, that's because the stations cover just about every imaginable musical style. Canfield's specialty is a genre of electronic music called downtempo, a sort of funky cross between dance and jazz. Few cities could support a terrestrial radio station of this type, but the Internet lets him reach fans around the globe. In a good month, his four-year-old online radio station receives about 8,000 listener-hours.
Canfield pays Live365 $14.95 a month for his station, but that bill is usually trimmed to mere pennies because of a listener rewards program in which Live365 repays people who run popular stations.
And one nice perk of being a tastemaker is that he gets free music from musicians who hope he'll promote their stuff by putting it in the mix, which he updates every few weeks.
For their subscription fees, Live365 deejays get what amounts to a music locker -- the least expensive package, priced at $9.95 per month for 100 megabytes worth of storage, about 60 tracks. The most popular offering, priced at $24.95, triples that capacity. The service also dictates how many visitors -- from 25 to 100 -- can listen to a station at once.
The company also keeps track of how often a song is played and takes care of paying the royalties that eventually end up in the artists' pockets.
David Porter, business development manager for California-based Live365, said most listeners tune in during the workday. The service has about 3 million unique listeners each month, accounting for some 15 million hours of listening.
That number could go up if the company pulls off some deals in the works, including plans to make the music collections accessible on digital video recorders or downloadable to mobile devices such as cell phones.
For listeners, the only catch is the occasional commercial -- unless they upgrade to a $5.95-a-month VIP membership, which is further discounted for a long-term commitment.
With so many deejays sharing their favorite tunes, trying to find music that Live365 doesn't have feels like throwing rocks at the moon. In any case, I couldn't stump the site's search engine, which lets you search for artists and song titles as you try to find a good station.
After logging on to Live365, I spent a few hours listening to music from India, just for the heck of it. Looking for a good soundtrack to set the mood for Halloween? There are plenty of stations catering to the occasion. There is even a whole station with nothing but covers of Johnny Cash songs.
And if you like what you hear, click on the button next to the name of the song so you can buy it -- from Amazon.com, Apple's iTunes Online Music Store or MSN Music, for example.
But setting out to listen to music on Live365 can also be a bumpy road. Google and Apple's iTunes have been widely praised for having slick, intuitive, uncluttered interfaces, but that's not the case here. In the free version, the Live365 interface features a big ad and a bunch of buttons encouraging you to upgrade or adjust your account preferences.
Another mild frustration, an unavoidable part of the company's business model, is that sometimes when you stumble across what seems like a good station, there will be a notice that a station is "full" because it has reached its listener capacity for the time being.
Frustrating as that is, there are probably a few hundred other stations that will spark your interest. That can be great -- or overwhelming. But with a little patience, you can find some cool stuff like Canfield's Groove Palace, my new favorite radio station -- if that's what you call it.
In fact, if your computer has decent speakers and is close enough to the living room, the general lameness of terrestrial radio -- and the whole 'should-I-get-XM-or-Sirius?' debate -- becomes a conversation topic that fades into the background.