Finetune is one of the increasing number of sites that lets you hear songs you don't own, for free. It's got about 2 million songs from all four major labels and many indies. How does it stay out of the legal crosshairs of the recording industry? By restricting you to building playlists with a minimum length of 45 songs (although there's an "I'm Lazy" button that fills in a partially completed playlist with similar selections--mostly songs from the artists you've already picked). The playlists can have no more than three songs from the same artist, you can't have the same song on two playlists, and they play in random order.
I signed up for Finetune back in 2007 when it was relatively new, but hardly ever used it. That's because there are now far less restrictive (but legal) ways to hear songs on demand, including Last.fm (owned by CBS, which also owns CNET) and Imeem, as well as quasi-legal sites like Songerize. On these sites, you just run a search for the song you want to hear, and if it's available, you can play it right then and there. Simple.
It had been so long since I checked out Finetune, I scratched my head when I received an e-mail in my in-box this morning imploring me to check out its new iPhone application. (It's not actually new, but went live in October.) If you don't have an account, the iPhone version resembles Pandora--you pick a favorite artist, and it constructs a playlist based around songs from that artist and other songs it thinks you'd like. Nothing particularly innovative there.
But the magic happens when you log on to the Web site and create a custom playlist. Then, when you log on to Finetune on your iPhone, it's there for you. The playback order is still randomized, and the same restrictions apply. But overall, it's a great way to create playlists from lots of music that you don't own, or that you might own but have never gotten around to ripping. I particularly found the "related artists" to be useful--it's very helpful if you want to explore a particular genre or era of music that you never got around to collecting.
For example...this morning, I started with some '80s music that's in or around the edges of goth--stuff like Love and Rockets (owned and ripped), Siouxsie (ditto), Sisters of Mercy (owned and ripped but not on my iPhone because of space constraints), Bauhaus (can't find the LPs and refuse to buy them on CD), Dead Can Dance (ooh, forgot about them). That led me into all this '80s and '90s psychedelia that I've often heard or borrowed but never owned or ripped, like Primal Scream, Lush, Swervedriver, The Verve, Mojave 3, Spacemen 3 (which reminded me that there's a new Spiritualized album out that I haven't heard), which somehow led me into Galaxie 500 and Luna....You get the idea. And now I've got a really cool playlist for the next few times I take a drive, and I might get some album buying ideas for the next time I'm at Amoeba Records.