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4 little-known streaming music services you should try right now

Believe it or not, Pandora and Spotify aren't the Internet's only music sources. Like indie radio stations, these smaller services fly under the radar -- but often deliver something truly special.

Limiting yourself to a handful of major music services is like eating only at chain restaurants: You'll get a good meal, sure, but you'll be missing out on all the little cafes that might be serving up amazing alternatives.

Indeed, it's easy to stick with the likes of Pandora and Spotify, both of which are great at what they do. But consider expanding your streaming-music horizons a bit. There are lots of lesser-known services -- nearly all of them free -- that cater to different tastes.

8tracks

Price: Free

Mobile app: Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Windows Phone

Works in mobile browsers: Yes

Remember Songza? The beloved streaming service Google bought and then shuttered? 8tracks might be the next best thing, but with a decidedly indie bent. You choose your preferred music genre and then a particular artist or mood; the site produces any number of DJ- and user-created playlists that match.

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8tracks offers a huge variety of indie music, all of it curated into mood- and artist-specific playlists.

Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

It's a little confusing in spots, because a playlist might have tags indicating a particular artist without actually having any songs from that artist. But the idea is to deliver the kind of music you're likely to like, if not the specific tracks or bands.

You also don't get to see a track list, so you'll have to just sit back and (hopefully) enjoy the playlist ride. You don't have to sign up for an account, but doing so lets you build collections for future listening.

8tracks service supports every platform known to man, and even offers plug-ins for Joomla and WordPress.

Focusmusic.fm

Price: Free

Mobile app: No

Works in mobile browsers: Yes

focusmusic.jpg

An interface that's simple and relaxing, much like Focusmusic.fm itself.

Focusmusic.fm/Screenshot by Nick Hide/CNET

True to its name, Focusmusic.fm does one thing and one thing only: play music designed to help you focus. Call it "music to work by," the default being a steady stream of mostly non-vocal, mostly electronic (think trance) background audio. It's free, and I find myself using it more and more.

The service operates on the simplest possible interface: one large play/pause button and two skip-track arrows. If you want to know the name of the track you're hearing, click the musical note icon.

If you find the music selection a little too up-tempo, there's a white-noise alternative: Click the little headphone icon and choose Rain. Other musical genres recently added are Downtempo and Classical.

Hype Machine

Price: Free

Mobile App: Android, iOS

Works in mobile browsers: Yes

If you like to discover new music by reading blogs and reviews, but realize you're barely scratching the surface of what's out there, head to Hype Machine. It's an aggregator, plain and simple, one that catalogs the most popular songs from blogs around the world.

Each entry includes the number of blogs that mentioned the track and links to various download sources, if available. But you can stream any of the songs just by clicking play, and if you register for an account, you can mark favorites and build your own playlists.

Hype Machine works in mobile browsers, but also has standalone apps for both Android and iOS.

Noon Pacific

Price: Free

Mobile app: Android, iOS

Works in mobile browsers: Yes

Remember mixtapes? Not the hassles of producing your own, but the joy of receiving one from someone else. You can experience that same joy at Noon Pacific, which delivers a new 10-song "mixtape" via email every week. Think of it as a curated version of Hype Machine, with songs handpicked from "the best music blogs," according to curator Clark Dinnison.

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Noon Pacific

Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

Now years into its existence, Noon Pacific has over 200 playlists you can stream. While listening to any track, you can click to share it on Facebook or Twitter or buy it from Amazon.

Curiously, however, the web and app interfaces don't directly connect you to 8tracks.com, which is where the playlists are hosted. But that's where you have to go if you want to "like" or bookmark a playlist. Thus, you might be better off simply heading to the 8tracks Noon Pacific page and working from there. Or, subscribe to the Noon Pacific mailing list: Each new playlist -- delivered Monday at, you guessed it, noon PT -- sends you to 8tracks.com.

Have you found other music services outside the mainstream? Tell us about them in the comments! In the meantime, be sure to check out CNET's Music Download and Streaming Directory.