Back in the dark ages before Internet access, staying on top of the coolest new music required some work. You could read about new bands in magazines and newsletters--the more obscure the better--but most music fans had a few people they trusted to be their personal music experts. Record store clerks, friends in bands, and people in the local art scene all competed to be up on the latest new sounds coming out of Austin or Detroit or Seattle, and the rest of us reaped the benefits of this competition.
Panel, a new Web site and associated $2.99 app for iPhone and iPod Touch, updates this old world of trusted experts for the new world of on-demand digital music. Created by Los Angeles record producer Darius Fong, Panel will enlist a new expert every couple of weeks to recommend two recent favorite albums. The iPhone app lets you stream these albums in their entirety or on a song-by-song basis, and provides information about the album and panelist (this information--but not the music--is also available on the Web site). If you want to buy it, the iPhone app has a link to iTunes, and the Web site links to both iTunes and Amazon's MP3 store. You can even share your recommendations via your Facebook update status or Twitter feed, allowing you to pretend that you discovered this obscure gem all by yourself.
Panel's first expert is Jason Hughes, the owner of one of my favorite Seattle record stores, Sonic Boom. Future panelists, according to the company, will include Justin Gage, who created the Aquarium Drunkard music blog and XM/Sirius radio show, producer and musician Matt Bayles, who used to be part of Seattle band Minus the Bear, and bronze sculptor Peter Harper, who also runs an online Musician of the Month contest from his Web site and happens to be Ben Harper's brother.