Now that Songbird has abandoned Linux, where will we turn for a browser-based music fix? Not to worry, you can still find plenty of add-ons and extensions for Firefox and Chrome to turn them into excellent tools for finding and listening to music.
Nothing makes the work day breeze by a bit faster than some good tunes. If you’re already spending most of your working hours in front of the computer, why not make your browser do double-duty and use it to make your ears happy? Firefox and Google Chrome (or Chromium) have quite a few extensions for the music lover.
My first suggestion for music discovery would be the Firefox-based Songbird, but that’s not so much an option. Sadly, Songbird has given Linux users the bird so it’s back to scouring the Tubes for suitable plugins for Firefox and Chrome. Luckily you can find quite a few good tools to turn your browser into a music powerhouse.
Use Last.fm with Fire.fm
One of the best sites online to listen to old favorites and find new tunes is Last.fm. You can use the browser-based player or one of the dedicated players, but I like the Fire.fm add-on for Firefox.
Fire.fm basically brings all the functionality of Last.fm dedicated clients right into Firefox. You can control everything via an extra toolbar, with no need for any extra software. Love tracks, ban them, create custom stations, etc. It does take up a bit of space, so if you’re working on a netbook that extra few pixels may be more than you want to cede to the Fire.fm client. If so, go into the Fire.fm preferences and look for the Appearances tab. You can switch from the toolbar to putting the buttons in the Status bar instead.
While playing any given song, you can click on the song or artist to be taken to the Last.fm page for the track or artist. Note that this will take you away from the current page, so you might want to add a new tab before using the feature.
Ever find a song on YouTube you just can’t live without? Try out YouTube MP3. Just what it sounds like, YouTube MP3 converts a YouTube video to a 128 kBit/s MP3 or better. I don’t recommend this as a way to avoid buying music, but it’s a good tool to have handy for tracks that you can’t find for purchase. For instance, live performances on YouTube that aren’t on album somewhere.
When you add the YouTube MP3 add-on, it will add a button to the YouTube interface to allow you to create an MP3 out of any of the videos. The conversion service is online, it copies the audio to an MP3 and then provides a download.
Obsessive about bands? Want all the trivia on your favorite group? FindThatBand gives a quick and easy way to search multiple sites for information about any band. It searches Amazon, Last.fm, Pandora, The Hype Machine, and a number of other sites.
Just install the extension and then highlight any band name and use the context menu to choose the service to search. You’ll be competing with Casey Kasem for music trivia in no time.
NPR for Chrome
If news and classical music are more your speed, then you might want to scope out the NPR extension for Chrome. It allows you to listen to NPR news and music, as well as check out the latest headlines.
Note that this extension, and some of the others, only seem to work well with Google Chrome. With Chromium, the streams just keep showing “loading” and don’t ever start playing.
Another handy Chrome extension is the Jamendo Radio utility. Jamendo hosts Creative Commons licensed music, so everything you hear should be available for download. It’s a pretty straight-forward little app. It puts a button on your Chrome toolbar that you can use to select Jamendo stations and listen to those channels.
If you’re ready to explore the vasty Web to find all sorts of new music, the Twones Music Bar is your friend.
Twones doesn’t maintain a music library, it maintains a catalog of all those sites that have collections and helps you comb through the sites to find music you like. You can also share music you find via Facebook and Twitter, and scrobble your tracks to Last.fm. If you’re ready to get really random with music, this is a fun extension to have. It installs a checkered button in the Chrome taskbar so you can navigate the Twones catalog.
Sites to Groove To
While not browser-specific or add-ons, I thought it’d be good to mention some of the better sites for music online. You can’t swing a cat without hitting a music blog or music discovery site online, but some are better and have more staying power than others.
Grooveshark is a site that lets you search for and listen to free music online. You might not be able to find every song by every artist, but you should be able to find a pretty robust variety. I was able to find everything from L7 to the Muppets, Miles Davis to Robyn Hitchcock.
For music that’s really off the beaten path, try The Sixty One, a music exploration site that features all sorts of interesting tunes.
If you want music off the beaten path under a Creative Commons license, check out Magnatune. Magnatune is a record label with the motto “We Are Not Evil,” and they live up to the motto. Magnatune gives its subscribers all you can eat downloads and streaming for only $15 a month, but you can also stream albums and songs off Magnatune for free if you don’t mind an announcement with each track.
Finally, be sure to check out The Hype Machine. The Hype Machine tracks thousands of music blogs and is a great site for tracking popular and obscure music.
I also wanted to recommend FoxyTunes, but it seems that the extension doesn’t play well with Linux — or at least Ubuntu 10.04, which is what I was using while writing this. FoxyTunes gave me an error when trying to find the supported players, with a link back to a woefully out of date FAQ that only addressed Fedora Core 5 and Fedora Core 3. I’ve tested FoxyTunes in Mac OS X with Firefox and it works fine, but I can’t recommend it for Linux users at this time.
Have a recommendation for your favorite music site or extension? Share it in the comments! There’s always room for more when it comes to good music.
Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier
is a freelance writer and editor with more than 10 years covering IT. Formerly the openSUSE Community Manager for Novell, Brockmeier has written for Linux Magazine, Sys Admin, Linux Pro Magazine, IBM developerWorks, Linux.com, CIO.com, Linux Weekly News, ZDNet, and many other publications. You can reach Zonker at
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