With Internet radio, obscurity is no longer a barrier.

Just about every rare cover by every unknown band, every alternate or live recording is somewhere on the internet, and they’re only getting easier to find, thanks to the new generation of online radio sites.

There are still, of course, the traditionalists—radio stations playable through your music players, be it iTunes, Winamp or Windows Media Player. Of note is RadioVerve (radioverve.com), which plays independent music from Indian bands.

But in the other corner, interesting variations on the theme are gaining popularity. Some are mashups of social networks and radio stations. Others offer on-demand music streamed to your computer, while others help you explore new music.

RadioVerve (radioverve.com) plays independent music from Indian bands

Last.fm is a trickier proposition. It is undoubtedly a social network first—the program ‘learns’ your music tastes, taking note of every song that you voted up/commented on, and bundles you together with a ‘musical neighbourhood’ of users with similar tastes. It begins to create your very own personalized radio station, using a system called ‘Audioscobbler’, generating it on the fly based on your listening habits. It also creates your own music charts, providing an admittedly cool look at the musical territory you cover.

You can’t, of course, choose the songs you want played directly—instead, last.fm does something interesting. ‘Pick your favourite song/artist’, it urges you—and let it take over as DJ. Behind the scenes, the complex algorithms creak into life, and it mixes and matches music recommended by other users with similar tastes. The results are often brilliant, and quite surprising—and only get better the more you use the service.

Last.fm does not feature ads in the music, and you can skip tracks as you please. It’s also downloadable as a separate application. Numerous add-ons for other players are also available—recommended is Foxytunes (http://www.foxytunes.com/), an add-on for Firefox that puts last.fm controls right in the browser screen, so music is never more than a click away.

Most ‘social music’ sites have reeled under copyright problems, and have had much of their functionality crippled by these legal difficulties. Last.fm itself had to remove much of its customization features.

An excellent service called Pandora (pandora.com), which lets you explore new music, based on the Music Genome Project (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_Genome_Project), a research initiative to describe music using a system of underlying ’genes’, is no longer available outside the US. A handy, but less extensive alternative is StumbleAudio, similar to popular web site discoverer Stumpleupon. Be warned though, it does have quite an indie bent, and may throw up quite obscure music.

Others are greyer still on the copyright front. Sites like Seeqpod.com, deezer.com and songza.com, dispense with all the social networking and stream on-demand tracks to your heart’s content. The song One Night Carnival by J-Pop band Kishidan, you say? Right on it.

There are, of course, hundreds of other sites and stations in various flavours and types. Searching and filtering for music is only going to get easier on the Internet with all these listening options, further legal problems notwithstanding.