Published on February 6, 2008

This post was previously on the Pathfinder Software site. Pathfinder Software changed its name to Orthogonal in 2016. Read more.

Music and the web have a long history, from Napster through the iTunes Store to the MP3 blogs of today. For Web 2.0 hackers, however, the availability of public APIs proves pretty hit or miss. Cool mash-ups do exist – for instance, TuneGlue MusicMap, which provides nice visualization to data from Last.fm and Amazon. But lots of the big music databases don’t offer public web services. Indie download site eMusic used to, but stopped, while big commercial entities such as Muze and the All Music Guide keep their data stores proprietary and pricey. (Full disclosure: I frequently write freelance music reviews for AMG’s sister site, the All Movie Guide.)

If you do a little hunting, however, you’ll discover lots of web services that deliver powerful music content. Licensing terms vary, but the following 15 links should provide enough content to power tons of cross-pollination:

  • Discogs.com: This dance-music database offers a public API for its meticulous, user-generated data on 12-inch singles, albums and DJ mixes.
  • Audioscrobbler Web Services API: Access web services for the “social music” engine that powers Last.fm.
  • Amazon Associates Web Service: Amazon’s product database includes huge stores of music data, but the API must be “used primarily to drive traffic back to Amazon’s web sites or sales of Amazon products and services. You could always become an Amazon affiliate and profit from your linkbacks, but that might put the kibosh on noncommercial licenses for other APIs.
  • Digg API: There’s plenty of music content available from the social media aggregator. Most of it, like this post, begins with the words “Top 15.”
  • YouTube Data API: Amidst all the lonelygirls and camera-phone shots of funny animal tricks, YouTube offers, like, music videos and stuff.
  • Audio Search APIs from Yahoo! Search Web Services: Yahoo’s subscription music service may be shuttering its doors and offloading its customers onto Rhapsody, but the web giant’s search API is still a treasure trove of data.
  • Google Base API: Google’s product-search API turns up all sorts of music-related items when you do keyword searches based on artist names. I just scored a cheap, mint-condition subway poster for Kate Bush’s 1993 album “The Red Shoes.”
  • MP3Tunes API: This anywhere-access music-backup service offers web services.
  • MusicMobs API: So does this social music network.
  • OpenStrands Web Service: This music-recommendation service offers you access to the same APIs that power the MyStrands social network.
  • MusicBrainz Database: This open-source database of music metadata can be instantiated locally and piped to your own web services.
  • Rhapsody Web Services: In addition to music subscriptions, this popular service offers an API.
  • Gracenote Developer Zone: Access to the APIs for Gracenote – the service that provides track listings when you rip a CD – is locked behind a multi-step registration process. According to the documentation, though, you can get a non-commercial license.
  • iTunes Store RSS Feed Generator: Alas, this is about as close as Apple’s music service gets to a public API.
  • AOL Music Now API: Another RSS-based “API” for accessing things like new-release feeds.

Speaking of RSS feeds, lots of social music sites offer this quick-and-dirty alternative to a real API. Still, others offer tantalizing hints of their future API offerings:

  • The Hype Machine: The MP3 blog aggregator offers various RSS feeds.
  • RCRD LBL: This online record label offers embeddable widgets and RSS feeds for its roster of unsigned and established artists.
  • Paper Thin Walls: This indie music-review and discovery site doesn’t have an API, but it does have a new owner: Getty Images, the photo-licensing giant. It’ll be interesting to see what Getty does with the acquisition and whether its plans include an API.
  • Pandora, the music-discovery service powered by the Music Genome Project, has long hinted at an API, but thus far it’s locked down. Still, Pandora.fm, a mash-up of Pandora and Last.fm, suggests that could change soon.

Finally, it’s too early to tell how the APIs coming at us from one social network after another will affect our ability to access music data. Still, between MySpace, Facebook and Google’s Open Social, something interesting is bound to evolve. Perhaps Open Social will allow social music networks such as imeem, Mog, iLike and QLoud to grow past the also-ran stage. And let’s not forget Songbird, the open-source media player, whose own APIs allow all sorts of interesting interactions between services.