By Jeremiah Tucker
JOPLIN, Mo. —
I have headphones on most of the workday. The cheap, white earbuds snake from my ear canal to the jack on my computer.
I'm not sure if this is rude. I dimly recall reading a news story summarizing some study about headphones in the workplace. I think the conclusion was that ensconcing yourself in an antisocial cocoon at your desk puts you on the fast track to promotions and upper management.
Listening to hours of music every day used to mean turning on the radio and subjecting yourself to programming formats bloated with songs so overplayed that they are the auditory equivalent of putting a wad of pre-chewed gum in your mouth.
I've worked in offices like this. Some day, I'll tell my grandkids about it; about the time a bored deejay played Foreigner's "Hot Blooded" twice in a row on a Wednesday afternoon during some long-ago temp job, and they'll marvel at all I've endured.
Luckily, with the advent of online streaming, no one ever needs be subjected to morning drive-time radio again. There is, of course, Pandora -- the go-to choice for many an office drone. But if you're looking for free new music, particularly new music not even in stores yet, you now have a lot of options.
The one I'm most excited about checking lately is NPR's First Listen. While it's been around for a while, the public-radio series, which allows listeners to stream new albums online a week or more before their official releases, has really hit its stride this year.
The First Listen site streams a handful of eclectic new albums every week, mixing big releases such as "The Great Gatsby" soundtrack and the new She & Him record, and smaller fare, such as the fantastic new album by the meticulous garage-rock popsmith Mikal Cronin.
Since it offered Waxahatchee's "Cerulean Salt" back in February, I've been checking First Listen a couple times a week.
I almost always find something worth listening to or, as was the case with Deerhunter's "Monomania" last week, a release I've been anticipating for months. You can stream the albums in full or one song at a time, and they're accompanied by a short review from an NPR music staff writer.
At the online magazine Pitchfork this week I streamed an REM radio show from 1988 in advance of the re-release of the band's "Green" album, and the new double-album from the lo-fi, genre-bending Dirty Beaches.
Pitchfork launched its "Advance" feature earlier this year with Yo La Tengo's "Fade," and every week since it has offered a spate of albums from the experimental and indie worlds for streaming in a spiffy, interactive browser-friendly platform dominated by huge album art.
If you're looking for blockbusters, iTunes has made nearly all the biggest releases this year available for free streaming a week before their release dates. This week the online-music giant allowed users to stream Vampire Weekend's "Modern Vampires of the City," which I did over and over again. Previously iTunes streamed new albums by Justin Timberlake, David Bowie and Phoenix.
In fact, it seems in 2013 you almost never have to wait for a new album's release date to hear it. While that's been true in the recent past, the difference is that now you can do so legally.