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All Music, All But Invisible

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The All Music Guide is one of the most comprehensive, extensively cross-linked and easy to use musical resources on the web. It's also, unfortunately, largely invisible to search engines.

If you're looking for music information, the All Music Guide is an exceptional resource, packed with high quality information that's difficult to find elsewhere.

The All Music Guide is known for its extensive, detailed, and critical biographies of thousands of performers, as well as thorough discographies. This information alone makes it one of the most comprehensive, authoritative sources for music information on the web.

The site designers took full advantage of the interactive capabilities of database technology. Just about everything in the All Music Guide database is massively cross-linked, allowing you to not only get full information about a particular artist but making it easy to simply click through for information on related artists, musical styles, instruments... the range of interlinked information is truly impressive.

Unfortunately, this type of database technology presents one of the thorniest challenges to search engines. The All Music Guide lies squarely in the realm of the Invisible web, and most of its content is not available through search engines like Google and Yahoo. Fortunately, the site itself has a very capable search tool.

The main search box atop every page allows you to search by artist, album, song, style or label. Unless you're looking for something specific like a song or an album, or are doing broad research, you'll likely use search by artist more often than not.

Results for artist search presents a list of artists with names similar to your query. Next to each result is the genre and time period that the artist is associated with. Click a result that you'd like to see, and this is where the real fun begins.

In addition to basic biographical information, there's also information about the musical styles the artist is known for, instruments played, and "tones" -- descriptors of the style of music such as meandering, atmospheric, intense, angry, volatile, brooding, cathartic, rebellious, melancholy, eerie, nocturnal, elegant... and so on.

There are also extensive links to related artists. These are grouped by "similar artists," "roots and influences," "followers," "formal connections," "performed songs by," "worked with," and "member of..." categories. Click a link in any of these categories and you'll see full information for that particular artist. It's easy to spend hours just exploring the linkages among your favorite musicians, both stylistically and across time.

Be sure to try out the "artist browser" tool. This contrasts the dominant style of a particular musician with other musicians that play similar music but with different emphasis or tone. On the left side you'll see descriptions such as "more energizing, exciting" or "colder, firmer" and so on. Mouse over a description, and a photograph and link to information about an artist that fits that criteria appears in the center. On the right side are "softer" descriptors, such as "more soothing, relaxing," and "more sober, arranged." It's a great way to discover new music based on what you already know you like.

As you might expect, there are complete discographies for most artists, grouped by albums, boxed sets, compilations, and other formats. There are also bibliographies of articles and books about many artists.

As extensive as this is, it just scratches the surface of the All Music Guide's capabilities. From the main menu, you can explore music through a browseable directory of musical styles. Each directory has a subdirectory exploring a specific genre, such as "Jazz, Dixieland, New Orleans Brass" or "Country, Truck Driving Country."

"Music maps" are timelines of milestones in musical history, organized by musical instrument, style or performer. Click on one of the maps, and the most notable events for that particular category are presented with a clickable timeline.

An impressive collection of essays provides a virtual advanced degree in musical history, styles, and performers, written by some of the most respected music critics in the world.

The All Music Guide also features a separate site for classical music that's organized very differently than the popular music site, but nonetheless has a similar depth and breadth of information available.

To get a true sense of how extensive and interactive this wonderful musical resource is, visit the statistics page. On the day I wrote this, the site had more than 630,000 albums, 5.3 million tracks, 600,000 names (including 66,000 biographies) and 400,000 images indexed.

The most revealing statistic: More than 4,500,000 relational links between all of this information. Now that's the sign of a thoughtfully designed database. But one that you'll have to visit and search directly, as its wealth of information is squarely hidden away from the general purpose search engines.

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