Last.fm is a social-network/music site out of London, whose visitors play a huge part in creating their vast database on musicians, their recordings, their popularity, and music of related interest. Users contribute by providing hard information, photos, opinions, and even “tags” that end up linking like-to-like across the spectrum. But many also download a bit of software as well, that keeps track of what they listen to on their computer. This information is used to build a profile of a listener’s likes, and lets Last.fm steer them towards other new music they’re likely to enjoy. If you’re a musician with recordings out there in the world, chances are good there’s already a page at Last.fm with your name on it. (If that’s you on the page, you can create an artist account and “claim” it, adding pics, bio, info, even music to the page. There were three different pages on even little ol’ me! — that I discovered, corralled and am tidying up).

But the big news these past days is that Last.fm has worked out a deal with all the Big-4 music labels (EMI, Sony BMG, Universal and Warner) and numerous independents, that makes it possible to go to the site, simply type in a name, a “tag” or genre, and just start listening to complete tracks by that composer, performer or musician. You can listen by individual artist or album, or you can listen to a varied “radio” stream of music in the same genre. In the current beta version, you can listen to any track freely three times; after that (or before, if you were already feeling spendy) you can purchase the MP3s to download and keep. Even completely independent artists can sign on, upload and sell their music there, being paid directly by Last.fm.

How it all plays out… who knows? But artist or listener, just head on over and give it a test-drive.

11 Responses to “The Last Word in Listening”
  1. David Toub says:

    If I’m not mistaken Steve, didn’t they take over iScrobbler, which was a site that would upload lists of music that one played on a computer or iPod? I ditched it awhile ago, although it was interesting to see how many time I listened to certain pieces (although that can also be tracked in iTunes and similar software).

  2. Frank Hecker says:

    Yes, Last.fm took over/merged with the Audioscrobbler service. (iScrobbler was the OS X client, I think an unofficial one. There’s an official Last.fm client for Mac now.) I use Last.fm primarily to record what I listen to on iTunes and my iPod, not so much for recommendations, which are somewhat flaky IMO. (Right now Last.fm is recommending Brahms, Mendelssohn, etc., to me, among other things, which is strange because I listen to little or no 19th century classical music.)

    One interesting feature of the Last.fm client is the ability to play a selection of tracks tagged in certain ways by users. For example, there’s a “contemporary classical” tag (also a separate “classical contemporary” tag, along with other variants). As with the recommendations, this is sometimes hit and miss. (For example, why did 14 people tag Mahler this way?)

  3. Erin says:

    I’ve found that my classical music MP3s, even from iTunes, aren’t named very clearly for Last.fm, and it never seems to match up with anything else on there. Though I haven’t been tagging much. Maybe that’s the secret.

  4. David Toub says:

    Thanks Frank. I have heard the same thing, that music gets misclassified on lastfm. But that’s the reality with anything like this—it’s only as accurate as the input, which is a function of how careful people are and their particular subjective classification schemes.

  5. To me one of the most interesting features of LastFM has always been the “play music by artists like _____” feature. It didn’t work great the last time I used it, but that was probably a year ago, and these things improve, and unlike traditional radio you can skip anything you don’t like. Its ability to find classical music was especially limited, but on the other hand I had good luck finding interesting artists I didn’t know by listening to artists that LastFM deemed “like” Radiohead and other rock bands.

    It’s great that they’re adding the ability to find specific tracks — that will make them a lot more useful to me, since one thing I constantly want to do is have a quick and easy no-risk way to check out an artist I’ve heard about but don’t know.

  6. Steve Layton says:

    The classical selection is probably much greater now than what you remember. I was listening yesterday to Feldman, Adams, Gorecki, Xenakis, Andriessen, Scelsi, Saariaho, Reich, Gann, Polansky… even Jeff Harrington!

  7. marcus says:

    I dont think there are no wordpress plugins. There is no other way for me to show Playlists on my blog.

  8. Anna says:

    Thanks for the tip off, it’s often hard to keep up with these things.
    I have also found a page, for Robin, and can now look into it further!

  9. I think Pandora.com (here in Oakland) does a better job. But unfortunately they consider a track on a CD to be a “song” and follow the digital rights legislation that prohibits two tracks from the same CD to appear in the same hour. For classical multi-movement pieces this can be a bit frustrating. But I’ve been amazed at what they have in their collection. And they will accept CDs from independents as long as they have a bar-code on them so they can enter it into their system.

  10. Steve Layton says:

    All of these streaming and download services are completely centered — just like the music industry as a whole — around the classic pop format of “song/album”, and it’s been that way since I’ve been using them on the web (just over 10 years now). Same kind of nightmares with genre-labeling, something that’s unfortunately become all-pervasive as well.

    It’s not always the fault of the service; if they get an opera CD from the label, that’s divided into tracks for every snippet of recitative , aria, chorus, etc., that’s how they’ll end up offering it. iTunes also has the habit of making any CD track that’s longer than ten minutes only available if you download the entire album. (Lately iTunes has been adding an option to some CDs, that lets you purchase, say, the three movements of a work together, separately from the other works on the same CD, for a price intermediate between the cost of a single track and a full CD.)

  11. Robert says:

    Be careful if you join up and let the Last.fm software download on to your “working” computer. After joining, I began to notice that the Last.fm program would open whenever I launched pro tools. And, suddenly I couldn’t open any of my pro tools sessions. I uninstalled and reinstalled without success. Finally I found information on Digidesign’s website about the “NeoAccess Error” I was getting. I had to trash files from the Digidesign Databases folder as it turned out they became corrupt.

    Just a heads up. I haven’t found any specific information regarding what heppened with my system after joining Last.fm.

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