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.