I once had a professor who openly admitted that his musical tastes were frozen in time when his first child was born. I swore from that day that I wouldn’t fall into that trap – and do all I could do to stay on top of new popular music. My favorite weapon to this end is Last.FM.
For the uninitiated, Last.FM is a website and service who’s tagline is “The Social Music Revolution”. Their acquisition by CBS brought out a lot of worries from within the Last.fm community, but so far it seems to have been a very positive development. With CBS came a lot of legitimacy and it even made it possible for Last.fm to sign deals with a lot of major record labels including Universal Music Group, Sony BMG, Warner, EMI and over 150,000 independent labels and artists.
It seems that although CBS technically owns them, they have left Last.fm mainly alone, allowing them to operate more or less independently from them. The Last.fm service is constantly evolving; their exploits available on Last.HQ – the Last.fm blog.
Here are some great features of Last.fm that might not have heard before!
1. Track your music listening habits
Last.fm has an installable desktop program that works as a radio streamer and music tracker. This is called “Scrobbling”. It runs in the background and reports what you listen to back to the Last.fm servers. For those with large music collections, this might turn a lot of people off to Last.fm; but I’ll let them explain:
- We do not display email addresses, so no-one can link your username to your email address or harvest your address for spamming.
- Audioscrobbler Plugins only send the name of the artist/album/song – not the filename or filetype. This means we cannot tell whether your music is from an original CD or an MP3 file.
- We rotate our webserver logs frequently and destroy them after extracting anonymous statistics.
- Our protocol is documented, and client software is open source, so you’re more than welcome to investigate what the software does.
After you get over that bit – and you start tracking your music – you get to see the benefits of tracking your listening habits. For stats geeks like me, you can see who you really listen to – along with nice graphs and weekly, monthly, and year long charts.
You also get matched up with others in your “Neighborhood” that have similar music tastes. From there, you can see what they are listening to lately – thereby expanding your musical tastes.
Furthermore, you can ‘tag’ your music with keywords; this helps you and other Last.fm users fine music which might suit their tastes. Also you have the ability to Love or Hate a track.
2. Streaming Radio
There are two main ways to actually listen to music from Last.fm. The first is streaming a radio station in your browser or in the desktop client; the second is the recently added ability to listen to tracks on demand. Many artists/labels have signed up for this service.
The streaming radio works in a few ways. You can listen to music according to:
- The music’s tag
- A group’s related artists
- A user’s radio station
- A user’s neighborhood
- A user’s loved tracks
These options give you a lot of choices; but there are a few ways to get some kick ass radio stations. Typical land or satellite radio stations are “Top 40″ type stations, meaning that they have a repertoire of only about 40 songs which they play through. While this is great for listening to popular music (and I recommend checking in every once in a while to see what is hot) it can get really repetitive. I find myself going in cycles where I will listen to land based radio stations for a few days, and then not again for a few weeks.
Some ideas for stations on Last.fm are:
Hopefully you get the idea. When you listen to a song or station that you like, think of a “tag” that would be assigned to that music and then try it out!
If you like a certain artist, you can play their station which will play similar music. This works great specially if an artist is a genre-defining one.
3. On Demand Listening
In January of 2008 Last.fm rolled out an awesome update – the ability to stream, on demand, many artists and titles. I once heard someone talking about a new artist that they liked; I hadn’t heard of them before – so I typed them into Last.fm and on-demand was available!
Last.fm will allow you to play a track 3 times before sending you to a link to purchase the album. In the future they are planning a subscription service which will allow you to listen to unlimited on demand music. Until then, I think this is a fair tradeoff – if you just want to hear an title it no longer means you have to purchase it. However, if you really like a title, you still have the ability to purchase it and listen to it as much as you want!
4. Comprehensive Artist and Album information at your fingertips
The Last.fm Wiki is a great resource for looking up information on Artists and other related information such as Similar Artists, Discography, Projects and more. Much like Wikipedia, it is editable by all, and this comes with both benefits and weaknesses. Images are also included, the community votes on which images best represent an artist.
5. ‘Social Network’ functionality
Last.fm has many other functions which connect you to other listeners. From your neighborhood and other sources; you add people to your friends list. You are updated as to what music your friends are listening to and what concerts they are planning on attending. You can also make recommendations to your friends if you think they will like a certain track.
Many groups are in existance on Last.FM. You can join one if you enjoy a particular kind of music; or use a certain media player – the options are endless. The members of groups are updated on what that
group is listening to lately and other musical recommendations. Groups range from the mundane to the eclectic – for example, maybe you are interested in joining the aptly named “This is a group with random and sometimes questionable musical taste for people who are weird or bored“.
Of course, as with all ‘Web 2.0′ sites – Last.fm offers its share of Widgets and Facebook plugins. These items will not help you find new music but they are pretty neat anyway.
6. Unique Last.fm Hacks
Since Last.fm is pretty open with their data, there is some really awesome stuff you can do with your data once you have a good bit saved over time. Here is a list of some cool hacks or unique uses of Last.fm services:
- Use TwitterFeed plus your RSS Last.fm Feed to post listened tracks to Twitter.
- LastGraph will create a colorful graph of your listening habits.
- Use the Flash based Web player to play Last.fm streams on your Wii, PS3, or other web-enabled device.
- Scrobble tracks from your iPod using AudioPod
- Use the Last.fm Widget page to create a playlist, artist quit, charts, and more.
- Find our how eclectic your musical tastes are or a tag cloud of your artists.
Let your music play!
After reading about the versatility of the Last.fm service – I hope you would agree with me that Last.fm is a worthwhile service to sign onto. Basic accounts are free – which include all of the streaming, tracking, and other services available to all. You are able to be a subscriber to Last.fm which basically gets all banner ads turned off. And a few other additional features. I personally can’t wait to see what Last.fm has in its sleeves for the future!
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