Last.FM: A modern music-geeks greatest joy


I wonder how music-lovers in the 60’s and 70’s managed to fully enjoy their extraordinary era of music without the assistance of the Internet. I regularly find myself checking out websites such as Pitchfork, Rate Your Music and Stereogum in a bid to keep up with the tidal wave of music that is released, as well as to ensure that I have not missed out on past gems. A music geek of my stature cannot afford to look blankly at the face of obscure albums/artists/labels (although I often do, and will no doubt do so again).

The webiste that has provided me with the largest world of information, the most musical doors that I can walk through, is no doubt Last.FM. I first became aware of it when I heard that the new Portishead album, “Third” (yes, I only noticed it that recently), was to be placed in full on there on the day of its release. Along with my fellow bleak trip-hop fans I eagerly found the album within their marvellous database, chuckling to myself that a new album could become available to me so quickly and so legitimately. I was not bothered at all that I could not download the album to my hard drive, in fact I went out and bought the album a couple of weeks later.

It had been proven to me, then and there, that Last.FM was worthwhile, but for some reason I did not register an account. Maybe I was greedily waiting for another offer of a free album, or maybe I didn’t think an account was necessary. Either way, I didn’t bother with Last.FM for a little while longer. It crept back into my life when a friend mentioned the joy of their genre radios (type in a genre, click “Find”, and it will play you a random selection of bands who fit that genre). Wanting to find some new music with which I could while away my summer, I registered an account, overwhlemed with the amount of free samples I could potentially discover, and quickly listened in to their alternative rock radio. I linked my account to my media player of choice, and was impressed to find all my listening habits recorded and presented for my viewing.

Maybe it was because it was the start of summer and I had a few months that I could use to grow to love a new band, or maybe it was because I’d found a collection of music that I should put to good use. But I decided that when I next heard an impressive song on their radio, I would investigate the band thoroughly, download an album, make a real effort to enjoy the whole discography of the act. And it happened to be that the first track that really caught my attention was “Theory Of The Crows” by The National.

That alone has caused Last.FM to win a place in my heart. Without it, it may have taken me much longer to discover The National, a band I am inclined to call my favourite of the decade. That a website can be so capable of accounting for my tastes that is can tell me what I would enjoy before I have even heard of the band still makes me smile a weak smile of incredulity. I downloaded their most recent album, “Boxer”, and slowly grew to love it. I balanced this out by purchasing the previous album “Alligator”. The band slowly filled up my Last.FM listens (or scrobbles, as they are known), alongside Radiohead and a few new bands that had up until that point passed me by.

The joy of Last.FM is that as soon as you hear of a band you can find all the information you want about them, along with clips of their music on most occasions, simply by searching for them. You can flick through a band’s biography, or even contribute to it, look through their discography and find out what album or track Last.FM users most listened to. I marvel at how it manages to replace all those magazines and books and radio shows in providing knowledge about a band. How could an up-and-coming band possibly have survived a few decades ago with a Last.FM page that fans and non-fans alike can go to and use to find out more about them?

Perhaps the most modern and engaging element is that Last.FM is a huge community of users, who can discuss music via the groups or just simply talk about bands on their profile page. You can find any user you like and tell them how great their music taste is by viewing the graphs and charts on their user page, or tell them about a band they may like based on what else they like. It is like a huge forum for opinions, but it covers far more information, and more diversely as well, than any single forum could. Every major band will have a group on which people can discuss tracks, albums, gigs but most importantly their deep love of the artist.

After several months of usage I found I had built up an impressive library of bands. And with every new band I discovered, my own personal recommendations page was updated, giving me even more music I could find and fall in love with. The recommendations given works like computer-generated word-of-mouth, but finely tuned to ensure it fits with your taste. There are too many bands I could name that I would’ve missed out on without Last.FM’s guiding hand.

As a geek, I have to confess, however, that my favourite thing to use Last.FM for is the graphs. Had I known it were possible for me to organise my listening habits over time so clearly and cleverly as this I would’ve joined ages ago. My joy in crafting lists is well-fuelled by the various top albums/artists/tracks that Last.FM automatically produces as the user listens to more music. The “Stats” group (http://www.last.fm/group/Stats) goes on to provide further information about how people listen to their music, offering as it does a variety of scripts written by Last.FM lovers that turn the scrobbles of a user into tables, pie charts, graphs, beautiful floating graphics and buttons. With each new song the possibilities of how to represent your tastes increase. I know this sort of data analysis isn’t for everyone, but I can’t get enough of it.

Really, Last.FM is just one massive, endlessly informative, communal music blog, with the exception that it tells you what you’re listening to as opposed to what it is listening to. And as a writer of a music blog, I love this.

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About Alex Pavitt
I work in the field of emotion. My tools are instinctual feelings and my laptop is the medium between my brain and the outside world. I deconstruct and rebuild. I imagine. I steal other people's lyrics because somtimes, my own words aren't enough. I spend all of my time somewhere inside my head. I worship Douglas Adams, and in the back of my mind I am always painfully aware that I will never be as good as him or, for that matter, anybody else.

2 Responses to Last.FM: A modern music-geeks greatest joy

  1. Alexandra Evans says:

    I can’t leave an informative comment for this, again. You will be disappointed in me. 😦
    I do however, also love Last.FM!

    Look, there I am!
    http://www.last.fm/user/IgnusIudicium

    Oh, and look, here’s the writer of the blog. 😀
    http://www.last.fm/user/TheCapu

  2. Pingback: Last.FM: A modern music-geek’s greatest joy | BigB

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