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last.fm - great music research for radio from the web

It's never been easier to get free research on music from the web - and really get to know how people consume it. Here's how...

last.fm celebrates its tenth year this week - or, rather, the piece of technology at its heart, the scrobble.

In case the term 'scrobble' has passed you by: last.fm lets you keep a record of what you listen to, on your computer or your mobile phone - and this is known as a 'scrobble'. Things like Spotify have scrobbling built-in, while last.fm makes software to scrobble other popular players like iTunes, music from your iPhone or Android device, and so on. So, last.fm ends up having a full list of songs you've played.

I've been a user of last.fm since 2004; and as I write this I notice that, since August 2006, I've listened to - scrobbled - 49,720 songs. So, anyone can learn that I'm a fan of The Beatles, the Eels, the Divine Comedy, and Archive. Over the past three months, Archive has reigned supreme (155 plays), with Canadian band Metric getting 54 plays.

The service gives me "neighbours" - people who share the same musical tastes as I do. I can also 'friend' other people, such as one of Global Radio's creative technology team Andrew Buckingham, with whom I have "super" musical compatibility; BBC Radio 3 interactive editor Steve Bowbrick, who has "very high" musical compatibility with me; and BBC Radio 6 Music, who has "super" compatibility.

Yes - radio stations are here. Everyone from NME Radio, through Absolute Radio and Chill. It's a simple and straightforward way to market your station to those that love your music mix. (I have, unsurprisingly, a "SUPER" compatibility score with Absolute, too).

But last.fm also keeps aggregate information about all music played. And this is a goldmine for music programmers. As part of their 10 year timeline, look at what happened when REM announced they were splitting up - listens to REM went up from an average of 30,000 a day to 140,000.

Did you play more Beatles when the band was added to iTunes in November 2010? Your audience didn't. Did you play more Michael Jackson when he dies in June 2009? Your audience did - spectacularly.

And what happens when artists play big gigs? Get Blur playing at Hyde Park in London (July 2009), and you see a significant increase.

As a representative from last.fm told the nextrad.io conference in September 2011, last.fm can be a significant help to radio programmers. Unlike any other music research, it'll tell you who's most popular in the UK right now based on total plays (Alt-J, Biffy Clyro and The Smiths), and if you scrobble your station into it, it'll also show you songs you're not playing but should be.

last.fm is an amazing tool. Go use it. And get scrobbling!

James Cridland is the Managing Director of Media UK, and a radio futurologist: a consultant, writer and public speaker who concentrates on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business.
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7 comments

Recommendations: 0
Dave Hedley
posted

Last.fm is indeed a brilliant tool, and hidden away in their Labs section is something that makes it just a little bit more brilliant: Information on what is being scrobbled the most, live, right now. You’ll need to enable it on your account before the page works, but the overall essence is that it’s a live, self-updating feed of the tracks being scrobbled the most globally at the moment.

(As I type, the very well-known “Diamonds” by Rihanna is top with 73 active plays, but in third place is a much lesser-known band called Imagine Dragons with 48.)

Another use for Last.fm, similar to those mentioned in the article, is finding out very quickly which tracks by an artist you’ve perhaps only just heard of are the most popular. Or, alternatively, if their new music or older tracks are what people love. In the latter case, for example, it’s incredibly easy to find out that MGMT’s first album has had infinitely more staying power than their second, with five times as many people still listening to its most popular tracks.

In terms of my own use of the service (you can find my profile here, with all of its uncensored pop cheese, if you must), I used it frequently to keep tabs on current trends in my short time as a Head of Music a couple of years ago. It’s especially useful in that respect if you’re working (or volunteering) for a radio station that plays guitar-led music, as the Last.fm crowd tend to be on average slightly more inclined toward those genres.

Last.fm’s popularity probably peaked in circa 2007, and it’s certainly from a commercial standpoint been hit as a radio service by the likes of Spotify (which, I’m afraid, are infinitely better), but I agree that it nonetheless remains an excellent service and information resource.

Recommendations: 0
Andrew Bantock
posted

Just a shame they’re about to close it down on many countries and stick it behind a paywall over here.

Recommendations: 0
Denis Bourne
posted

From http://www.last.fm/subscribe looks like it will £3 per month, less than Spotify and other streaming sites, so will be worth it?

Recommendations: 0
Andrew Bantock
posted

Well James obviously thinks so! Perhaps he’s in the pay of CBS?!

Recommendations: 0
Dave Hedley
posted

Well James obviously thinks so! Perhaps he’s in the pay of CBS?!

James doesn’t seem to be promoting it as a music subscription service, but instead as a research tool for music playlisters, which generates no revenue for CBS whatsoever. I’ve not seen anything that suggests that scrobbling from a third-party media player is about to be ‘stuck behind a paywall’, and that’s what this article is about.

Ultimately, anybody looking for a subscription service to listen to music should be overlooking Last.fm very quickly as Spotify is far superior in every department.

Recommendations: 0
James Cridland
posted

Yes. last.fm is not a very good subscription music service, and its radio offering isn’t brilliant. (And no, I am not “in the pay of CBS”. Stupid, ignorant, and legally dodgy thing to say.) Thanks, Dave, for bothering to read what I wrote.

Recommendations: 0
Andrew Bantock
posted

It was a bloody joke!

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