I’m always on the lookout for new music. I enjoy listening to my old favorites, but I’m rarely content to sit with the items that are already in my collection for too long. As such, I have visited plenty of websites and used plenty of applications to get sod hot new recommendations.
Invariably I end up dealing with Last.fm, the service that has quietly chugged alongside other music services, content to act as a back-end tool or as a proper destination of its own. If you’ve heard of it, but never took the time to check it out, keep reading to learn more about this original online music service that you keep seeing across the web.
When you sign up for Last.fm you’re immediately asked to list some of your favorite artists. I find that it’s easy enough to think of something–just go with whatever first comes to mind and work from there. You can add new artists at any time, so you aren’t going to miss an opportunity if you forget just how much you love Jimmy Eat World when you first launch the service.
After you do that you have complete access to what I can only describe as the world’s smartest, most comprehensive jukebox. Last.fm is free to use, which is a great value for this powerful service.
Part of Last.fm’s appeal is the social network that the service has built around music. While it’s obviously possible to talk about the artists that you love on Twitter or Facebook, sometimes it can be less than ideal, whether it’s because you feel like you’re ‘flooding’ your fellow friends and followers or because you don’t want to deal with that one person that needs to comment on your tastes and tell you how the band you love is ripping off some indie group that only three people have ever heard of.
You can find friends from Facebook, Yahoo, and Gmail, which in this day and age essentially means that you can add friends from Facebook. You can also find listeners via direct links to their Last.fm profile.
One thing that I enjoyed is Last.fm showing how compatible your tastes are with another person. Maybe both of you have a thing for psychedelic art rock. Maybe you don’t. Either way, it’s good to know.
The best say to recommend new music is to pay attention to what you’re already listening to. Everyone has that one friend that tells them to listen to some band or another without taking their own tastes into consideration; Last.fm is the opposite of that. Instead of ignoring your existing tastes, Last.fm wants to listen to all of your music all the time, and does this via scrobbling.
If you’re using something like iTunes on your PC (an increasingly rare occurrence, I’ll admit) you have to download Last.fm’s helper app in order to get the music you listen to into the service. If you’re using something like Rdio or Spotify instead you can find Last.fm in the app’s preferences.
I found that there were some pros and cons with scrobbling. While I like that Last.fm takes my own tastes into consideration, I feel–oddly enough–that I can’t branch out and listen to something new, for fear of messing with my recommendations. An odd situation if ever there was one.
Last.fm as an Artist Database
Now, let’s say that you would rather find something similar to a specific artist. I’m a big fan of Circa Survive, and I would like to find something to listen to in a similar vein. Instead of waiting for the service to recognize my love for the band and make the proper recommendations, I can check out the band’s Artist page and get a list of similar artists right there.
Each artist’s page is chock full of information, with your dates, discography, new releases, and a band biography all displayed right in the main view. If you want to find something out about your favorite band, Last.fm might be your best bet. It’s also a place to connect with other fans, so feel free to join in its others and discuss songs or albums.
(Another) Smart Radio
You all know how this works by now. You choose an artist, or song, or whatever and then Last.fm will play the things that it thinks you want to hear. There’s nothing groundbreaking about this anymore, as Pandora and other services have become near-ubiquitous in popular culture.
If you want to use the Radio feature go right on ahead, you won’t be disappointed. Just don’t expect anything particularly groundbreaking.
Worth a Sign-Up?
Last.fm, as I said, feels more like a powerful back-end and less like a one-stop shop for your musical needs. Throughout all of my years of using the service I always found myself using the application for recommendations or band information instead of for the Radio feature. Also as I said, there’s nothing wrong with Last.fm’s smart radio, I’m just one of those people that prefers to have more control over what they’re listening to.
If you can accept this about the service or you’re willing to hand your listening reins over to an outside force, Last.fm is worth checking out. It’s a bit like oxygen in the music industry; you may not see it, but you should always know that it’s there.