Going over a question on Quora I answered some time ago on whether music service Last.fm is all but dead and done got me thinking a little more about how I use the service.
[NOTE: This is an archived piece from Almost Famous, a music blog I ran from 2012-2013.]
The crux of my argument was thus:
“I don’t think Last.fm is necessarily fading out, more that people are finding new uses for it which may or may not be what the service initially set out to do.”
That’s especially true of my own recent experiences with the service, and I suspect it is with a lot of others as well.
I don’t have any data to hand, but I doubt I’ll be too far off the mark to suggest that the number of people using Last.fm to actually stream music has stalled, if not fallen by the wayside entirely over the last year or two.
With the changes they made late last year to their custom playlists, plus the rise of platforms like Spotify, Pandora and similar services, Last.fm has lost a lot of ground in being the place to listen to music.
It doesn’t help either that the actual web-based Last.fm player is so crude and cumbersome.
Yet whilst there are much easier ways to have all your music at your disposal, I still think last.fm has a lot of uses that will continue to be valuable to both music fans and music makers for a long time.
“The whole ‘scrobbling’ feature is what makes Last.fm stand out from other services, combining all your music-listening data from a variety of sources and creating a unique profile of your tastes and listening habbits.”
That’s another quote from my Quora answer, and it sums up the one thing that I love perhaps more than anything about Last.fm; the listening stats are brilliant and, more’s to the point, really accessible.
What’s more, if you treat it as some kind of musical data-processing plant and combine it with awesome services like tweekly.fm, you get that data presented in nice little bite-sized chunks which allow you to share short snapshots of your musical tastes with friends on social networks like Twitter or Facebook.
There’s more too, and -in my experience at least- one area where the service really triumphs over many of its rivals is in its recommendations.
As much as I love Spotify, its Related Artists feature is so redundant it may as well not exist, but Last.fm’s recommendations are usually spot on, and in the several years I’ve been using it, I’ve found a tonne of great artists who I most likely wouldn’t have heard of otherwise.
For artists themselves, with sites like ReverbNation and Soundcloud gaining ground in the wake of Myspace’s rapid descent into redundancy, Last.fm is probably somewhat under-rated as a promotional tool, but I have seen it work pretty well.
I’ve seen bands distributed free downloads, promote shows and connect find artists of a similar ilk on the site, some to great effect, and if the site put a little thought into it, it could compete much more effectively with services whose sole purpose is to promote bands.
In fact, a little thought is all the service really needs to ensure that it does’t fade away any time soon.
It sounds like such an obvious thing to say, but if Last.fm just focussed on the things it does really well (scrobbling, listening data etc) and maybe put some work into the things it could potentially do better (acting as platform for unsigned acts) rather than things like streaming music which it appears to have lost ground on, it could comfortably find its place in the evlving world of digital and streaming music.
And I really hope it does too, because even though I’ll probably never use the site to listen to music again, I still think it’s a pretty awesome, useful service.