Last.fm Relaunches with New Features

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Music recommendation service Last.fm relaunched this morning with a number of new features including a Flash player in addition to the desktop client, free MP3s available from independent artists and affiliate sales of recommended concert tickets. See our previous coverage of Last.fm here.

At relaunch, the company says it has 15 million unique active users per month from 200 countries, listening to 65 million songs from 7 million artists. The site includes 150,000 wikis about artists and 350,000 tags.

All of these are very smart additions to an already excellent service. The Flash player is a logical improvement in usability and lowers the barrier of entry to the service to the same level offered by competitor Pandora. I personally won’t be using it because Flash objects in use freeze text fields in Firefox 2.0 on my Intel Mac and I prefer to listen to music through AirTunes – but it’s a very smart feature for most people.

Also new to the site are free MP3s for listening to and downloading from independent music labels. The company says it offers music from 24,000 independent labels who have uploaded their music to Last.fm. There is not an option to opt out from having free MP3s recommended by the player. As I wrote in a review of iTunes plug in iLike, I find that the sheer majority of so called “indie bands” just aren’t very good. ILike uses a community the community vetting process of GarageBand.com whereas Last.fm recommends songs based on similar playing habits of other users. Pandora’s recommendations come from analyzing the tonal qualities songs for similarities.

The most interesting of the new features is the concert ticket sales. This is something that every music recommendation engine will want to get into in time as it’s such a logical means of monetization. Last.fm provides links to buy tickets to see musicians you are listening to or that it recommends when the service determines that those artists are playing soon within the geographic area you’ve designated. The company hasn’t released a list of ticket resellers they are utilizing but they did tell me that Ticketmaster is not included and that the companies that are are strong in tracking independent musicians.

On principle I would love to be supportive of all these moves to support independent musicians, but my experience makes that difficult. Independent punk is good, but in most other genres the bulk of unsigned musicians are not music I want to listen to. I can’t help but think that all of this emphasis on indie bands is motivated primarily by economic necessity. Check out the songs of the day at GarageBand and PodsafeMusicNetwork right now – I can’t listen to either all the way through. Be honest, you probably can’t either.

What I want is this. Give me an iTunes plug-in that recommends music through both user habits and musical qualities, lets me opt out of “indie music” if I prefer and gives me access to free or dirt cheap files with related concert tickets and other value added items for sale. MP3 blogs like those aggregated on the HypeMachine impress me more than all these recommended indie music plug ins.

Read/Write Web has its own review of these new features, Richard MacManus says they “make Last.fm one of the most compelling online music products on the Web right now.”

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