It is good to see some creative licensing finally taking hold in the music industry. Today, CBS-owned Last.fm announced that you can now stream the full track of any song up to three times for free, in addition to its regular music-discovery service which streams related songs you might like in a random order. This is also the first step towards a future subscription service, which will allow an unlimited number of plays. After the third time you listen to a song, listeners will see a promotion for the upcoming service.
Last.fm has signed deals with all four major record labels and most independents to stream their tracks in the U.S., UK, and Germany, with other countries coming soon. And for unsigned artists, instead of paying one-time fees per song that don’t make economic sense on the Web, Last.fm announced it will launch a new royalty program that will give artists ongoing royalties based on how many times each song is listened to. The details of how much Last.fm is paying per song were not revealed, but moving towards a pay-for-performance model is good for both online music services and the music industry.
Music needs to be sampled before most people want to buy it. The current Web industry norm of the 30-second clip just won’t cut it anymore. Perhaps Last.fm will help to set a new precedent here with limited full-track streams. It might be difficult for iTunes or Amazon to abandon the 30-second preview, however, because neither one has an ongoing revenue stream from advertising or subscriptions with which to pay an ongoing royalty. At least, not yet.