Sunday, January 25, 2009

Fun With Last.FM

Last.FM is one of my favorite things on the internet. It is a social networking music service which tracks what you are listening to through your computer or iPod. It connects you with other people who like the same kinds of music that you like, and it recommends songs by artists that you like or by artists who have a similar styles to the artists that you like. You can also write about the music that you like, recommends songs or artists to other people, update information on your favorite artists Wikipedia-style, and look at the events calendar to see which artists are performing in your area. Everything except the Last.FM radio service is free.

Last.FM works by “scrobbling” the songs that you listen to. Scrobbling means that once you listen to a song, that song will be added to your music profile. Importantly, Last.FM tracks every artist, album, and track that you scrobble. I can go back through my music profile, or my friend’s profiles, and see my top tracks, artists, and albums from the last week, last month, last three months, last year, or overall. The geek in me really loves this feature.

You can add a “Scrobbler” plugin to most computer media players so that it can track your plays. I use Media Monkey which uses a Winamp plugin. The Scrobbler plugin also works great with Windows Media Player, iTunes, and even Pandora. It works on Macs, PCs, and Linux systems. Unfortunately it does not work (or work well anyway) with the Zune media player (see footnote 1). Last.FM can also track plays from your iPod, but at the moment cannot tracks music from other MP3 players.

The Last.FM main offices are based in London, England, with another office in New York. Last.FM is available in 12 different languages. According to The 2008 Social Network Analysis Report, roughly 55% of the users are male, and roughly 25% of the users are between the ages of 34-44 (my age demographic). The report does not break down the membership by country, but it does seem that Finland has a large portion of its population that uses Last.FM. My guess is that greater than 60% of users are from Europe.

A few weeks ago Last.FM released its Best of 2008 lists. The Probability and Statistics Department of My Aimz is True is proud to present its analysis of what Last.FM users have been listening to for the last year.

How to Read These Graphs: the first Y or vertical axis in blue on the left hand side measures the number of plays or “scrobbles” for each album or song. The second Y axis in red on the right measures the number unique listeners. For example, on the first graph, tracks from Katy Perry’s debut album One of the Boys were listened to approximately 4 million times (blue bar) in 2008, by about 600,000 different listeners (about 6 and a half tracks scrobbled per user). Likewise, the Fleet Foxes self-titled debut was listened to about 3.5 million times by about 650,000 unique listeners (about 5.4 tracks per user).

I have to admit that I am not down with the cool kids and I have not listened to anything by the top three new artists in 2008. MGMT is hipster-speak for “management,” and they are tagged as “electronic” by Last.FM users. Their debut album Oracular Spectacular has been lauded by many critics but it’s not really my style of music. According to Last.FM, my top new artist of 2008 was Justin Townes Earle and his debut album The Good Life, and I listened to tracks from this album 14 times (see footnote 2).

Justin Townes Earle – Hard Livin’.mp3
Buy: The Good Life (2008)

Not surprisingly, Coldplay comes in at number one with their mediocre release Viva La Vida. And I didn’t even know that Nine Inch Nails released an album this year. I guess it didn’t suck as 1.3 million different listeners played tracks from it 8 million times (about 6 plays per listener). Also not surprisingly, my top album of 2008 was Stay Positive by The Hold Steady (112 plays), followed by Drag the River’s You Can’t Live This Way (63 plays), and Two Cow Garage Speaking in Cursive (53 plays).

The Hold Steady – Slapped Actress.mp3
Buy: Stay Positive (2008)

Drag the River – Caleb’s Grave.mp3
Buy: You Can't Live This Way (2008)

Two Cow Garage – Swingset Assassin.mp3
Buy: Speaking in Cursive (2008)

Last.FM users listen to way too much Coldplay. Seriously people, get out a little more! Or at least mix up the tunes a bit. My Last.FM top songs of 2008:

1. Matthew Ryan – “Drunk and Disappointed” – 11 plays/scrobbles
1. The Hold Steady – “Constructive Summer” – 11
1. The Hold Steady – “Navy Sheets” – 11
1. Drive-By Truckers – “A Ghost to Most” -11
5. Drive-By Truckers – “3 Dimes Down” – 10
5. The Hold Steady – “Magazines” – 10
5. The Hold Steady – “Sequestered in Memphis” – 10
8. Chris Mills – “Such a Beautiful Thing” – 9
8. The Hold Steady – “One for the Cutters” – 9
10. Drive-By Truckers – “Home Field Advantage” – 8
10. Kathleen Edwards – “Oil Man’s War” - 8
10. Matthew Ryan – “American Dirt” – 8
10. Chris Mills – “Calling All Comrades” – 8
10. The Hold Steady – “Stay Positive” – 8
10. Kathleen Edwards – “Alicia Ross” – 8
10. The Hold Steady – “Slapped Actress” – 8

Matthew Ryan – American Dirt.mp3
Buy: Matthew Ryan Vs. Silver State (2008)

Footnote 1: Microsoft is trying to set up their own community for Zune users which they call “The Social.” Here is how “The Social” compares to Last.FM.
  1. Last.FM keeps a list of the order of the last 1500+ tracks that you listened to. The Social only tells you the last 24.
  2. Last FM shows you your top artists overall, for the last year, last 6 months, last three months, and last 7 days. The Social only gives you the top artists overall.
  3. Last FM shows me my top 400+ artists, The Social, only top 5.
  4. Last FM shows me my top 400+ tracks, The Social only 15.
  5. Last FM shows me my top 300+ albums. The Social doesn't have this feature at all.
  6. Last FM is very accurate. The Social, not so much. According to my profile, I have listened to the song "For Real" 50 times. According to my Zune software, I have listened to it 7 times. Sometimes The Social said I added 100 plays when I know I added none, other times it does the opposite.
  7. Last FM doesn't care if you listen to bootlegs, live albums, special releases, whatever. It categorizes everything the same way. The Social only categorizes items that are in the Zune market place. For example, on my Social profile, Okkervil River is my number 1 and number 2 artist. The second Okkervil River is the same band, but since these tracks are not in the Zune Marketplace, they are recognized as a different band entirely.
  8. Last FM is open to everyone, regardless of player type. It works with iTunes, Media Player, Media Monkey, Creative Labs, etc. The Social only works with Zune.
  9. You can tag the genre of the track on Last FM, you can't tag anything on The Social.

Footnote 2: Last.FM only tracks what I listen to on my computer when my computer is online. I listen to a lot more music on my Zune (see footnote 1) and on CD than on my laptop, so the Last.FM tracking is not completely representative of my listening trends. But it still is damn fun!

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