Vive la radio!

Since yesterday, I’ve been re-exploring the “radio” facilities of last.fm, which I have occasionally used in the past but not for quite a while.  Now that spotify imposes significant restrictions on the amount of streaming music you can listen to in a week (at least with a free account), this facility becomes increasingly attractive as a means of exploring music beyond what’s in my own collection.

There are several forms of radio offered by last.fm through their website.  As far as I’m aware, you need to have an account there to be able to use any of them (I believe accounts are still free).  Apparently there are limitations as to how much you can listen to in some countries, but here in the UK the last.fm radio is free, at least for now.

Each radio station is based on some kind of theme, which could be artists (or it may be tracks) in your library (or somebody else’s – I think you can listen to any user’s library radio), tracks having a specific tag (users are able to put whatever tags they like on music, and I assume that the tag radio looks for all tracks that anyone has given the specified tag; I’ve not really used that particular approach to the radio yet), or tracks recommended for you (by last.fm, presumably based on what you’ve been listening to recently).  There’s also artist radio, which looks for tracks by artists similar to the one you specify (I’m not sure quite how they decide on similarity, but it usually seems to give quite a good match and sometimes turns up unexpected gems).

One form of radio station which I’ve found to give surprising and, generally, somewhat disappointing results is the member radio stations based on the last.fm groups you belong to.  There are groups for all kinds of things, some music-related and some not really.  Amongst the groups I’m in, there’s one for Ubuntu Linux users (although I’ve actually been using different Linux flavours for the past several years), one for Nordic folk music, one for banjo players and one dedicated to the Welsh singer-songwriter Fflur Dafydd (I discovered that one last week and became its second member – the founder is evidently based in Poland but seems to speak quite fluent Welsh).  Rather than the member radio stations playing tracks that are specifically connected to the group interest, they play tracks drawn randomly from the  libraries of the group members.  That in itself can be quite interesting but it means that if you go to, say, the Nordic folk group radio looking for Nordic folk music you’re likely to be sorely disappointed (on the assumption that most of the group members will also listen to lots of other stuff).  Still, it’s not a great disaster since the artist and tag radio stations can be used to get at the more specific connections.

Like real radio stations (ignoring request shows) you don’t get any say on the actual tracks that are played beyond choosing which station to listen to in the first place.  However, you can pause the playback at any point and come back to it, so you don’t have to miss a particularly good track if you need to stop to answer the phone (or a call of nature).  You can also skip a track if you don’t like it (you can’t skip backwards to replay a track, presumably due to licensing restrictions, and you can’t navigate within a track).  Of course, the tracks you listen to on the radio also get scrobbled to your account.  I think I’ll definitely be making more use of these facilities in the coming months.

 

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  1. Since posting this I’ve checked out another type of last.fm radio station, which seems to be a particularly useful one. Your “Mix Radio” is a combination of your library radio (playing tracks, or at least artists, already in your library) and your recommendations radio (playing personalised recommendations based on what’s in your library). This seems to be a particularly good one for discovering new stuff and rediscovering forgotten stuff.

    As far as I can tell, the mix radio (like the recommendations one) is only available for yourself – for other users, friends or otherwise, you apparently only have access to their library radio.

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