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.

 

Influential Scrobbling

I’ve been using last.fm for almost 4 years now as a way of keeping track of what I’m listening to and exploring new music.

Initially I was unconvinced of the benefits of the record-keeping side of things and only started using last.fm (about a  year after I first looked at it) so that I could listen to some of the vast collection of music that was freely available there (sadly it no longer seems to be possible to listen to very many complete tracks directly on last.fm).  However, I soon discovered that it is very interesting to be able to look back at what I’ve been listening to, and to be able to start exploring new artists and albums based on what I’ve heard and enjoyed before. In fact, it’s so good that I now do the vast majority of my listening at the computer so that I can scrobble (last.fm-speak for upload) the information to my account.

With access to all this information, perhaps it would be unreasonable to expect the statistics to just passively record what I would have been listening to anyway.  Since one of the benefits of scrobbling is the ability to revisit music I’ve enjoyed and explore similar stuff, it’s only natural to look through my library for inspiration when deciding what to listen to.  Artists I’ve listened to a lot (if I’m sorting the library by play count) or ones with eyecatching pictures or striking names (sorting alphabetically) are more likely to catch my notice and therefore to get played again (or to lead to similar artists getting played).

Sometimes I find myself going a stage further and deciding what to listen to (or even, sometimes, what to avoid listening to or to turn scrobbling off for) on the basis of how it will affect the song statistics.  For instance, I’ve been working on getting a few more of my favourite jazz artists on to my first library page (sorted by plays) – at the moment Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and Humphrey Lyttelton are there and Louis Armstrong and Charles Mingus are close – so I sometimes  decide to listen to one of them rather than somebody else just so that I can boost them up in the ratings.  It’s not necessarily a bad thing, since these are all artists I gain a lot of musical pleasure and enrichment from, but it is certainly the case that scrobbling my plays does have a big influence on what I choose to listen to.