Social networking is absolutely everywhere in this modern world, permeating every layer of our culture in a revolutionary way. Each performs a specific function: with Twitter and Facebook providing the more general messaging services, YouTube conquering the video market, and LinkedIn being the professionals’ network of choice.
One area where our personalities might be more social in nature than anything else is our music taste. The bands we like and the songs we like are as much an expression of our identity as the clothes we wear or our political views. Therefore, it follows that there should be a social network for this sort of thing as well. And a few years ago I stumbled across the best of them: Last.fm.
Last.fm is a site that tries to bring our activities involving music into one place. Foremost is the collection of your musical history by means of your library. By installing a small desktop app (or signing in to Last.fm via Spotify), Last.fm will record every song you ever listen to and store the details online. This is my favourite thing about Last.fm by far. It collects this data and displays it to you in many ways. You can look up charts of your most played songs from an artist, over different periods of time and also the same for artists. The statistics fan in me loves this. The best personal use I’ve found for this is when I’ve changed computers; Last.fm remembers my play counts for each of my songs while I start again from scratch on my new computer. It’s also useful for when I create my top forty lists for songs at the end of the year, providing definitive dates of when I first listened to the song and how many times I played it. Perhaps this isn’t everyone’s draw, and it’s not the headline feature of the website at all, but it’s my favourite part of Last.fm.
Last.fm’s main service is its “Radio” function. Users can log in online and listen to personalised radio stations based upon your library and a search term. If you feel in the mood for a specific artist: type it in and you will get a selection of their songs and some from bands that are considered similar. It’s a great way of finding new music as well as listening to your library on the move. It’s much more customisable than Spotify’s offerings radio-wise, as you can control the mix of songs that are new to you from the start and even ban songs that you don’t want to hear again on the service. I’d thoroughly recommend it.
The social functions of Last.fm are relatively extensive, although sometimes not laid out in the best way. You can add people as friends, comment on people’s profiles, and comment on artists or songs very easily. You can check your friends’ profile and see what they are listening to. It’s great to find out what other people are thinking about the songs you like or to find out news about some of your favourite bands. Each song and artist has a user editable wiki where you can add information. Each song generally comes along with a YouTube or Vimeo video of the song and a link to MetroLyrics so you can find lyrics for the song. Often it is much easier to search Last.fm for this sort of thing instead of going to these individual sites or even Googling for it. Last.fm even allows you to create events for gigs and festivals, so that you can get in touch and communicate with others who are going. These are great little functions collectively, but they are a bit disconnected. If you want to respond to someone’s comment, you have to use an archaic way of doing so – by either commenting while mentioning their username or going onto their page and doing so. It’s not quite as slick as the way Twitter or Facebook manage replies, but I suppose that’s not Last.fm’s prerogative. Furthermore, unlike Spotify, Last.fm doesn’t have an explicit way of sharing music with friends, which would be arguably be the ultimate social feature of a website like Last.fm.
Another Last.fm feature that is good, but perhaps not quite what it should be, is its’ overall charts function. It captures the musical taste of the entire user base and displays charts of the songs and artists that people are listening to, as well as the songs and artists that are most ‘hyped’ (which means fasted growing). These are an interesting alternative to traditional sales-based music charts, but they are often dominated by certain fan bases and if a new album is released by a major artist, songs from that album will dominate the charts. These charts are true to their purpose, but perhaps some selective filtering would make them a bit more informative and interesting.
All-in-all, if you are looking for a way of discovering new music and perhaps looking into your own music library a bit more then Last.fm is a great website to use. I’ve been using it since 2009, and I rarely go a day without checking it. You can even add me as a friend if you are interested.