On the surface, Last.fm and Pandora seem redundant. Both recommend new music based on your current favorites, and allow you to influence their suggestions by approving or disapproving of each song as it plays. But while Pandora suggests songs based on their underlying musical characteristics, Last.fm relies on guilt by association. The formula is right out of the Amazon playbook: “Fans of band x also listen to band y. You like band x, so you will probably like band y.” To illustrate the difference between the two approaches, Ben Gibbard is the lead singer for both the indie rock Death Cab for Cutie and the electronic The Postal Service. While Pandora would likely never recommend one to fans of the other, Last.fm deems them the closest match.
Last.fm has over 21 million active users in more than 200 countries, which makes their recommendation engine quite powerful. Download the software to connect your media player to their database (i.e. enable “scrobbling”). Most desktop media players are supported, along with the iPhone and Google’s Android OS. Obviously, your plays on the site are also tracked.
So how can Last.fm listeners discover your music?
- Recommendations. Color Theory’s top 5 similar artists are Cosmicity, Anything Box, Martin L. Gore, Red Flag, and Depeche Mode. Does that mean that my music will automatically be recommended to Depeche Mode fans? Sadly, no. Color Theory is 186th on DM’s list of similar artists, whose fans are more likely to listen to Duran Duran or the B-52s.
- Tags. Last.fm doesn’t place tracks, albums, or artists into strict genres. Listeners create their own tags, which can be anything they want (some aren’t pretty). Color Theory has been tagged with obvious ones like synthpop and electronic, along with more oblique ones like loss for words, tracks to find, and infinite.
- Charts. These are pretty much what you’d expect, but they also highlight “hyped” tracks and artists - those experiencing a spike in plays (at first I assumed it referred to paid placements).
- Friends. What web 2.0 site would be complete without a social networking component? From my user page, I can click on “neighbors” and instantly find dozens of other users with similar taste in music. Most of my “neighbors” are 14-18 year old girls. Does that say something about Last.fm or about me?
- Groups. You can discuss your favorites in a group, or comment on any track, video, or artist directly on the content’s associated page. Someone was nice enough to create a “Color Theory Fans” group back in ‘06, which now boasts 8 members including myself.
- Events. Anyone can add an event, which shows up on the artist’s page. Last.fm automatically recommends the event to fans in the area. Afterwards, users can submit reviews and photos.
- Widgets. Show off your impeccable taste to the world with a custom widget. The sidebar at Passive Promotion contains one of the many different types you can create. As of this writing, there’s no way to create a widget dedicated to a single artist or label.
While Last.fm is a great example of passive promotion, there are plenty of things you can do to increase your visibility as an artist. Here are some suggestions from the Last.fm team. Besides the obvious stuff like uploading your music and completing your profile, they offer paid promotions. I signed up for two Powerplay campaigns, which target a set amount of radio plays to a specific group of users. I’ll share the results in a future post. In the meantime, I created an iTunes playlist containing my new album along with tracks from other artists whose fans I’d love to reach. I’ll let the computer play it overnight while Last.fm scrobbles.
If you make music, you must be on Last.fm. You probably already are. Start by claiming your page. Assuming a Last.fm user has listened to your music, it’s already up and running. If another artist or band uses the same name, you’ll have to share the page with them. Just one more reason to name your next project Dogcatcher 319.
I should warn you that from an artist’s perspective, the site is complicated and occasionally buggy. You’re actually creating three accounts in one: a user account, an artist account, and a label account. If you run into trouble, start by searching here. If you can’t find the answer, check the label forums. I considered writing a step-by-step guide, but the site is constantly in flux. It’s worth the headache to get everything set up just the way you want it, because Last.fm will keep working for you long after you’re done.
Brian Hazard is a recording artist with fifteen years of experience promoting his seven Color Theory albums. His Passive Promotion blog emphasizes “set it and forget it” methods of music promotion. Brian is also the head mastering engineer and owner of Resonance Mastering in Huntington Beach, California.