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Monday
Mar092009

What artists should know about Last.fm

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.

ct_lastfm_mar1

So how can Last.fm listeners discover your music?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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?
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

References (1)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.

Reader Comments (15)

Last.fm is one of the few sites I permit to show me ads, and I'm glad that I have. It's through the ads on the site that I've found a couple of unsigned artists that I'm now a fan of. I like the way the site allows fans to help build the artist pages, and I definitely approve of the ability to stream full tracks (in some cases).

March 10 | Unregistered CommenterCalysta Rose

Thanks for that! I just took control of my last.fm page the other day and I've been thinking I need to do stuff to capitalize on it! You've given me a few ideas and the links you posted hve been handy too. - DC

March 10 | Unregistered CommenterDC Cardwell

Great article, thanks for the read.

Though I'm not a musician, I've been an avid user of the site since 2004. Once you start tracking your listening habits, it becomes somewhat obsessive!

I've been using last.fm since it was called audioscrobbler, and have logged over 25,000 plays at www.last.fm/user/jimmeatweezer

I just set up an artist page for myself last week, and I agree with the comment about bugs. It took 3 tries to get my album art working and they kept losing tracks. I had to upload a few of them 2-3 times!

I love the idea about leaving my tunes on a playlist with other artists I'd like to hear. It's a little unethical but probably won't hurt anyone..

March 10 | Unregistered CommenterEthan Waldman

Thanks for your generous comments!

One thing I didn't mention in the article was royalties. Many artists are stressing out about the intricacies of the royalty program, but I don't think it's worth the time investment. We're supposed to receive anywhere from 10-30% of revenue generated by Last.fm for streaming our music. I'd be surprised if that amounted to more than a half penny per stream. The vast majority of independent artists won't reach the $10 payout threshold for a long, long time.

Just up until last week, CD Baby was supposedly collecting on my behalf, but I've yet to see any of that (though I've seen lots of payments for streams on Rhapsody and Lala). Now I've claimed the albums in my control panel and should be able to collect royalties directly, if there are ever any to collect.

Brian Hazard
http://www.passivepromotion.com
http://www.colortheory.com

March 10 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Hazard

last fm is one of those places I'll pay someone else to deal with on my behalf because they are such a hassle; I have tracks up there which got uploaded that only play distorted fuzz, and there's not a thing I can do about it, just reward listeners with fuzz. The administrative options given to an author positively sucks. There's not a single thing in their vibe, their 'branding' so to speak that makes me- as an artist enthusiastic about using the groovy blessing of technology to connect with her audience- remotely interested in being there. But of course, we all have to swallow our bitter pills- (& fortunately there are dispassionate interns to swallow some of them for us.) It's good that they serve the audience as well as they do, because they certainly are a sensible vehicle to use from a promotion standpoint.

March 10 | Unregistered Commentersylvia

I've found their powerplay campaigns totally useless anyway. Frankly 100 listens for £10 is quite steep for a small band. I got over 80% people listening to our music but just not enough conversions into real fans.

And I've already spent over £60 on them...which frankly has been a waste...a total waste of 60 of my great british pounds. They lured me into buying a traffic spike.

Great site otherwise from a listener point of view though I will give 'em that.

Atul
http://www.donkeybox.co.uk

March 10 | Unregistered CommenterAtul Rana

My second Powerplay campaign is about halfway through. I'm comparing the results I get from directing my music to two different groups of fans.

Speaking of payola, I just dropped $100 for 5000 plays on Jango. Last.fm costs 10x that! Here's the info:

http://airplay.jango.com/music+promotion/home

I'll be writing about the results at both sites at Passive Promotion, and most likely posting the articles here as well.

Brian Hazard
http://www.colortheory.com
http://www.passivepromotion.com

March 10 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Hazard

I've been using it since 2005 and love it. One great advantage over Pandora is that it is international and not US-based only (Pandora doesn't work if you don't live in the USA).

I wrote an ebook to "promote your music on last.fm" a while ago, you can get it for free from http://quaxle.com/ (scroll down, link in right handed sidebar).

March 10 | Unregistered CommenterNatalie

Hey Natalie,

I love your tips! I downloaded the pdf and will try it out. Looks like I made a mistake by going for the powerplay too early. But there's a lot more that can be done still, pretty sweet.


Atul from DonkeyBox

March 11 | Unregistered CommenterAtul Rana

Glad I could help :-)

March 11 | Unregistered CommenterNatalie

you guys are the Bomb

March 11 | Unregistered CommenterMike Baby

I just have to say it one more time YOU GUYS ARE THE BOMB FO REAL.

March 11 | Unregistered CommenterMike Baby

I disagree that Pandora wouldn't match Postal Service and Death Cab. I'm sure you know that Pandora is are based on the Music Genome Project which uses human-filter metadata to describe each track. Therefore, I'd assume that these two projects are similar enough and would come up under pandora.

But I think your point is that music by the same artist should be suggested? Is that really the "best" way? For example, should Foo Fighter fans be suggested Dave Grohl's metal side-project ProBot?

I'm not trying to make a qualitative comparison between the two methods - just explaining the differences. Based on my understanding of the different "genes" involved in describing songs, I don't think that Postal Service and Death Cab would come close, because of the differences in instrumentation. I suppose one could always create a channel and see for themselves.

March 15 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Hazard

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