The End of Scrobbling – A Farewell to Last.fm

Digital music has been a fascination of mine since the turn of the millennium.  Audioscrobbler came into being in 2002 while I was in college, and the thought of sharing my listening with a global network of musical peers was exhilarating.

Audioscrobbler merged with Last.fm in 2005, taking the social element of music to a whole new level.  There were forums to discuss listening trends, metadata analysis and recommendation engines… all while independent blogging exploded onto the scene in a flood of obscure music fetishism.

audioscrobbler

In the years since I admittedly lost touch with the service and dropped off the scrobbling radar to focus on personal relationships, collecting unscrobbleable LPs, and developing my career.  As the summer of 2015 came to a close my life was settling up nicely – I left Windows for Linux, I have a fiance, a fantastic career, and I’ve just purchased my first home.

With these stations of life secure, my mind returned to the world of scrobbling and the possibilities of merging big data and my own hyper-specific musical tastes.  I developed a ~500 day plan to scrobble every track from my library 24 hours a day for over a year to submit every title toward Last.fm’s recommendation engine.  Surely a library of over 110,000 tracks would produce some intriguing results!

But this evening, I logged into Last.fm and looked around to find that the site has retired all of its original functions.  The social forums are closed.  The “neighborhood” of your peers is now inaccessible.  The homepage offers only a most-popular-globally-this-week roster plastered with “Uptown Funk” and other predictable tracks.

last.fm top artists

The Wikipedia spelled out what I’d missed – CBS had acquired Last.fm for £140 million in 2009.  Wasting no time, in February of that year the service handed listener data over to the RIAA over concerns about a then-unreleased U2 album.  By 2010 the service closed the custom radio feature, (again over licensing issues) and in early 2015 they partnered with Spotify, further crippling the usability of the site.

But the nail in the coffin came in August of this year with their fully-overhauled website.  It received almost universally negative criticism from its users, who cited broken and missing features.

Given the new light of this information, I’m terminating the full-library scrobble project and saying farewell to Last.fm.  Still, I shall not mourn the loss for long.  The social function of digital music has experienced a parallel evolution in the world of private forums and closed groups on social media sites like Facebook.

Terry RIley - Persian Surgery DervishesA magnificent record I discovered thanks to a Facebook Record Community

Every morning I’m greeted with “now-spinning” rare vinyl treasures and independent music reviews which top anything you’d find from a recommendation engine.  One user from South Korea offered nearly 40 daily installments of records from his Tangerine Dream collection, each accompanied by a custom write-up on the featured release.

Private tracker communities, classic bulletin board systems, and other social structures of the web continue to serve as a brilliant resource for musical discovery.  Last.fm served us well during a pivotal time in the age of digital media, and it will be missed, but we’ll carry on.

last.fm

RIP Last.fm
2002 – 2015

Published in: on September 10, 2015 at 9:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Apple Music – A Failure At the Outset

 “APPLE BETS BIG THAT YOU’LL
START PAYING TO STREAM MUSIC”

So proclaimed last night’s headline on NPR Music.  But most music consumers know full-well that this is a losing wager on the part of Apple.
Apple Music will be the latest in a line of failures from the media giant.  They’re coming into the streaming service market far too late in the game. The world has had 100% free music for over a decade and Apple’s branded service is too little, too late to matter.
 
Certainly, it will appeal to a specific niche audience – Apple fans with no active interest in music, who will use the service on their iPhones much in the way transistor radios were used in past… but with an even smaller base of popular song.
 
A hundred years of great music – works by the world’s greatest conductors and orchestras, big band, classical, and opera, legends of jazz, funk, rare groove, and 20th century avant-garde… works which defied and defined the musical philosophies of their era – none of these will have a place in Apple’s expensive, shiny box.
 
This will be Beats Music all over again. (And we all saw how well that worked out.) Poster-boy flavor-of-the-week artists can have their contracts of exclusivity with Apple Music. The rest of the world will barely notice when the service closes in the year ahead.
 

And for the millions in the middle – the casual music consumers of the world – Colin Barrett (interviewed in the NPR article) has already spoken for them. 55 million listeners have free accounts with Spotify, and the rest are happy with the similarly free services offered by YouTube or any of the dozen other available services.

All of this while the world’s more discerning listeners will continue on as they always have, whether crate digging or file sharing to uncover rare and elusive sounds not available from any of the commercial markets.

Apple, you had a good run. It’s time to hang it up.
Published in: on June 30, 2015 at 8:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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How Music Got Free – Cover to Cover

pTIS74v

Thrilled to have received my copy of Stephen Witt’s How Music Got Free in the post on its date of official publication, I made myself comfortable, put on a full pot of coffee, and eagerly dove into what I anticipated would be a fast-favorite addition to my library.

The book quickly settles into an exciting rhythm – its chapters circling around the activities of key figures in the story of the music industry and of music piracy in the last thirty years. It begins with the struggle of Karlheinz Brandenburg to develop his MP3 audio compression format over twelve years of fine-tuning and a constant battle for acknowledgment by a fiercely competitive industry.

The action then jumps to a few seemingly inconsequential men working at the PolyGram compact disc manufacturing plant in North Carolina – an unsuspecting locale for the most pivotal characters in the end of an industry.

A chapter later, we are privy to private exchanges between the newly-appointed CEO of Warner Music and his fellow overseers of the empire. As the story unfolds, we follow these figures through label acquisitions and purges, through major shifts in industrial policy, through aimless crackdowns on “pirates” including the elderly, the deceased, and a 12-year-old girl who’d downloaded the theme song to Family Matters.

As these individual stories progress, the reader develops an in-depth perspective of the tumultuous end of an era for recorded music. The author offers an astoundingly detailed account of the lives and conversations of core members of the Rabid Neurosis warez group and their suppliers. The storytelling is exciting, calculated, and fast-paced. In elegant Hollywood style, each chapter leaves one scene at a critical cliffhanger to pick up at a similar point of action from another of the sub-plots in the puzzle that was turn-of-the-century music.

I read How Music Got Free eyes wide from cover to cover, captured by every thrilling twist in the tale. What could have been a dry and drab account of compression algorithms and legalities is instead an action-packed saga of a dangerous underground organization where anonymity is critical and risk is always high.

The book also explores the advent of the iPod and the birth and death of numerous filesharing services like Kazaa, Grokster, Limewire, Bearshare, the rise and fall of TPB, and Oink, as well as a few contemporary players I’d never expected to see named in print.

The ending is incredibly satisfying, and even evokes a strong sense of emotion and empathy in the reader – yet another surprise I hadn’t anticipated from a text on piracy. Witt’s book is a fascinating read and adds a much-needed perspective to a story which is still being played out before our eyes. This is easily my favorite title of the year.

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Results of the Innerspace Labs’ Music Discovery Survey

The results are in for the Innerspace Labs Music Discovery Survey!  A huge thank-you to all who offered their input.

I created the survey out of a personal curiosity.  Sadly, I have very little contact with the general public outside of the few members of my digital publishing team at the office, and I wanted to know what impact the web has had on the ways listeners discover new sounds.

I suspected listeners utilized multiple media resources in their musical explorations and that certainly proved to be the case.  Contributors cited an average of 6.44 sources for new music data.  The majority of the music sources I offered as options for the survey were widely-used, save for rateyourmusic.com, music subreddits, Gnoosic, and Usenet groups which each accounted for fewer than 3% of users’ musical resources.  I found this particularly interesting as I visit RYM frequently as my primary ratings and review aggregator and find its information invaluable when researching artists and genres.

Survey Tablepsd

As expected, Youtube ranked as users’ most-used resource when sampling new sounds.  I was surprised, however, to find that radio, motion pictures, television, or other forms of mass media were the third-highest ranked information resource, right behind user’s own friends.  While I only see ~3 new films annually, and have no exposure to television or radio, it still appears that mass media is still a significant part of most people’s lives.

Spotify and other streaming services were the next-highest ranked source, accounting for 10% of listeners’ discoveries.  While they are not a viable source for non-commercial or analog-only recordings, they still offer an incredible convenience for quick-and-easy personalized radio stations and there is no shortage of articles proclaiming streaming the new standard for mass media.

Crate digging was another significant source, as were vinyl Facebook communities and private music forums.  I’m curious whether this is representative of the public at large or just for Innerspace readers, but it is exciting nonetheless.

I was similarly please by the results for music lit and other periodicals, which accounted for more than 5% of musical discovery.  While 5% doesn’t sound significant on the surface, bear in mind that users cited an average of 6-7 sources for new music, so I’m considering 5% a threshold for this survey.

Other sources of note are independent music blogs and local music performances, both of which were a delight to see still holding their own in the survey.  After attending the latest concert at my local university, I will certainly be visiting their music library for further research into works by their professors.

I’m also curious to see if torrenting will grow in popularity for general music research in the years ahead.  Personally, torrenting is a critical step in my music purchasing process.  I’ve yet to find a better system, whether for surveying the catalog of an artist or to compare various masters before investing my hard-earned cash.

I consider the survey a success as its certainly given me a better understanding of how users find new music.  Thanks once again to everyone who contributed!

How Innerspace Readers Discover New Music

Last Change to Add Your Voice to the Innerspace Music Discovery Survey!

A huge thank-you to all who’ve participated in The Innerspace Music Discovery Survey!  I need just a few more contributors before I begin my write-up, so if you haven’t answered the single-question survey yet – now’s the time!

It takes about 1 minute, and the results will be published in an upcoming article.  Add your vote now and tell us how YOU discover new music!

Click here to answer the single-question survey before it closes!

musicstreamingservices

Pirates to the Rescue: Giving the Listening Public What Commercial Services Will Not

Ladies and Gentleman – I’m proud to share my first published article as a music journalist for Queens Free Press in NYC! The article is live on their website and there are plans to feature it when the time comes for their first print edition.

The piece is titled, Pirates to the Rescue: Giving the Listening Public What Commercial Services Will Not.

Visit Queens Free Press and CHECK IT OUT!

By Jon Åslund [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Jon Åslund [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Rally in Stockholm, Sweden, in support of file sharing and software piracy.

Published in: on February 22, 2015 at 1:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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