Last.FM for your listening pleasure

Some website obsessions come and go. Of course, they don’t really go anywhere most of the time. They just sit there, unupdated (not a word? well, give it a year, it will be), a snapshot in time of the oddities that the internet can create. Who can forget Eric Conveys an Emotion (my personal favorite is still “Finding Dead Body in Trunk”. Man, I experience that emotion all the time!)? Another one of my favorites that just sort of ended one day but could have gone on forever (in my view) was Book of Ratings (go back a few hundred entries; there is pure gold in them hills).

But, I don’t even read Boing Boing regularly like I once did, despite it still being an amazing blog.

There is one obsession I’ve had since I first found the site (something like 7 or 8 years ago) and it remains with me to this day. I check it regularly, like email or Facebook. Last.FM is a site built for me. It catalogs and organizes and unifies my music listening habits into charts of play and then provides links to other music I might enjoy (including free radio stations based on musical tastes). But, to be honest, I don’t even care about the second function of the site that much, I just compulsively go over my charts. It fascinates me in a way that it simply shouldn’t. I mean, it’s not like day to day the charts change all that much, yet there I am almost every day, looking again.

Oddly (or maybe it’s not so odd), I know that since I’ve joined the site, my listening habits have changed somewhat, and it’s directly because of the site in some instances. For one, I think I consciously try to listen to different bands more frequently instead of listening to the same favorite 2 or 3 over and over again (though, of course, as you can see, I do listen to Radiohead far and above anyone else). Once you get out of my top 10 or so, you start to see a vast branching of music. Obviously, new bands (or old bands I’ve only recently gotten into) take some time before they start to make a big impression on the chart, and bands I used to like but never listen to anymore (MxPx) don’t immediately disappear. But, you can also look at your yearly, monthly and weekly charts, so you get a fuller view of your individual listening habits.

Plus, you can “scrobble” music from your Ipod, so it doesn’t just have to be music you listen to at home. I, for one, like to listen to upbeat and energizing music when I’ve got my Ipod and I’m out (anyone say, “99 Problems”), whereas when I’m on my computer or reading or writing, I like slower, more atmospheric stuff. And as more and more people ditch car radios for their Ipods, I think this site will, in general, be a truer representation of the listening habits of the population.

Patterns fascinate me, and what’s great about Last.FM is that the patterns get more interesting the more an individual listens, and the more people who join up to the site. One of the fascinating aspects of the site is that it creates charts of all listeners’ habits. Radiohead and Coldplay battle it out for the top spot (usually Radiohead sits on top, but anytime Coldplay releases new music, which is a bit more frequently than Radiohead, they take the top spot for a few months), with the Beatles usually residing in the top 3 or 4. Right now, Muse is 4th and Michael Jackson is 5th. What can be extrapolated from all that info? Well, for one, I’d say Last.FM must have a large European (British) population, because Muse just isn’t that popular on this side of the Pond (I’m not making a quality statement, just a general statement of their fanbase in the States versus Europe). Despite the seeming ubiquity of rap and hip-hop inspired music in the mainstream, specifically radio and Billboard charts, on Last.FM you have to go to the 26th spot (Black Eyed Peas) before seeing a ‘hip-hop artist’ and the first rapper (Kanye West) doesn’t appear until number 36.

The takeaway from this is clearly not, “Rap is overhyped, people aren’t really listening to it.” Rather, it implies that the type of people who join Last.FM tend to lean towards the more rock/indie fields of music listening, which makes sense since Last.FM is kinda nerdy as an idea and would draw that sort of personality (and there is definitely a casual link between nerds and Indie music). Also, the type of people who listen to most of their music on their computers (and thus would have use for Last.FM) as opposed to those who listen mostly in the car on the radio or whatnot probably leans more towards the type of music fans who like ‘album’ music as opposed to just ‘single’ music. (Which means I just refuted my earlier assumption that there might be a lot of European listeners affecting the charts; it’s likely that Muse is just more popular among the American nerd crowd.)

I probably am a pretty good base example of the type of listener on Last.FM (go ahead, take a look), though my more folky/Americana leaning is not really represented in the site’s top 10, and I’m not really into “Rock” bands like Metallica (or Muse, for that matter, though I do listen to them a little bit). Also, my listening habits don’t tend to be affected by world events, so there is no spike in my Jacko plays after his death.

I think Last.FM only gets more interesting as more people join. Especially as the represented tastes diversify. I think you can find an example of every type of listener on the site, but certainly the more Anglophile-types represent the largest majority. If you’re on the site, encourage people to join up, and if you’re not with the site, sign up (and then, hey, you can be my friend; you lucky sonofabitch). This is the sort of grouping and calculating of mass information that the internet is specifically designed for and it only gets better as the numbers grow. Even if you aren’t a chart-nerd like me, you’ll find use for the site in the way it offers you new musical options that correlate with your personal tastes (their suggestions only get better and more refined as more people join). If you love music and are constantly wanting more, and wondering what else is out there, this is a great site for you.

If you don’t like music, I’m sorry your soul is dead. Can I have your stuff?

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