Internet radio has been around for some time now–at least since the mid nineties actually (earlier, if you count it’s infancy)–and it has most certainly evolved from those early days of streaming into the smooth and ubiquitous service that we take for granted today. Odds are you have used, or use, streaming audio and/or video and haven’t really given it a second thought. That’s good, and once again we have social media to thank for changing the nature of the game even here. Enter social music. Internet radio with a healthy social networking aspect thrown in. A great way to listen to a giant, 64 oz. variety gulp of music and share it with your friends, and family, or the world. All this and no commercials to boot, what more can you ask for?
Lack of choice never seems to be an issue with the internet and this is no exception if you’re looking to get your music fix online. We’re going to talk about an exemplar in the field and try to give you a rundown of the features, functions, and what there is to like or dislike about them. So, without further delay, let’s take a close look at Last.fm, one of the more popular social music sites out there and quite possibly the only social music source you’ll ever need.
I love Last.fm! However, one of the primary complaints about the site’s homepage is it’s busyness. This may be my only issue with the site, but wow, there’s is definitely an excess of information to digest here. Sure, this may be because there’s so much available music to listen to—which is in no way a bad thing—but there’s a screaming background that users are force-fed as well. You can’t miss it, trust me; it’s a vert for one of those reality cooking shows. It gets on my nerves. Perhaps I’m just sensitive and my distaste for reality shows is getting in the way. Who knows?
Social music sites like Last.fm allow you listen to ‘radio stations’ based on your favorite artists. Search for an artist, song, or album and Last.fm will create a station for you which will only feature music by, or similar, to the artist you were interested in. It’s a great way to expand your music vocabulary by finding music that matches your listening preferences. If you hear something you really love, you can favorite it and it will automatically be sent to your own personal music library; one which you can return to again and again. Tagging is also supported, which is helpful for locating a particular type of sound or music. Tagging also sends items to your library.
Last.fm seems to have quite an extensive music catalog and bio’s are available for many of the artists. I found the bio sections on a few of my favorite bands to be chock-full of information. There’s plenty more information to be had as well, on practically any artist you can think of. Last.fm sports a similar artists list which, as you can surmise, provides you with a list of artists that are in some way similar to whatever artist you were checking out to begin with; another way, aside from just sitting back and listening, to find music you’re sure to like.
You can even create playlists of your favorite songs (assuming the tracks are available in full length of course, and not every track is). While playing around—bad pun intended—I created a very short playlist of songs from a handful of my favorite artists, all of which I’ve saved in my library. I can go back and fire up my playlist anytime I’m not in the mood for the more wide-ranging music selection of a standard artist station.
Now let’s talk about the social aspect of Last.fm. Create a station and you can share it with your friends by emailing directly to their inboxes, post it directly to Facebook or Twitter, bookmark it on Delicious, or you can Digg it. Can you dig it? (Zing!) You can easily tell all your friends about the great band you just discovered, and in turn they might be able to direct you to another that Last.fm just might have missed. There are also groups you can join where you can interact with other users who share your music tastes by joining in on discussions and checking out the group lists. This is, in particular, yet another way to find even more music you’ll love by tapping into the crowd. I love Guster and there’s an active discussion going on in the group right now that asks, ‘If you like Guster, you’ll like…‘. It’s word of mouth times a gabillion.
Another particularly nice feature, and one that’s incredibly easy to use on Last.fm, is the option to purchase very nearly any track you hear. This process is so easy it hurts. Hear a song you like, click the Buy Track dropdown and then choose where to buy the track from: Amazon MP3, 7Digital, or iTunes. Prices are around the 99 cent mark, which is about what we’ve come to expect from other music sources.
That pretty much covers the basics. But, fair warning, Last.fm can be addicting–the more you use it, the better able it is to recommend music to you. Couple this with the fact that you can take your music tastes with you anywhere you can access the internets and you might just grow a third ear for music (I kill me, I really do).