Prick Up Your Ears

Submitted by Andy on Sun, 01/27/2008 - 18:36

A number of you might be familiar with social-listening site last.fm, as you can see on the right sidebar I've been exhibiting my bizarre listening habits for quite some time now. However for the most part it has lagged behind quasi-competitor Pandora in most of the circles I roll in. Both provide essentially the same service, offering new music based on music you already enjoy. While last.fm should have the edge being based on an aggregate of taste as opposed to a series of ever-mutating algorithms, Pandora is in essence a borg radio station whereas last.fm peddled in metadata.

As of a couple days ago there was a change in this delicate balance. As it turns out last.fm is owned by a megaconglomerate that also includes CBS, and with this massive clout has bullied the major labels and a cadre of independent ones into offering free full-track streaming of damn close to every track on the site. Of course there are a number of byzantine catches, and the announcement has rumblings of a subscription service which would make it essentially a hipper version of the Naxos Music Library. However, the whole thing is built on a relatively sane business plan of actually paying the artists themselves per play.

There been some other discussion about whether this whole enterprise is built on the idea of streaming music being fleeting, when clearly tools* exist that make this not the case. The couple tracks I've listened to haven't bowled me over with their fidelity, granted all I've listened to so far is an album I already own and Reich's You Are variations. Blech. However as far as the musicology in me goes haven't sound documents of that much music, especially since it includes the last fifty years of this "popular" music I've heard so much about.

What does it matter to us concert music folk? The organization is a bit hit-or-miss, since it depends on the teeming masses that provide last.fm with its playlists to have accurately tagged their music. Thus it was at times nigh-impossible for me to find anything pre-1950 due to the artist/composer conundrum. However among the labels that signed on are ECM, Nonesuch, and Cantaloupe. So the entire discographies of Bang on a Can, Steve Reich, and the Kronos Quartet are available. And that's kind of a thing.

* Even to the point where techies are concerned that our current less-than-hip Supreme Court may revisit the Betamax decision at the behest of aforementioned conglomerate. I doubt the financial effect of such theivery will be much, since the average person who is too cheap to buy music is also too cheap to shell about $40 for a program like Audio Hijack Pro.

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