Among the many joys of becoming parents, my wife and I were recently discussing some of the sacrifices of parenting 2 children under 2, including giving up live music for the time being. From the many of fun things we used to do out-on-a-thursday-or-friday-night, we singled out seeing live bands as our most missed.
For music fanatics, live music is a package deal. it's part of a ritual of too-frequent trips to the record store, sitting through (and often loving) lots of opening bands, catching up with friends between acts, and shooting the breeze about ever newer music and upcoming shows. But by moving to a new city, away from family, while simultaneously starting our own little family, we've effectively taken that package deal off the table for now.
But beyond the joy of live performance, the pleasure of discovering new music isn't something we ought to have to give up. However without the exposure and exchange part of the package, we're missing out on the discovery part as well.
That's where Last.fm fits in. Last.fm is a service that lets you build your own radio station by adding albums you like or think you like, and then lets you stream them as your own "personal radio." But while you're listening, they're taking notes, both from your Last.fm station and from your existing music library via an optional media player plugin. From these stats, they start recommending neighboring stations, introducing you to other people with complimentary taste. You can then listen to your neighbors' stations as well! In Last.fm's own words,
"Last.fm is a personalised online radio station that plays the right music to the right people. Songs spread from listener to listener.
You get your own online radio station that you can fill up with the music you like. This information is used to find users who are similar to you. With this information Last.fm can play you new artists and songs you might like."
I have used music info/recommendation sites like epitonic and allmusic in the past and found them very helpful, but they always seemed incomplete. I never integrated them into my music routine, more just for exploring or dabbling. But by 1) giving you access to tons of free (nearly) streaming music and 2) letting you connect with and listen to the collections of people with similar tastes, Last.fm has found a magic formula. The magic, as Suw Charman points out, is how they've skillfully integrated a social network to stand out from the crowd,
"I consider both of these sites to be social networking sites, even
though it would be possible to characterise Last.FM as a music site and
Flickr as a photography site. But both sites have at their heart not
the music or the photos but social networking and the sharing of
personal information. Without their social networks, both sites would
So now with my station I'm enjoying music I already know or know to check out, and from my neighbors' stations I'm discovering new music that's been more often a fit than not. Plus now that I'm donating a small amount via PayPal (I chose the amount), I can share my personal radio with the world, which completes the sharing cycle both inside and outside the network. Check out my personal radio button to the right, or click:
So while Last.fm isn't babysitting for us until 2am, it's helping us enjoy, discover, and share new music in a natural and familiar way, which is worth a lot!