This is a piece about two of my favourite Internet music services, whom I would rather like to introduce to each other.
I can no longer remember when I set up an account on Last.fm, though I think it was a few years ago now. I am also not sure whether it was still called Audioscrobbler at the time, though I’m fairly certain it was the “scrobbling” that interested me back then, rather than any of the service’s other features.
(“Scrobbling”? For the uninitiated: when you listen to songs via an app(lication) which has Last.fm support, you can set it to send information on what you are playing, to your account on Last.fm. This is known as “scrobbling”, and it means (amongst other things) that you can store and share statistics on your favourite listening, flag tracks that you love or loathe, and give Last.fm an idea of your music tastes, so it can recommend new sounds to you. But I’m getting ahead of myself.)
I also came to appreciate Last.fm’s “radio stations”—particularly the “recommended” channel, where the service would play me a list of tracks it thought I’d like, based on my previously-scrobbled selections. (Whilst generally broadly accurate, the channel seemed to get the idea sometimes, that just about all I listened to was Harold Budd and Brian Eno. Whilst I make no secret that I like those two artists, as you’ll see from my Last.fm profile, my listening is just a bit wider than that.)
Unfortunately, a few months ago Last.fm turned off its “radio” feature for freeloaders like myself, meaning I would have to cough up £3 a month for the Last.fm subscription necessary to get my tailor-made channels back. I admit I’ve been thinking about it, especially of late, as I do rather miss the “personalised Internet radio”.
Now: hold that thought, while I bring in my other “friend” here…
As with Last.fm, I can no longer remember how I discovered the music downloads store Bandcamp, but almost as soon as I did, it felt like I’d found the ideal outlet for my music and recordings. (It felt to me like “MP3.com for the 21st century”—referring to the MP3.com of the late-1990s, before it picked fights with the 800lb gorillas of the music industry, with sadly predictable results.)
Before long, I’d set up my Bandcamp pages, with a selection of my newer and “archive” tracks for folk to sample and purchase downloads of (plug, plug 😉 ), and had also started tentatively exploring some of the other artists on the site. An old favourite of mine—British looping guitarist David Cooper Orton—recently started releasing material there (some of which I’ve bought), and I also “discovered” an American post-rock/electronica project there, Sound of Seventy Three (a bit Stereolab/Air-ish, I’d say), whose eponymous album I also coughed up for.
Much as I like Bandcamp, I feel one of its strengths is also a weakness: its large and growing catalogue of independent bands and artists. It’s a great place to find new music, and when you buy their downloads, you can choose your format (320K MP3, FLAC, Ogg, etc.) and have a reasonable idea that they’re getting a bigger cut of the cash than they would if they were signed to a major label.
The flipside of all that choice, is how to track down the artists in this ocean of choice, which are likely to match your tastes. Of course, you can browse genres and the like from the Bandcamp home page, and I sometimes do that… but wouldn’t it be great if somehow, there was a way for “the system” to look at the music I listen to (whether by the influences, artists, etc. I specify, or my listening history, or both), identify some Bandcamp artists which might match this, and serve them up so I can listen to a selection, in case I might want to investigate them further?
I hope you can guess where I’m heading with this, but in case not, I’ll come straight to my point (finally!):
Why don’t Last.fm and Bandcamp join forces?
Now, I’m not suggesting that they merge, or one buys the other, or anything like that—I’m no business expert, and I don’t know if either would be “up” for a formal coming-together, or if it’s possible, desirable, etc. I just believe that Last.fm and Bandcamp have the potential to offer something really special if they pool their respective offerings, and I hope I can articulate my idea in a remotely coherent fashion.
Here’s the concept (never mind if/how it can be done, for the moment): Bandcamp artists are given the option to make their catalogue available to Last.fm (they have to opt in). At the same time, Last.fm gives its subscribers the opportunity to receive Bandcamp artists’ tracks via their “recommended radio” channel (again, perhaps a tickbox on the settings page).
So, hypothetically, a Last.fm listener, as well as being presented with “established” artists, could also be given a selection of Bandcamp artists’ tracks (hopefully in the stylistic area(s) their profile suggests). If the listener hears a Bandcamp-sourced track which “grabs” them, they can flag it as a “like”, at which point (and I don’t know quite how this would work out) the listener can be pointed to the artist/track’s Bandcamp page.
Now, speaking personally, I would jump at this on almost every level. As a Bandcamp contributor, I would love the chance for tracks of mine to be heard by a potential worldwide audience of many thousands (and, hopefully, listeners who might like my musical style). Moreover, as a Bandcamp consumer and Last.fm listener, I would welcome the chance to be introduced to Bandcamp-based musicians and bands (hopefully, in my areas of interest), interspersed with more established artists.
I’m not attempting here to be too prescriptive—for one thing, I realise that what I’ve described may be difficult, even impossible. I have no idea how the two companies feel about each other—for all I know, they could be great admirers, or bitter rivals (exaggerating for effect!), and/or the technical hurdles could be insurmountable. For various reasons, I’m also not touching the multifarious business issues, such as how either service could be remunerated by co-operating with the other.
However, in terms of the end-user, it seems to me that these two services could’ve been made for each other—Last.fm offering a listening experience tailored to an individual (where discovering music you might not have found otherwise, is part of the pitch), and Bandcamp presenting a wide selection of independent artists, many of whom I’m sure wouldn’t object to exposure to a new audience. (Yes, Bandcamp could potentially offer its own “Internet radio” service, but why reinvent the wheel, when Last.fm already does so (and many Internet radio apps support the service), and offers the personalisation to the listener?)
In case someone from either Bandcamp or Last.fm ever reads this: apologies if I’m being hopelessly naïve here, and/or this has been discussed/tried/failed before and I missed it, or whatever. I hope you’ll take this in the spirit I intended: writing as a keen user of both services, who reckons they seem to him like the perfect match, at least from an end-user’s point of view.
Now, back to mulling over whether to pony up for a Last.fm subscription…