I was prompted to write this piece by a recent post from Amit Gawande:
There was a time when I used to love using Last.fm. The recommendations were brilliant; they had also nailed the social aspects around music consumption. But once the music went streaming, I felt no need for this service. Does anyone still use this service? For what?
I’m a former Last.fm user, and I have more than a few thoughts on that particular service.
For those who’ve never heard of it (pun intended), Last.fm tracks what you listen to and provides you with recommendations of other music you might be interested in. It was born in the 2000s when most of us were still listening to our personal music collections on our computers. Originally, Last.fm also provided the ability to listen to those recommendations, as well as the music your friends liked, directly through their app.
That last part would prove to be the start of the service’s undoing, as the music industry and their licencing arms demanded fees for streaming music. I was one of the lucky ones who could still stream via the desktop app, and later on their mobile app, but most folks lost that ability as Last.fm were unable to afford all the licencing fees being asked of them.
When Spotify launched, it offered support for Last.fm, even including it in its app marketplace for a time, but eventually the marketplace was scrapped, and while you can still scrobble tracks from Spotify to Last.fm it’s a one-way street now.
The service continued to deteriorate as it was sold to CBS Interactive. Streaming eventually stopped entirely, replaced by links to YouTube if you were lucky. I bailed out around 2014, as it just wasn’t worth the effort for me any more.
I’m pretty torn up about what happened to Last.fm — it was a genuinely useful service to me for a long time, introducing me to music I might not otherwise have found, and there is lots of useful data there about artists and labels. While some wounds were self-inflicted, the majority were from other parties who siphoned away users by various means. Facebook sucked out all the social interactions, while Spotify did the same for music recommendations. In both cases, the goal was to keep users on their platforms.
As for the music industry and their proxies, they’ve been fighting a battle for twenty years now to stuff the Internet genie back into the bottle ever since Napster appeared, with little success but huge damage for those seeking new ways to connect artists and listeners. Last.fm was just one of the targets caught up in this ongoing war. Spotify, Apple Music and the other streaming services made their deals with the devil and most of them survived.
I still do a lot of what I did back when I was regularly using Last.fm — hear an interesting song, look for more by them and how to get hold of their music — but these days it requires more steps and manual labour to get there. Ironically, Last.fm sometimes shows up in my search results, but I rarely get from there directly to a place where I can purchase or add tracks to my library.