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Frustrated with Last.fm

First, get yourself caught up here, so the rest of my post will make sense: http://blog.last.fm/2011/02/07/lastfm-radio-becomes-a-premium-feature-on-mobile-and-home-entertainment-devices

I joined Last.fm because it was superior to Pandora Radio to me. I didn't care much for Pandora, because my stations would radically change based on what I gave as "thumbs up" and "thumbs down". For example, I would set a "Barenaked Ladies" station, and rate songs based on what I liked and disliked, and before I knew it, I was listening to Beethoven. If I continued giving thumbs up and thumbs down, I would hear Led Zepplin in the mix. Continue inductively, and Garth Brooks would be heard, then Bing Crosby, then Manheim Steamroller, and on and on. I learned to just leave the thumbs up/down rating alone, and let the radio go. At least then it would play similar artists to what I wanted.

I also didn't care that Pandora was driven entirely from the website using Flash. I was a big external music player user at the time (still am), and had an extensive library of MP3s that I had built up over the years (which I no longer have, actually), and I didn't want to control two music software applications. So, I did a bit of research and found Audioscrobbler and Last.fm. There was a scrobbling plugin available for my player at the time, so I loaded it up and all was well. I even really liked all the metadata about the songs that was added to my library. I could build my own custom playlists, see which songs I "loved" and create my own tags. Their official stand alone app is even Free Software, licensed under the GPL! Win.

I later learned about subscribing, and found that if I subscribed, I could play my loved tracks, playlists and tags- something I had been spending a great deal of time working on. There was great value to these features for me. So, I signed up in 2009, and enjoyed every minute. Then, Last.fm announced that they would stop offering a free stream to users outside of the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany, due to licensing fees from the recording industry. This didn't affect me, as I both live in the States, and I was paying $3 per month as a subscriber. But, when they announced in late 2010 that the ability to no longer play loved tracks, custom tags, or playlists, even for subscribers, I stopped paying. The only reasons I was paying was because of those features, and they were gone. I wiped my playlists (no good to me now), and stopped tagging songs.

Right at the end of the year, I got an HTC Evo 4G Android phone, and immediately installed the LastFm app, set the widget to one of my desktop home screens, and streamed practically nonstop. I streamed the radio while walking to campus, while studying, while working, while commuting to and from work (on public transit, not driving). It was by far the most used application on my phone. Even though I couldn't play my loved tracks, playlists and custom tags, I wasn't paying anymore, so I was still happy.

Then, today's news hit: I can't stream Last.fm to my mobile phone without being a subscriber.

I'm frustrated. Really frustrated.

So, I begin looking for another service to take advantage of. First off, however, let me make it clear that I don't feel that it is my right to have music online for free. No one owes it to me to provide me with free music. While I don't agree with many of the copyright laws in place, especially those dealing with digital media, I understand why many of them exist. Further, I may not understand all of the business models of the recording industry, but I'm still willing to pay for a service that provides real, meaningful value. I would be willing to put up with advertisements, both banner ads in the application or on the website, and 30-60s commercials in the stream for non-subscribers, like myself.

During my research, I've found a great deal of other online music streaming services. Some offer free models, most offer some sort of subscription service for various features. It seems that almost all of the online radios that do have a mobile application, require some sort of paid subscription to stream music through the app. Here's what I've found (sorted by price per month):

  • Free (ads and with limitations), $3 USD (no limitations)- Pandora (U.S. only)
  • Free (ads and with limitations), $5 USD (no limitations)- Slacker (U.S. and Canada only)
  • $3 USD- LastFm (U.S., U.K. and Germany only)
  • $5 USD- Rdio (U.S. and Canada only
  • $9 USD- Grooveshark (International?)
  • $10 USD- MOG (U.S. only)
  • £10- Spotify (E.U. only)

I'm sure there are others that provide large catalogs of popular music, and have various subscription models for other countries around the world. My apologies if I haven't included it in the list. It's by no means exhaustive. But, the point made is clear: $3 USD per month for streaming radio to a mobile application isn't bad. Sure, Pandora is free, but you can only stream 40 hours of music per month for non-subscribers, something I would chew through in 4 days. Slacker is also free, and provides a larger set for non-subscribers than Pandora, but it is ad-supported, gives the user a limited number of skips per hour, and limited number of plays, and other limitations. Otherwise, LastFm is looking good at only $3 per month.

But, I'm skeptical. The LastFm Android application is anything but stellar. Its user interface is awful, making it very difficult to navigate through artists profiles, tags, etc. Further, even when connected to a wifi connection, with full bars, the application will skip songs before finishing, something that would really irritate me if I was a paying subscriber. They did say that users can have a 3 month free trial, so that may be the route to take to see of the reliability and UI issues are addressed before sending CBS your hard-earned cash.

What will I do? I don't know. If they could bring more features back to the subscribers, besides just the ability to stream from your mobile device, I would easily resubscribe. I love all the stats, charts, and other metadata that they've built into your account. I like going through what I've loved or listened to, and watch my listening habits change with time. I've discovered a lot of great artists, and even purchased 10-12 albums because of these discoveries. I even dig the social aspect of the site.

Given this recent news, I don't know what I'm going to do. Really, if I can just scrobble other radio stations, something that LastFm does not allow through their API, then it really wouldn't be that big of a deal. I could deal with the limitations that Slacker comes with, and I have no problems with the ads, if done tastefully and in moderation. But, it seems I'm being forced behind a paywall, and I'm not excited about it. It's not that big of a deal to have stats, I guess, but I'm a Mathematician, and they have value to me. I would miss using another service, and not having the ability to report my stats.

{ 5 } Comments

  1. Marcin Juszkiewicz using Firefox 3.6.13 on Windows XP | February 8, 2011 at 12:56 am | Permalink

    Under Android check TuneWiki instead of official Last.fm player.

  2. Aldo Nogueira using Firefox 3.6.13 on Ubuntu | February 8, 2011 at 4:54 am | Permalink

    Last FM used to work here in Brazil but they stopped claiming that there were no local ads to support the bandwidth. This is a problem for Gnome users since Rhythmbox doesn't get album covers, lyrics or context any more.

    Grooveshark works here and have local ads. I use it sometimes.

  3. Aaron Fournier using Google Chrome 11.0.662.0 on Ubuntu | February 8, 2011 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    The Last.fm API seems good enough to scrobble other radio stations, but it's those other radio stations that make it problematic to scrobble to Last.fm. For instance, people have tried to find a way to scrobble the music listened through Pandora's mobile application, but its API doesn't seem to allow to grab any information that people can use to scrobble.

    If you don't subscribe to Last.fm, MOG would seem to be one of the best options. For me, it would come to the service that has the cleanest tags and the ability to scrobble to Last.fm easily. I use Grooveshark a lot, but I would never subscribe just for its ability to scrobble to Last.fm because I wouldn't like how it would submit it to Last.fm. I don't scrobble with Pandora for that reason. I *hate* the way their music is tagged. Instead I manually scrobble the sings I listen to using those services.

  4. Brad using Firefox 3.6.13 on Windows 7 | February 8, 2011 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    I've paid for Pandora streaming for going on two years now, and am fairly satisfied with their service. As Aaron Fournier said, I do wish they would add some scrobbling support to their apps, but I doubt they would willingly inter-operate with a competing service. I do also notice some cross talk between stations; I'll start hearing songs I 'liked' on other stations coming on stations I wouldn't necessarily expect.

    We do have a joke about Pandora always getting back to Led Zepplin, they always seem to come up eventually on pretty much every station. Invariably, when a song does come on my mate will say, "Hey, do you guys like Led Zepplin?"

    One final note, I've recently found mflow, which adds a twitter like social network aspect to music sharing. It seems like a good contender, but I didn't see a mobile app for it yet. I feel bad putting it out here, but if you'd like to sign up, you might use my invite code. http://beta.mflow.com/signup?invitecode=QBXLI6

    Thanks for the intriguing post,
    Brad

  5. Danilo using Google Chrome 10.0.648.204 on GNU/Linux | April 28, 2011 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Grooveshark is absolutely fantastic! I'm still paying the old price of 3$/month as I subscribed before December. Nowadays you pay 9 if you want mobile streaming. Online streaming on the other hand is free.

    The Android App is also pretty cool. You can even download songs for offline listening.

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