Sites & Services

What Artists Should Know About Last.fm

On the surface, Last.fm and Pandora seem redundant. Both recommend new music based on your current favorites, and allow you to influence their suggestions by approving or disapproving of each song as it plays. But while Pandora suggests songs based on their underlying musical characteristics, Last.fm relies on guilt by association. The formula is right out of the Amazon playbook: “Fans of band x also listen to band y. You like band x, so you will probably like band y.” To illustrate the difference between the two approaches, Ben Gibbard is the lead singer for both the indie rock Death Cab for Cutie and the electronic The Postal Service. While Pandora would likely never recommend one to fans of the other, Last.fm deems them the closest match.

Last.fm has over 21 million active users in more than 200 countries, which makes their recommendation engine quite powerful. Download the software to connect your media player to their database (i.e. enable “scrobbling”). Most desktop media players are supported, along with the iPhone and Google’s Android OS. Obviously, your plays on the site are also tracked.

ct_lastfm_mar1

So how can Last.fm listeners discover your music?

  1. Recommendations. Color Theory’s top 5 similar artists are Cosmicity, Anything Box, Martin L. Gore, Red Flag, and Depeche Mode. Does that mean that my music will automatically be recommended to Depeche Mode fans? Sadly, no. Color Theory is 186th on DM’s list of similar artists, whose fans are more likely to listen to Duran Duran or the B-52s.
  2. Tags. Last.fm doesn’t place tracks, albums, or artists into strict genres. Listeners create their own tags, which can be anything they want (some aren’t pretty). Color Theory has been tagged with obvious ones like synthpop and electronic, along with more oblique ones like loss for words, tracks to find, and infinite.
  3. Charts. These are pretty much what you’d expect, but they also highlight hyped tracks and artists – those experiencing a spike in plays (at first I assumed it referred to paid placements).
  4. Friends. What web 2.0 site would be complete without a social networking component? From my user page, I can click on “neighbors” and instantly find dozens of other users with similar taste in music. Most of my “neighbors” are 14-18 year old girls. Does that say something about Last.fm or about me?
  5. Groups. You can discuss your favorites in a group, or comment on any track, video, or artist directly on the content’s associated page. Someone was nice enough to create a “Color Theory Fans” group back in ’06, which now boasts 8 members including myself.
  6. Events. Anyone can add an event, which shows up on the artist’s page. Last.fm automatically recommends the event to fans in the area. Afterwards, users can submit reviews and photos.
  7. Widgets. Show off your impeccable taste to the world with a custom widget. In the sidebar to your right is one of the many different types you can create. As of this writing, there’s no way to create a widget dedicated to a single artist or label.

While Last.fm is a great example of passive promotion, there are plenty of things you can do to increase your visibility as an artist. Here are some suggestions from the Last.fm team. Besides the obvious stuff like uploading your music and completing your profile, they offer paid promotions. I signed up for two Powerplay campaigns, which target a set amount of radio plays to a specific group of users. I’ll share the results in a future post. In the meantime, I created an iTunes playlist containing my new album along with tracks from other artists whose fans I’d love to reach. I’ll let the computer play it overnight while Last.fm scrobbles.

If you make music, you must be on Last.fm. You probably already are. Start by claiming your page. Assuming a Last.fm user has listened to your music, it’s already up and running. If another artist or band uses the same name, you’ll have to share the page with them. Just one more reason to name your next project Dogcatcher 319.

I should warn you that from an artist’s perspective, the site is complicated and occasionally buggy. You’re actually creating three accounts in one: a user account, an artist account, and a label account. If you run into trouble, start by searching here. If you can’t find the answer, check the label forums. I considered writing a step-by-step guide, but the site is constantly in flux. It’s worth the headache to get everything set up just the way you want it, because Last.fm will keep working for you long after you’re done.

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42 Comments

  • Reply
    Todd Durrant
    March 9, 2009 at 6:41 pm

    OK, I just have to share my thoughts on LastFM. I was told several times that I just HAD to get an account, so I did. I found out that most of the label bands already had music uploaded from fans (apparently there is little or no control on the upload side of the spectrum). Once I claimed a label account as A Different Drum, I was told that my account would be on hold for a few days until they could verify if I was really the label, then the bands would be switched automatically to my label.

    OK, so I noticed that one of the “label bands” according to their automatically generated list was not a label band, so I sent a message notifying them of that fact. A couple days later, my account was approved, including the non-label band, which I guess I adopted. I think the “approval” process was nothing more than a 3-day hold on the account with no real review taking place.

    Whew. Now, I thought I’d update my label roster and releases, beyond what was already there from the fans. After about three hours and little accomplished, I decided it was a futile effort. I’d just let the fans and bands continue what they were doing. Everything seemed very messy.

    One of the reasons I’d been told to sign up was so that the label could receive “royalties” for the tracks that were being played by label bands. I don’t know how that works, because I haven’t received a cent, ever.

    As an additional note, the REAL label for that band-in-question eventually emailed me to ask if I’d kindly release the band from my label roster on LastFM so they could be listed under their proper label home (for the “royalties” of course). I told them it was fine with me if they claimed the band somehow, but I had already told LastFM that the band was not on my label.

    Come to think of it, I should check back and see if I’ve since adopted any more bands and how much more music has popped up.

    My ultimate conclusion– LastFM may be popular, but it’s about as uncontrolled and a total free-for-all as Myspace. Anybody can claim to be anybody, upload whatever they want, and we all just cross our fingers that it will eventually be figured out. But as far as promotion goes, you might as well make your music available to them, because somebody may just hear it. Most likely, that won’t be a “somebody” that is interested in buying any music, but you never know!

    As for Pandora, I really like their setup as a listener. I found that my “station” eventually became tiresome because their selection seemed quite limited in the style that I enjoy, but I was actually quite impressed with their music recommendations. I decided that maybe their selection would get better if I shipped them an entire box of CD’s. That was a few months ago, and my station still plays the same songs. They still play the one Neuropa song (for example) that they always did, and not any from the 3 additional Neuropa CD’s I sent them. Oh well.

    -Todd

  • Reply
    Mike Madrid
    March 10, 2009 at 12:12 am

    Dude, holy smokes, that was my group on last.fm, back when I used it! Started not liking it for some reason, and it’s been about two years since I’ve returned to that site. Just thought it was funny that group endured this long, and that I went by rubikcubeboy…

  • Reply
    Brian Hazard
    March 10, 2009 at 7:09 am

    Ha! Small world, Mike. If you’re still able to log in, feel free to delete the group, as it’s inactive and a wee bit embarrassing ;). I appreciate the motivation behind it, of course!

  • Reply
    Mike Madrid
    March 10, 2009 at 11:21 am

    Sure thing, once I crack my own password, haha.

  • Reply
    Brian Hazard
    March 11, 2009 at 7:48 am

    After you closed the group, someone complained to me that they were dropped, but it’s all good. It looks like it will auto-delete after a period of inactivity.

  • Reply
    Mike Madrid
    March 11, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    I’m sure this article drew some attention to it, but it’s impossible to join, so after a month or two it should vanish.

  • Reply
    Christopher Lee
    March 13, 2009 at 12:02 am

    Whoa… the thing you said about “claiming your page”, I was just curious so did a search. Apparently I have 1 track, 1 play on there haha. Not much at all but still comes as a surprise.

  • Reply
    Christopher Lee
    March 13, 2009 at 12:04 am

    Wait.. I guess it just displays that, but can’t actually listen to anything on that page.

  • Reply
    Brian Hazard
    March 13, 2009 at 7:04 am

    If a user played an mp3 with your artist name and track title encoded in the file’s ID3 tags, it’ll show up, regardless of whether or not the tags are accurate or the song exists anywhere else. If you don’t have an aggregator that feeds into Last.fm, and haven’t uploaded the track yourself, there’s no way they can stream it.

  • Reply
    Jef Kearns; Soul Flute
    March 13, 2009 at 11:32 am

    One major difference between LastFM and Pandora is that Pandora is not available to Canadian listeners. I’m not sure if it’s available outside the US at all.

  • Reply
    Ed
    March 22, 2009 at 8:30 am

    Brian,
    I read your comment in the CD Baby forums regarding last.fm payments to CD Baby DD artists. I have a couple of questions, if you don’t mind. Are you being paid through your CD Baby account for last.fm plays? If so, does it appear as a “last.fm” payment or another name? The reason I ask is that I have four albums placed on the site through CD Baby’s DD, three of which allow full, unlimited track plays to anyone who looks for them. I’ve never been paid for any of the listens I’ve gotten. You mention “claiming” your music through the last.fm site. Is it possible to do that by creating a new account in my name? I didn’t put the music there; CD Baby did. Thanks for your time and your help.

    -Ed

  • Reply
    Daemon
    March 22, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    wow, this was a really helpful post for me. i haven’t delved into Last.fm and didn’t even realize it could be used as a promotional tool. thanks, Brian.

  • Reply
    Brian Hazard
    March 22, 2009 at 6:45 pm

    I’ve never received any payments through CD Baby for Last.fm streams, though I have for streams through other services, like Rhapsody and Lala.

    You can indeed claim your albums by creating a new account. They make you prove you’re the artist, which takes a day or two (I don’t recall the particulars), at which point you can elect to receive royalty payments directly. More importantly IMHO, you can select 30 second clips, full streams, or free downloads on an individual track basis. I highly recommend making at least a couple of tracks available for free download, so they will show up on the home page of users with similar tastes.

    Royalty reporting occurs once per quarter, so I don’t have any reportable figures yet. Whether I eventually get paid or not, we’re not talking about a lot of money. Streaming royalties are typically a fraction of a cent per song, and you need to reach the minimum payout of $10 before requesting a payment.

  • Reply
    Ed
    March 23, 2009 at 6:26 am

    Thanks, Brian. Maybe I’ll try that. My tracks were sent here well over a year ago, so that’s a lot of quarters without a report. Conversely, I get sales reports from Rhapsody and Napster every month without fail. There is no explanation of last.fm’s sales procedures that I could find on the CD Baby DD list. Smells a bit fishy to me.

  • Reply
    Ed
    March 23, 2009 at 7:13 am

    UPDATE:
    I created an account and took ownership of my material. Disturbingly, there was no proving who I was. I gained access to the uploaded material instantly. Anyone could have done it by pretending to be me. In my view this is a serious security breach. Moreover, per the royalty terms, I was required to allow free, full-length, on-demand and unlimited streaming to users in the U.S., U.K. & Germany. In other words, my largest markets. This was unacceptable to me, so I deleted all the uploaded albums. Again, anyone pretending to be me could have done this. I would suggest to anyone with music on last.fm that they take ownership of their property, read the agreement VERY CAREFULLY, and act accordingly.

    Thanks again for your tips, Brian. Too bad CD Baby isn’t nearly as helpful.

  • Reply
    Brian Hazard
    March 23, 2009 at 7:35 am

    Wow Ed! That’s scary. I hope you use your real name as your artist name. That would be a little less disturbing.

    I’m not sure what royalty terms you’re referring to. I selected, “I want to collect Radio and On-Demand royalties for all my songs” (the top one). I have the freedom to change all my songs to 30-second clips if I want, but I’m happy to let them stream full-length worldwide. I personally think letting people hear my music is always a good idea, but if you don’t want to provide that option, you’ll also need to remove your albums from Lala.com through CD Baby. It seems like new sites are cropping up weekly that stream my songs in full, which I welcome with open arms.

  • Reply
    Ed
    March 23, 2009 at 9:41 am

    I chose that royalty option as well. It was my understanding as I proceeded through the process that individual tracks were not subject to the preview-only option, as CD Baby uploaded them as part of the DD agreement. I saw no such preview-only option on the album/track edit page.

    Regarding actual royalties paid, the fine print states:

    “If your track is played on our personalised premium radio service, you will accrue the greater of either 10% of the Share of Last.fm’s Net Revenue from the personalised radio service, or US $0.0005 for each complete transmission on the personalised radio service.

    – If your track is played on our free on-demand service, you will accrue 30% of the Share of Last.fm’s Net Revenue from the on-demand radio service. [How much in actual money? It doesn’t say.]

    – If your track is played on our premium on-demand service, you will accrue the greater of either 30% of the Share of Last.fm’s Net Revenue from the premium on-demand service, or US $0.005 for each complete transmission on the prepaid or subscription on-demand service. ”

    In other words, you’ll need to accrue 20,000 plays on the “personalized radio service” before you make the $10 payment threshold, but “only” 2,000 plays on the “prepaid or subscription on-demand service”. That hardly seems like an equitable tradeoff, considering you’ve allowed unlimited plays of the very music you’re trying to sell. There’s a reason why most sites allow only 30-second previews. Why pay when you can listen for free?

  • Reply
    Brian Hazard
    March 23, 2009 at 10:03 am

    Once you claim the album from the “manage your catalogue” option in the Music Manager, you can do what you want with it. CD Baby is out of the picture. I can click on any of my albums that CD Baby provided and deselect “full-length preview.”

    Oh, I see what you’re saying. Unless we opt out of royalties altogether, all our music can be streamed on-demand in those countries. I suppose it’s no different than Rhapsody or another streaming service, other than perhaps the royalty rate. At this point, I’m delighted with anything that pays, even fractions of a cent.

    Thanks for clearing that up Ed! I received 300-400 radio plays the past couple of weeks, so maybe I’ll see that $10 check someday. I’m not holding my breath though.

  • Reply
    Ed
    March 23, 2009 at 3:06 pm

    Yeah, maybe. Are those plays from the “personalised premium radio service”? You only need 19,600 more!

  • Reply
    Brian Hazard
    March 23, 2009 at 3:16 pm

    I think so! “Total number of plays for your Color Theory releases on Last.fm radio.” If it’s starting from when I claimed the albums from CD Baby, then I guess you’re right about the numbers. At this rate, it’ll take about a year to nab the $10.

  • Reply
    David Harrell
    March 24, 2009 at 11:44 am

    CD Baby delivered two of my albums to Last.fm. No payments for radio and on demand plays ever showed up in my CD Baby account, even though I did receive reports (and royalties) for the 3rd and 4th quarters of 2008 from Last.fm for two releases that CD Baby didn’t deliver. I didn’t realize I could “claim” the tracks delivered by CD Baby before today, so I just did so.

    If anyone’s interested, I posted the details of my Last.fm royalties here:

    http://digitalaudioinsider.blogspot.com/2009/02/lastfm-royalties-for-q4-2008.html

  • Reply
    Ed
    March 24, 2009 at 12:26 pm

    CD Baby just sent me this explanation of their Last.fm sales arrangement:

    Your album has been sent to Last.FM to be included in their new
    royalty program, which includes on-demand streaming. Users of Last.FM
    can stream (not download!) tracks up to 3 times for free. Once this
    user has listened to a track 3 times, it will become a 30-second sound
    clip and the user must pay a subscription fee to listen to the track
    in its entirety (and you will receive a little under a penny for each
    time a subscriber listens to a track, similar to other subscription
    services, such as Rhapsody or Napster). Hope this clears things up!

    I don’t know if “user” means an account-holder on Last.fm or any random passerby, but before I created an account and claimed my tracks, I was able to listen to every track without limitations. Good luck, all.

  • Reply
    Brian Hazard
    March 24, 2009 at 6:42 pm

    Thanks for the info David! $17 ain’t bad. And thanks for the clarification Ed! Maybe “user” means anybody, if they track IP addresses and/or use cookies. Of course for most people, IP addresses change all the time, and cookies are easy to clear.

  • Reply
    Ed
    March 24, 2009 at 8:29 pm

    I think “user” does indeed mean anybody, Brian. And as you mentioned somewhere else, Last.fm seems to be a real free-for-all. It seems anyone can edit an artist’s bio and upload unauthorized photos. Anyway, I did delete all the CD Baby uploads, taking them out of the picture entirely and regaining control of my released albums. I just uploaded my latest collection of unreleased songs into a new album, managed by me only, but I’m not sure how to direct those miniscule micropayments as they accrue. I’m guessing it has to be through PayPal, but I didn’t see that sign-up window anywhere. Any suggestions?

    Anyway, here’s my latest album, as Indie as it gets. Free listens to the world! Heh.

    http://www.last.fm/music/Only+Ed+and+The+Almost/Strawberry+Phobia

  • Reply
    Brian Hazard
    March 25, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    The fact that anyone can edit the pages as a Wiki is a nice feature IMHO. Fans are pretty good at policing themselves, and I’m sure most bands don’t bother maintaining the pages.

    If I remember correctly, you do need to have a PayPal account to receive deposits. I’m not sure where to provide the account information, though I must have given it to them at some point in order to launch my Powerplay campaigns.

    You’ve got some short songs on that album. I want more for my money! Oh yeah, it’s free. 😉

  • Reply
    fuck lastfm
    June 7, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    lastfm is such a useless piece of shit fraud. overrun by trolls. i cannot wait to receive our settlement for use of media without permission and defamation

  • Reply
    SeanG
    June 27, 2009 at 7:52 pm

    The trouble I have with lastfm is the total inability to control tags. Lastfm is awful about lumping bands with similar or same names on the same page. The most popular tags greatly influence search results and “similar artist” suggestions. There is a band using a name very similar to my own band and their tags have overrun my band’s page to the point where I have to put a big disclaimer at the top of our page.

    Lastfm staff has basically said I’m SOL. I don’t quite thing misleading tags are libel, but it sure feels like it.

  • Reply
    Brian Hazard
    June 28, 2009 at 9:30 am

    I know what you’re talking about Sean. It gets confusing fast when a bio says, “this name refers to one of three bands.” You might check out the discussions on the Last.fm forums, because I know it’s a heated topic with no easy solution.

    As for tags, I suppose it’s the same way on Amazon. Someone can tag your music “pirate rape songs” and there’s nothing you can do about it, except to stop writing about pirate rape so much.

  • Reply
    Brian Hazard
    July 23, 2009 at 7:16 pm

    CD Baby is finally showing my Last.fm royalties… (drum roll, please)

    $0.74

    It appears to be calculated over many years, since my 1999 album took in the most, and my new album isn’t even listed. For comparison’s sake, I’ve earned $1.18 from Lala. Bottom line, royalties are negligible.

  • Reply
    E M
    August 19, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    I find lastfm amusing. I had to claim both my current artist, as well as the band I was in years ago. The process was silly and time consuming. I’ve spent countless hours trying to make the pages look better and be informative- but like all these sites they are duplicates of each other in many senses. They should just have an rss feed that connects them all so the label or artist doesn’t have to quality-control sites like this. Lastfm was the first site I ever saw that could index an artist’s music without the label or artist being involved on any level. In my view it’s just shady…I am not sure if it’s a copyrigjt violation per say- but it is shady.

    I agree most fans police themselves fine- it’s the site itself (the dual profiles, incorrect video posts) and possibly some bands acting as users that mess it up.

    What I do like it is gives a fairly accurate picture of how many fans are listening comparitively at least to other labels and artists, with less influence from the label or artist. It’s not like myspace in that sense where you might get many friend requests from bands per day, and totally artificial statistics compared to how known a band is outside that platform (ie: myspace).

    Like myspace, I don’t like these sorts of platforms because they don’t pay fairly for streaming imo, if they pay at all as I can see from this thread.

  • Reply
    Brian Hazard
    August 19, 2009 at 7:12 pm

    That’s a great idea EM! It seems like sites are struggling to develop new features to let us post once, publish anywhere (iLike, ArtistData, ReverbNation, Ping.fm). What we really need is a site that does the same thing with profiles! Maybe BandID.com or something…

  • Reply
    Ed
    August 20, 2009 at 5:34 am

    I deleted all my albums from Last.fm because anarchy is incompatible with property rights. I’ve kept my account active, however, so I may monitor any unauthorized uploads/activity and deal with it. In my view, an artist should never put himself in a position of losing control of his own property. It’s antithetical to everything “indie” means.

    I have, however, uploaded my music to a great place called bandcamp. I highly recommend that you check it out. After years of dealing with garbage sites like MySpace and all the other clones, it’s a breath of fresh air, because there is nothing competing with your music: no silly commenting, voting, spamming…no creepy Match.com webcam-porn ads (no ads, period!) The only thing on your page is your music, the album/track art, a very good playback protocol that allows listeners to stream a whole album from beginning to end without interruption. Plus easy purchase links via PayPal. The site doesn’t take a cut of your sales profit either. And it has a very good stats section. Check it out!

  • Reply
    Brian Hazard
    August 20, 2009 at 6:03 pm

    Ed, you’ve obviously had a different experience, but I feel that I have complete control over my property at Last.fm. Nobody can upload Color Theory songs but me, and if someone uploads a photo I don’t like, I can delete it. If a song is misnamed, I can suggest a correction and eventually it’ll take. More than anything, Last.fm monitors what people are listening to, regardless of whether they host any content.

    I agree with you on Bandcamp. It’s a breath of fresh air. Assuming they stay in business, they’ll eventually need to monetize. SoundCloud is another option for streaming your whole album. They even give you code so anyone can post it. For example, I’ve posted the new Imogen Heap album on colortheory.com: http://colortheory.com/imogenheap

  • Reply
    Chad
    December 7, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    Nice writeup! However, I read the help file at Last.fm’s website, yet I still don’t understand why I would need to create 3 accounts (artist, label, user). Could you please explain? I’d be grateful to know.

    Thank you

  • Reply
    Brian Hazard
    December 7, 2009 at 7:25 pm

    It’s been so long since I set that stuff up, and it might have changed in the meantime, but as I recall they aren’t three separate logins. One login serves all three purposes. Your user account has a “Music Manager” option which handles your artist and label details.

  • Reply
    Tommy Wimbley
    April 11, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    Great article… fans isf you like Usher, Trey Songz, Miguel, or Lloyd- check out Shun Ward… this dude is nice. His EP is free at http://www.shunward.com. Yes he is on Last.FM!

  • Reply
    Brian Hazard
    April 12, 2011 at 9:44 pm

    You'll have to let me know which gets better results: promoting on Last.fm, or promoting on articles about Last.fm. 😉

  • Reply
    Daniel J Johnson Jr.
    October 26, 2011 at 7:28 pm

    Great article

  • Reply
    Davaughn White
    December 20, 2011 at 6:27 pm

    Great Article but, I know a better website! It's RappingLive and they promote music from all artists all over the world. Check it out: http://www.rappinglive.webs.com it's an upcoming website.

  • Reply
    Anonymous
    February 3, 2012 at 9:47 am

    Hi Brian thank you for the article.

  • Reply
    13 Gorillas
    November 4, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    Nice post – linked to in this article:
    http://www.13gorillas.co.za/blog/2012/11/04/Market_yourself_with_id3_tags.

    ^_^

  • Reply
    Brian Hazard
    November 4, 2012 at 11:01 pm

    Thanks!

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