Music streaming is, we are told, booming. Spotify and, to a lesser extant, Last.fm have so far grabbed most of the headlines, but they’re not alone and any one of the music streaming services now available would have blown my teenage mind apart.
Combined with something like Amazon recommendations they’re a fantastic way of discovering new music. Allowing you to live with songs and albums before making up my mind to buy them.
I regularly visit Spotify and Last.fm, and recently checked out We7. It’s interesting how differently they come across and the variety in their functionality, given that all three are just music streaming services.
For my ‘money’ (as I use the free – but not ad-free – version), Spotify is the best of the lot. Overhyped, to some extent. But it’s like having a giant iTunes library and then having to choose everything you listen to. I know – oh, the hardship. Still, that’s no recommendations, no Genius function, no shuffling your library.
Last.fm on the other hand is predominantly random. Often it’s spot on. You pick an artist you like and get related tracks. However, tt doesn’t distinguish between album tracks and live cuts, which can be confusing.
There are a range of further options. By signing up you can allow it to collect all the tracks you like or dislike and use it to refine the related tracks it provides. There’s even an application to download that can pick up everything you listen to on your iPod. More than that, it collects these tracks in your ‘library’, which you can choose to listen to on random. It’s a very internet-driven bargain: take my user data, keep it for your market research, but provide me with a personal, refined, targeted service in return.
As for wanting to be your friend, there are also a range of community add-ons – listen to your ‘neighbourhood’, comment boxes on every track, but these do nothing for me.
And if Last.fm wants to be your friend We7 wants to be a shop. I’ve not used it much yet, but first impressions are very much of the ‘listening posts’ music shops sometimes still have in between the computer game display, where the customer is allowed to listen to the shop’s choice of albums. Why a shop? Well, it just feels like an Amazon or HMV, but with full length tracks the way it’s set out. It is also the most upfront one about its commercial imperative. Still, it is refreshingly easy to use. Click on a track and up it comes, no registration or other hurdles.
Ultimately, having any of these services as a teenager would have made that music obsessive indie kid very happy indeed.’So, you mean I can listen to any music I like? For free?’ Think of all the seminal bands I could have checked out. Mind you, who in the ’90s indie scene wasn’t “seminal”.
But they’re never going to replace iTunes until they’ve got a all encompassing range and until they can be used with a mobile basis. The range is already impressive, but I like to be pretty picky sometimes. My personal test is whether they have anything by Grant Hart. All three look to fall down here, lacking either the former Husker Du drummer’s solo albums or the band ones with Nova Mob, but then again I haven’t seen anything from him in a bricks and mortar shop since the mid-1990s. Mind you, Last.fm get’s bonus points for knowing who he is (recommendations just now included Sugar, Husker Du and Paul Westerberg, so not bad).
So they’re not the second coming, but they do seem to be the future of music consumption. Afterall, why should I buy an album without knowing what it sounds like, without being able to test-drive it first.
What albums wouldn’t you have bought given that choice?