What Killed Last.fm?

lastfmWith the news that last.fm is shutting down their streaming online radio, I’m wondering exactly what changes in the music environment have forced them to rip the heart out of their service.

Are the majors demanding too much in licencing fees for the thing to be viable? Remember that it’s not stream-on-demand in the style of Spotify, so it should not cost as much. Or, more cynically, did last.fm’s major label owner deliberately decide to kill what had once been a useful music discovery tool because they don’t like people discovering independent music?

Or maybe last.fm has just had its day? Back in the days before their radio went behind a subscription paywall I used to listen quite a bit, and it played a lot by independent bands. That fed into a lot of CD purchases, and I spent a lot of time curating the wiki entries for bands. But nowadays a combination of social media and sites like Reverbnation and Bandcamp seems to be filling that role. The social side of Last.fm has more or less faded away as Twitter and Facebook have grown, and they never did resolve the artist disambiguation issue in their database.

All last.fm really does now is scrobbling and statistics collecting, and I’m not convinced that has much value unless it’s feeding into some sort of music recommendation that last.fm itself no longer provides. Yes, I know they’re still got a web-based music player, but all that does is play YouTube videos, and is not fit for purpose in it’s present form; too many of the videos are abysmal-quality fan-uploaded mobile phone footage from gigs, or worse, bedroom karaoke performances that don’t feature the actual artist at all.

Does last.fm’s scrobbling data still have any value for independent artists now, or is it time to stick a fork in the site?

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6 Responses to What Killed Last.fm?

  1. The Other Tim Hall says:

    The fact that Spotify is substantially owned by the majors could readily be used to construct a variety of entirely plausible theories…

  2. Tim Hall says:

    Never forget that the majors’ business model is based on keeping the public from hearing music that the majors don’t own.

    Legal streaming sites are in a Catch-22. They can’t sell their service unless they’ve got the majors and their catalogues on board, but the majors are less likely to support a site that ends up promoting too much independent music.

  3. PaulE says:

    Re: “the majors’ business model”
    I’m sure they would counter by saying that no business pays to advertise anothers’ products – especially when it is a competitor.
    I would counter that by saying that it is in their interests to have as many potential customers engaged in the process as possible. Restricting the music pushes people away.

  4. Sphen the sober says:

    seems to me an aggregation service for band camp, reverb nation, and the other indie sites would be a useful niche for last.fm. I can’t generally be bothered trolling around those sites to find the gold.

  5. Tim Hall says:

    @PaulE: I guess last.fm was doomed as soon as the founders sold out to CBS; there is inevitably going to be a conflict of interest between the owners and the would-be customers.

    @Sphen: That would be a good niche; I’d love to see user-curated streaming radio that pulls music from various licenced sources and includes plenty of independent and obscure stuff as well as the labels’ back catalogues. It’s a shame mFlow’s business model didn’t prove viable.

  6. Graeme Hayter says:

    Gave up on it 3 years ago. Looked like it might be a thing and I invested an awful to of lot of time in it ( and the really fiddly band management aspect) when I was officially involved with TR but it just didn’t get noticed and I didn’t get any benefit from it. It just got bypassed.
    Btw hope you’re well, Tim. Always follow your posts with interest :-)