With 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?
Dear last.fm users. Yes, you will occasionally see things that aren’t released yet coming up in my last.fm scrobbles. As a reviewer for Trebuchet Magazine I get review copies of albums. And no, I’m not going to share any of those files with you; they all come with strict instructions from the record companies and the artists not to reshare them. So please don’t ask me too.
I’ve been listening to “recommendations” on last.fm recently, for the first time in a while. As before, it tends to overplay the same small subset of bands too much, including rather too many very similar-sounding power-metal bands and NWOBHM also-rans with the word “Witch” in their title. One other act who keep coming up is a European prog band. Their last.fm Wiki description is a cut-and-paste from Prog Archives describing them as being in the style of classic neo-prog bands like Marillion, IQ and, er, Pendragon. Which is the sort of thing to make you fear the worst.
I won’t name the band, but I have to say I wasn’t impressed by what I heard.
The singer sounds as though he wants to be Fish, but without the charisma. The guitarist tries to be Steve Rothery, only without a fraction of the talent. It’s all there; the widdly solo on a 1980s synth, the portentous spoken-word section, even some sub-Pink Floyd FX. The lack of originality might not have mattered so much had the songwriting been great, but sadly, it’s very very ordinary. Bands like this are to prog-rock what The Kooks are to indie.
If bands like The Kooks are labelled as “landfill indie”, then this is surely landfill prog. The stuff that falls well, well below the Sturgeon threshold.
This isn’t a “prog” versus “progressive” thing by the way; that’s something that always degenerates into a “my music is better than your music” pissing contest. The real problem with bands like this is not that they’re “prog” rather than “progressive”, it’s simply that they’re not very good. Neo-prog, when done well, can be great. Bands like IQ or Magenta demonstrate this. They might still wear their influences on their sleeves sometimes, but they can write strong original material with enough of their own identity to be far more than a derivative pastiche.
Which is something the landfill indie bands conspicuously fail to do.