Quick Poll: How many of you have heard of last.fmHow many of you have a last.fm account? How many of you are still scrobbling?
You can think of Last.fm as a very sophisticated speed dating service for music. It learns quickly about the bands you like and hooks you up with more musical matches so you’ll find artists and tracks to fall in love with.
Sounds easy but we’ve been doing this for a decade We are at our core, a User Generated Site – passionate Listeners and Artists create Last.fm by listening but also by actively creating those hundreds of millions of pages, wikipedia-style.
Last year we collected more than eleven billion scrobbles,. For those not familiar with the term, a Scrobble is a piece of data automatically sent by a Last.fm compatible device that tell us the song you’re playing, the artist who made it and when you played it.
If you listened to every one of those songs you’d have a playlist more than seventy one thousand years long.When you use Last.fm every single song you listen to is given a relationship to the other songs you listen to, in terms of frequency, time and place as well as the sound of each song and the tags people have assigned to it. And those relationships are what we use to determine the music we recommend to you.
No matter what the Recording Industry or the BPI says, the world of music is not getting smaller. Digital media and new forms of distribution created a massive explosion of new musicians and ways to discover old ones. We all live now in a very crowded musical universe. Most artists don’t have a piracy problem, they have an obscurity problem as they strive to be discovered and heard in this very noisy environment.
The key to making sense of this world is– to borrow a phrase from digital signal processing – to find the signal in this noiseTo find what resonates with you and your life.
Let’s talk about tags instead of genres.A lot of sites have genres and ways to categorize music. The iTunes Store has about 15 genres. Pandora has about 25 genres stations. Gracenote has a couple hundred genres their music staff uses
We don’t do it that way. Our listeners add 2000 unique tags each week and there are now 2 million in our database today.We use them for radio stations and for searching and for grouping artists together in loose, temporary ways. We don’t correct or normalize them. We let them grow wild and slightly feral.
Many of them are but not all of them. Our relationship with music is generally more complicated than a few categories can describe.
Here’s an example; these are Katy Perry’s tags. Among the most popular are pop and female vocalist, which are clearly people putting her in a genre, but if you look closely you’ll also see in there guilty pleasure, and awesome, or my favourite…. this emoticon <3
That emoticon is actually a really popular tag. It’s been used more than twenty seven thousand times by almost four and a half thousand people.
People also use our tags to create musical maps of bands from certain places. Sometimes those places are real….like my hometown of San Francisco.
…Sometimes legendary and historical. More a state of mind than an actual place.
Tagging is often the community talking to each other. Sometimes they argue.
Sometimes they have a sense of humor. If you look really closely, you can see that the Top Video for Brutal Death Metal is Rick Astley.
Some tags are describe huge popular scenes that bring together musicians and fans from around the world.More than thirty-one thousand people use this tag, hundreds of thousands of times.
But sometimes the scene is very small. Only 448 people used this tag and they all had to spell CAMPIRE wrong every time they used it. It’s a tiny, deliberate community.
This tribal sorting is something the music industry itself pioneered. This is an indie record shop - look at all that stuff.It’s tags like this that bleed into the music press, and in turn that start affecting the way music culture looks at itself. Diverse groupings that change week-after-week. On Last.fm all of this information is crowdsourced - there’s no canon of tags that music is matched against at - and sometimes it’s divisive (‘Katy Perry isn’t English’ is one of our tags.) but just as often it throws up incredible opportunities for musicians and labels.This is the important part;
For us, being open to tagging means that any musical community can establish a foothold. Once they’ve done this, it becomes a means to reach out to new listeners.
Witch House blossomed as a scene on Last.fm because tagging allowed artists and fans to create a genre and a canon around it. People were finding artists they liked, exploring the tags that had been used to describe those artists, then adding more artists to the canon.
For musicians and labels , tags are a great opportunity see who their music is up against, who their natural touring mates might be, and also what emerging scenes they might be shaping with their latest songs.
This is my favorite definition of tags. On Last.fmtags can belong to a time and a place that comes and goes. Some academic research about our tags show that the tag clouds around artists and songs tends to solidify after around 3 months. Generally, the community has decided how to place the music and there it stays. Sometimes they are temporary and describe memes. Sometimes they become classics.Some other characteristics of tags: very lightweight interaction to createThey can be both personal and globalNo limits on the variation – the cream rises to the top as our big global tags… but the personal can create intimate groups
In late 2011, we published an experimental interface to Last.fm’s deep catalogue of unsigned artists. It’s called Last.fm Discover and its worth checking out.
Well, Hashtags are an obvious touchstone here but why do they work?
If you are building a brand – be it a small start-up or a massive company or a band -- ESPECIALLY if you are in a band– you need to build your story. And you need people to take that story and run with it. It’s better when there is room in your story for their story. When they can mutate it, remix it… tag it.
Last.fm: Noise by numbers
Noise by NumbersMatthew Hawn, VP Product Twitter: @jukevox
a global music community boundtogether by our listening and sharing habits
More than 100 million tracks by more than 45 million artistsCreated from 65 billion Scrobbles from 44 million registered users
Tags = small scenes “a campire and a tent and a flashlight and some matches and a tree and that river and my glasses and a spaceship and a reallyreally big bear but the bear is really really far away”