Last.fm essentially invented the idea of tracking what people play in various services and sharing it with others about ten years before Mark Zuckerberg announced last month that Facebook would do the same. Today, Last.fm actually “scrobbles” from more devices and music services than Facebook does, but Facebook has the users — and therefore, the power.
What is Last.fm to do? Well, the Last.fm Discover service it rolled out today looks like a step in the right direction. This web app works best if you’re already a Last.fm user, because that way, it will already know what you like.
In my testing this morning, it has consistently presented me with stuff I really do like, while offering lots of browsing and recommendation-shaping features that help you find even more stuff to listen to.
As you cruise around the site, a persistent music player at the bottom of the screen follows you around, so the music never stops unless you want it to. As you listen, you can harvest the best tracks into a mixtape-style playlist that’s easy to share via Twitter, Facebook, or email.
Oh, and the whole thing is free — and ad-free, thanks to a Microsoft sponsorship.
You can check out intriguingly-named genres from “Newgrass” to “Indietronica,” and search for types of music, but you can’t search for an artist and expect them to play — just bands that sound like that artist (possibly including that artist). These bands are not all “new,” although some of them are.. Perhaps a better description would be “bands that are not currently being rammed down your throat by a massive promotional engine.”
As for the interface, well, it’s pretty awesome. Who wouldn’t prefer to look at green, rolling hills rather than stale old iTunes?
“Our team has grappled over the years on how to best overcome the barriers of discovering new music, whether it be finding new artists from around the globe, downloading tracks or sharing with friends,” said Last.fm vice president of product Matthew Hawn in a statement. “By working with the Microsoft innovation team, we’re able to bring a huge library of independent music to new audiences. We want people to discover, listen and share new music and Last.fm Discover gives a new and engaging way of doing just that.”
Last.fm Discover‘s splash screen, which loads the first time you run it, does a nice job of outlining the main features:
Tags: Click on a style of music you want to explore, or use the search box to find specific tags. When you’ve found a tag you like, press play.
Artists: Once you start listening, you’ll see the field fill with tracks in that musical style. Simply select a track to play it.
Tune music: Like a track? Click ‘More like this’ to find similar artists. Click ‘Something different’ to change the style of the music.
Mixes: Drag tracks into your mix deck to create a mix… then share [it] with your friends.
Listening history: …browse all the tracks you’ve played so far this session.
Here’s what happens when you play a song (the songs in the hills towards the back are similar ones, which I can click at any time to play — or if I do nothing, the music continues to play like Last.fm’s regular streaming radio stations):
Music fans have more options than ever for discovering new music these days. Choosing the one that’s right for you is largely a matter of personal preference. As such, Last.fm Discover clearly warrants consideration.