Last.FM ~ a couple of brief criticisms

Image of Last.FM logo

I wake up after falling asleep on the sofa sometime around 8pm and it’s now 2 o’clock in the morning. Davis is curled up on the armchair opposite and there’s just the ticking of the clock in the near darkness to keep me company. I’m now not sleepy enough to head upstairs and don’t want to disturb Is by being unable to sleep, so in hopes of tiring myself out, I tippy-tap the following…

Much as I love to check on my Last.FM page (sad, but true), there are a couple of key pieces of data that it appears to fail to capture which has the effect of failing to accurately reflect listening habits. With its focus upon artists and tracks it doesn’t reflect my recent habit of listening to compilations such as the Fonotone Records collection of bluegrass/old-time music or my own iTunes pop mixes. This is because each of these feature a large number of different artists, only a small number of which might appear way down in the lower reaches of my ‘Top Artists – Overall’ list or briefly show in the ‘Weekly Top Artists’. If Last.FM captured album information and published similar charts as it does for Artists and Tracks, it would better reflect what I’m actually listening to and make more accurate recommendations. Similarly, because it fails to register track length, Last.FM promotes my listening to the brief, piano fragments of Prokofiev’s Visions Fugitives or the blink-and-it’s-gone, thrash-core of Naked City at the cost of the drawn-out minimal techno of Fluxion or the frozen tundra-scapes of Thomas Koner. The amount of time I spend listening to the latter may well exceed the former, but the Last.FM methodology favours brevity and quantity.

Image of Pandora recommendation window

While I’m on the subject, I tried out Pandora, Last.FM’s human-input counterpart (“Each friend told us their favorite artists and songs, explored the music we suggested, gave us feedback, and we in turn made new suggestions. Everybody started joking that we were now their personal DJs.”). This was a recommendation via the inestimable Dan Hill whose excellent New Music Experiences – which is just my cup of tea, though I’ve yet to finish it. However, I’m not impressed by it so far as, in response to my declared taste for Kraftwerk it suggests Throbbing Gristle, Front 242, David Carretta and Paul Van Dyk. These seem painfully US-centric in their (mis-)interpretation. Then I try creating a new station and entering Erik Satie as my first step, after indicating that he’s an artist rather than a song name I’m asked ‘Did you want the artist Erik Sanko?’. When I respond ‘No, search again’, I’m returned to a blank search box. Third time lucky, I try for Rhythm & Sound, I’m suggested Rhythm Masters… er, no thank you. Same goes for Prokofiev and Sergei Prokofiev. I have better luck with King Tubby, though I don’t like Pandora’s assessment that one of the music’s characteristics was “meandering melodic development”. Ultimately though, I don’t find most recommendations very useful and prefer to rely upon a mixture of intuition and personal research or friends’ recommendations.

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