Radio has its problems. I really don't envy them their job. They have to do the best they can to please all of their listeners all of the time. This is why they tend to stick to the Top 40 hits from the last 20 years. It is just a way for them to play it safe. But some musical artists don't really get good until you get off of the beaten path and delve into some of the stuff that never saw airtime. And sometimes you really just want to hear something new. There is a lot of great music out there that just isn't getting heard. If this describes your feelings toward music you hear on the radio then Last.fm is for you.
Last.fm is a great new internet radio service that brings a breath of fresh air. Its kind of like a radiostation that is built on the fly to suit your mood. With a single artist name, song name, or even just a keyword that describes what you want to hear, it will line up a playlist of similar music that will play commercial free, non-stop until you turn it off. And controlling it could not possibly be simpler.
You start off by going to www.last.fm and signing up. Don't worry, its free and they don't ask for anything personal, just your name and email address. Once you have an account, you can listen via the flash player on the website or you can download their Windows client. Ubuntu users, fear not, Rythymbox, Ubuntu's default music player already has Last.fm support built in, just look for it under plugins. They also have a stand-alone Linux client availble as well.
When you start it up, you start off with just a text box, and a little drop down menu to select between a tag or an artist. More on tags in a minute. You simply just type in the artist you want to hear and it starts playing. It may not immediately play the artist you entered, but it will eventually, as well as artists that belong in the same music genre. If you type in Tammy Wynette it will fill the list with Tanya Tucker, Conway Twitty and George Jones and more like that. If you put in Megadeth it will put in Pantera, Rob Zombie and more of the same. Much of it will be stuff you've heard, and some of it will be stuff you never knew existed. Myself, being a big Radiohead fan of course, I put in Radiohead and I was introduced to a couple new bands (Mogwai, Muse) that I liked immediately.
Now what if you want to listen to something but you can't really think of an artist to put in? Or perhaps you're going for a specific mood? This is where the "tags" come in. You could put in "easy listening" and thats what you'd get. You could put in an emotion such as "melancholy" or "angry" and you'd get music that represents that feeling. Or you could put in something completely off the wall like "purple" and it would do its best to serve up a playlist of purpley music. And here's the greatest part. If you hear a song you don't like, then with one click of the mouse, you can ban it forever. Alternately you can click the "Love" button and Last.fm will try to play that song more often.
The only downside that I found at all to the whole thing was that occasionally it would throw in a song in another language. But really that is to be expected since it is designed to service the entire planet. And to be fair, the music sounded like what I was looking for, I just couldn't understand the words. But no worries, a quick click of the "Ban" button and it was gone, immediately replaced with something else.
In testing out the limits of the service I tried really hard to stump it, but it seemed to have all the bases covered. From Perry Como to Iron Maiden just about everything I typed in came back with some music. So no matter what your music tastes are, and especially if your music tastes differ from what is served up by the local radio stations, Last.fm is something you should give a try.
I must admit, I'm not sure how well Last.fm works on Dial-up internet access, so if you're a dial-up user and you give it a shot, please do drop me a line and let me know how it works out for you. Enquiring minds want to know.
Until next week, Rock on! ...or not. Its up to you!
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