Music became cheaper today

There is some exciting news from Last.fm. I have been in love with that website ever since I signed up back in 2004, and there is now yet another reason to love it.

As of today, you can play full-length tracks and entire albums for free on the Last.fm website.

Something we’ve wanted for years—for people who visit Last.fm to be able to play any track for free—is now possible. With the support of the folks behind EMI, Sony BMG, Universal and Warner—and the artists they work with—plus thousands of independent artists and labels, we’ve made the biggest legal collection of music available to play online for free, the way we believe it should be.

Beforehand, you could only play a select few tracks in full for free — and to be honest, they were mostly rubbish. Now all four major labels as well as 150,000 indies are on board letting people listen to their music for free on Last.fm. Millions of songs are now at my fingertips.

Okay, so the music is not completely free. Once you’ve listened to a track three times, you will be blocked from listening to it again until you pay up. But complaining about this would be churlish. Even if you approach it as a kind of ‘try before you buy’ service, this is much, much better than anything that has come before.

For me, this is the day the recorded music industry has begun to face the music (excuse the pun). There have been signs of them facing up to the reality of a world with the internet. But even, for instance, their plans to sell DRM-free MP3s through Amazon was as much an attempt to derail Apple’s dominance in the digital download arena as anything else.

No doubt there will be questions about the financial viability of this. The BBC report on the announcement certainly adopts a slightly sniffy, sceptical tone.

It certainly feels strange, coming just a couple of weeks after Pandora closed its similar service in the UK on the basis that the labels were making it too difficult.

Both the PPL (which represents the record labels) and the MCPS/PRS Alliance (which represents music publishers) have demanded per track performance minima rates which are far too high to allow ad supported radio to operate…

But that is pretty much the model that Last.fm is adopting:

We’re not printing money to pay for this—but the business model is simple enough: we are paying artists and labels a share of advertising revenue from the website.

Today we’re redesigning the music economy.

How can Last.fm make it work if Pandora couldn’t? It is true that Last.fm has big backing in the form of its owner, CBS. But if it’s not financially viable, it’s not financially viable, right?

Maybe there is more to this, or there is something I’m missing. Leaving the Pandora issue aside, it looks as though something big has happened today — as though someone’s banged a gong and the majors have all woken up to what’s going on. And they’ve agreed to finally do something sensible about the situation. Today music became even cheaper, and we all became a bit richer.

5 comments

  1. This is great news; as you said, before this there wasn’t a great deal of choice if you wanted to preview some songs. From looking round the site now, I’m seeing a lot more ‘full length track’ icons appearing which is definitely better if you’re looking to give something a quick listen to see if its worth buying.

    The other bit of note is the payment of royalties to artists who upload their music to the website; I think this is pretty good for lesser known artists (such as myself, ha) in particular. Whereas before it was good for spreading the word, its nice that you now get something back when someone listens to your music

  2. Last.fm might make it work, because they’ve not gone to the record company collection agencies (like PPL) but directly to the record companies. The PPL deal is entirely impossible to earn money from, if you’re ad-funded. That’s not to say that record companies won’t react differently if approached individually, which is what appears to have happened in this case…

  3. Aah, thanks for the explanation. Still doesn’t explain why Pandora haven’t approached the record companies individually though.