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Thanksgiving is almost here, and I’ve already eaten half a bag of King’s Hawaiian rolls. I’m looking forward to signing off, seeing family, and eating a lot more bread later this week. But for now: podcasts. Or music, really – most of the news this week revolves around music streaming and what we listen to. And mainly, this week’s newsletter is about a service that I have very fond memories of, even if I haven’t used it for many years.
Today, we have a check-in on Last.fm and its growing presence on Discord, an update on Neil Young on Spotify, a new audio editing tool from Anchor, and an expansion of Spotify’s audio efforts.
A quick look at Insiders: we are taking Thursday and Friday off this week for the holidays. Ariel will be back with you on Tuesday. See you then, and have a great holiday!
Last.fm is 20 years old — and people are still scrubbing
Over the weekend, the service popularized the practice of tracking your digital listening habits turned 20 years old. Last.fm users still scroll – that is, track their music playback – hundreds of thousands of times a day, according to a running counter on the service’s website.
Last.fm felt a little revolutionary when it was first introduced in the early 2000s. The site’s plugins – originally created for a different service called Audioscrobbler – tapped into your music player, noted everything you listened to, and then displayed all sorts of statistics about your listening habits. It could also recommend tracks and artists to you based on what other people with similar listening habits were interested in. “If this continues, a system like this would be a very effective way to discover new artists and find people with similar tastes,” blogger Andy Baio wrote in February 2003 after first trying it out.
This was a precursor to the algorithmic recommendation systems built into every music streaming service today. Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal – whatever you listen to, they all track your habits and use that to recommend you new tracks. But on those services, your data is kept hidden behind the scenes. Using Last.fm was like having access to your year-end Wrapped Spotify but available every day and always updating.
“People like to talk about music.”
(In case you’re wondering: yes, people scrub You are Wrong, America’s Rescue Poda Joe Rogan, too, and Last.fm offers suitable recommendations for each. Podcasts are not very popular compared to music.)
The automated recommendations of streaming services have largely eliminated the need for a platform like Last.fm (I certainly haven’t scrolled in over a decade). But I poked around, and it turns out that there are still corners of the internet building vibrant communities around its features. One of the big uses is on Discord, where third-party developers have built a service called .fmbot that integrates scrubbing data into the popular chat room app.
“People like to talk about music,” said Thom, owner and host of .fmbot, who gave only his first name in an interview with Hot pod. “This is a tool to easily see other people’s taste in music.”
Thom, a backend developer based in the Netherlands, says the bot has more than 400,000 total users, with 40,000 people engaging with the service every day. It’s especially popular in Discords based on specific artists or musical genres – where people “want to compare their stats with each other” – and among admins for small friend groups, so they can “dive deeper into” what everyone listens to,” he said. .
The bot contains fun statistics that people can brag about: the date they first listened to a certain song, how many days of music they consumed each year, or a list of their best albums . Thom says he joined Last.fm “after it was already, I guess you’d say, dying.” But he loves the data it offers and sees a future on Discord as long as the service is still around. “Discord is betting more on bots … so I think that could help the bot grow even further,” he said.
I was a little surprised to see that Last.fm was still around when I first started writing this story, not to mention that it had new communities thriving around its data. (The company did not respond to a request for an interview.) But in a world where most services close and hide your data, there will probably always be people looking for a way to track and analyze it themselves. And in return, they get the joy of arguing about music stats every day – and not just once a year when Wrapped comes out.
Neil Young is “never going back” to Spotify
Neil Young sat down with Howard Stern last week to talk about climate change, Woodstock, and, of course, removing his music from Spotify to protest the company’s support for Joe Rogan and his spread of covid misinformation.
Stern tries to get some juicy details out of Young about the impact of pulling his catalog (“What’s the calculation? How much money did you turn down? How many millions of dollars?”), which Young avoids. quick (“I don’). t know. I knew I was going to make up.”). But he did have one big statement about Young’s future as it relates to Spotify: don’t expect to see him back there anytime soon — or ever.
“I’m never going back there – or anywhere else like it,” Young said. “I don’t have to, I don’t want to.”
“Why would I want to put it on Spotify when it sounds like a pixelated movie?”
Obviously Losing Young isn’t a game changer for Spotify, but it shows the power that big artists have. Young musicians and other top musicians have the leverage and success to pick and choose platforms, and in a world where plenty of big names choose one service over another, they could start to determine winners and losers. For now, however, we are far away from that reality. And the rapid decline in exclusive streaming shows that most parties would prefer to have wide availability over one preferred platform.
During the interview, Young also made sure to take his favorite shot at Spotify – and, really, most digital music: that it sounds like garbage because of the compression. “We don’t need it. I have all these other places. And it sounds better in the other places,” Young said. “Why would I want to put it on Spotify when it sounds like a pixelated movie?”
It’s a good line. I don’t personally share Young’s sound quality gripes, but I certainly wouldn’t mind knowing more about when that HiFi layer will appear.
Anchor adds one-tap noise reduction
There’s a smart new addition to Anchor this week that’s supposed to help clean up audio by making pops and noise fade. After you finish a recording, there is now an “Enhance” button in the lower right corner of the screen that instantly adjusts the sound with just a tap.
I tested the feature out, and I didn’t find it particularly impressive. It makes your voice a little louder (and more robotic) and can get rid of some droning background noise. But mostly… I was impressed by how well my phone’s microphone alone was able to isolate my voice, even as I blasted two YouTube clips of New York City street noises and a smaller lo-fi music channel than a foot away from the mic.
Still, I think what Anchor is doing here is important. If Spotify really sees a future in these home-grown and loosely constructed podcasts, it’s going to need to do everything it can to make sure they’re good to listen to. Anchor’s Enhance button could use some work, but it’s a smart step towards that goal.
Spotify is expanding its audiobook store
Audio books are available now on Spotify in the UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand, after first launching in the US in September. Continued global expansion will be key to making audiobooks the third pillar of Spotify’s business as it expands beyond music and podcasts. Of course, it will also improve the user experience so that people can actually buy books inside the app – but it is not clear that Spotify will get the opportunity.
That’s all for today. See you next week.