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Rory Cellan-Jones

Spotify versus last.fm

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 11 Feb 09, 14:22 GMT

last.fm and Spotify websitesIf you want music streamed to your computer for free there's already a big choice. As the ailing record industry thrashes around in search of a viable business model for the digital age, all sorts of deals are being done with new online services.

The latest to make a splash is called Spotify. It started in Scandinavia last year, began offering invitations to some British users a couple of months ago, and this week opened its doors to anyone in the UK who wants to come in. On the face of it, this is quite a compelling offer - millions of tracks that can be streamed to you, quickly and efficiently, for nothing. The catch is that, unless you shell out for a monthly subscription, you have to listen to an advert after every few tracks.

So, in this crowded field, who is the main opposition to Spotify? Judging by the people who've messaged me, it's last.fm. The streaming, "scrobbling" social music network (I always find it difficult to describe) has been going for six years, and a couple of years ago fell into the arms of America's broadcasting giant CBS for a tidy sum. Though it is unclear whether CBS has succeeded in turning it into a major money-spinner, last.fm continues to develop, appearing on new mobile platforms and offering new music.

So how do they compare? A few facts, figures - and comments from users of each service:

last.fm

The company tells me it has 25 million users worldwide, and they have access to over 7 million tracks. For users, the emphasis is on discovering new music, rather than simply playing stuff they already know.

And its supporters are pretty passionate about it: "Far better for recommendations than Spotify," one told me. "I'm a happy last.fm user and I do not see the point in investing time to build a new playlist," said another. And while it has text adverts, users seem happy that there are no audio commercials: "I had a quick look at SPOTIFY and couldn't see why I'd use it over last.fm and that's free and ad free."

Spotify

This young company is still pretty coy about figures, though it says that it has a third of a million users in Sweden, and there has been a big rush of new users in the UK since it opened to all-comers on Tuesday. It says it has licensing deals with all the big record labels and a number of independents - and a quick search seems to show that most artists are well represented. Mind you, last week it had to remove some tracks after a licensing dispute with some of the labels, a reminder that music rights remain a minefield in the digital world.

Spotify, too, has already attracted some enthusiastic fans: "Spotify is the business (last.fm unceremoniously abandoned!)", one told me." Another said: "I just prefer spotify, quality seems better."

In the end it may come down to a judgement about what kind of person looks for music online. Someone from last.fm told me he thought Spotify users were probably older and more settled in their ways, "people who already know what they like" - whereas the last.fm crowd is younger, more edgy, and more inclined to see the service as a social network.

Is there room for both services? While they both hope to make some money from steering people towards paid-for downloads, it looks as though their finances really depend on advertising. Last.fm, safe in the embrace of a giant parent, can be reasonably relaxed. But Spotify needs to attract a big crowd in a hurry - and convince increasingly picky advertisers that it's a cool place to hang out.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Loved Pandora until that went west, ignored Last FM completely and the twitter crowd seemed to be pushing Spotify. So hooked up with that and love the ease of use and background info on lots of music and bands I had completely forgotten about. So will continue for now and hope they survive given the challenges of the market in general. http://wildirishguy.wordpress.com

  • Comment number 2.

    Thanks for this. Ive been hearing about Spotify a bit over Twitter, but wasnt quite sure what the point was when i am a lastfm user. It seems interesting, and nice to have a competitor to lastfm. I hope it goes well. People on Twitter certainly sing its praises.

  • Comment number 3.

    There are two key points here which you alluded to Rory but didn't state explicitly.

    Firstly, spotify gives you access to their entire music library in whichever way you please. You search for a song then play it. The trade off is that you have to listen to a short advert every 30 mins or so.

    Secondly, I cannot access spotify on my iPhone (I can't see Apple letting that particular app through their stringent decision making process) but last.fm is there all the time whenever I am walking around town.

    Personally, I like using both mainly because spotify scrobbles to last.fm. When I am tethered to a desk or at home, spotify is king and the more I use spotify, the more refined and 'better' my last.fm recommendations become when I am out and about. They work hand-in-hand for me.

    @midi2304

  • Comment number 4.

    I use spotify to listen to Albums or build up playlists based on those albums.

    I can't listen to an Album on last.fm from start to finish with out manual intervention at the end of each track.

    I do however send what I am listening too back to last.fm, that way it can recommend me stuff to listen too...which I will look for on spotify.

  • Comment number 5.

    Spotify feels like a potential replacement for iTunes, as it's an app I can use for listening to the music I want to listen to (while on a fast connection, not on the move...)

    Last.fm, on the other hand, records what I've been listening to (in either iTunes or Spotify) and keeps it in perpetuity so that I can share my musical preferences with others, and discover new things.

    So, really, it's possible to see them as different things... and it's iTunes that should worry about Spotify, not Last.fm.

    I just wish they all talked to each other: iTunes when I want to buy something or play something I own (and sync with iPhone etc.), Spotify when I want to explore randomly for new listens, and Last.fm listening to my listens (a.k.a. 'scrobbling'), sharing them with my network of friends, and recommending new things based on that.

  • Comment number 6.

    Part of the attraction of Last.fm is the ability to type in any artist, or as specific a tag as you like ("instantly recognisable" is one of my personal favourites, "live" gives you a smorgasbord of versions of popular songs you've probably not heard etc.), and listen to an endless program of music, much of which you won't have heard, the vast majority of which is catered to your tastes. At first glance, Spotify doesn't appear to have a similar artists function and only a few broad genres. On-demand playback (which is offered partly by Last.fm anyway) is all well and good, but pioneers like Last.fm offer so much more.

  • Comment number 7.

    There's another service you've overlooked. We7 (http://www.we7.com) is a British firm offering a similar ad-funded streaming service with major label content.

  • Comment number 8.

    I tried last.fm a few months ago and after playing with it once, didn't bother to use it again. Yes, it's good if you're looking for new music (although I spent more time skipping through tracks I didn't like than actually listening to anything) or as an alternative to the radio but I'm obviously one of the "people who already know what they like". I was also deeply unimpressed with the last.fm application.
    I downloaded spotify yesterday afternoon (yes, after seeing your tweet) and am really quite in love with it already. The app looks similar enough to iTunes that I felt immediately at home with using it. Being able to create, listen to and share my own playlists is great (and something that I think is only available to subscribers on last.fm?).
    Can't comment on the ads as I haven't actually heard one yet!

  • Comment number 9.

    Two things not mentioned.

    1: Cross platform support. Last.FM has native support for a far wider range of platforms including both Linux and the iphone.

    2: The cost of get rid of the adverts. For what Spotify charges for one month to get rid of its audio adverts I would get six months of ad free browsing on the Last.FM web-site.

  • Comment number 10.

    The idea that you can undoe the illegal download culture is Just like putting toothpaste back in the tube.

    It sounds do-able but your just going to waste a lot of time and get into a huge mess trying.....

    Its time that adverts were embeded in the programmes for video and audio tracks and then encouraged to share...

    You can't take technology backwards and the idea that to record a programme on a video cassette was fine but to record it in a data form is a criminal act is plain daft.

    Contratulations to those who embrace the technology and make the system work to their advantage rather than firefighting a loosing situation.

    Free streaming, bring it on....

  • Comment number 11.

    I love WE7 - its a wonderful service with an easy to use search facility - all that you get is an advert lasting a few seconds before a track. Long may it live !

  • Comment number 12.

    You missed another great feature of spotify, the collaborative playlist function. With which I can create a playlist, mark it as collaborative, send it to a friend and then we can both add tracks that we think the other should listen to. That's been my main reason for loving Spotify.

  • Comment number 13.

    Last.fm has one BIG advantage - you can play your music through a flash widget in the browser. This means when I'm at work, I can still listen to the recommendations it has for me, whereas installing spotify would get me a swift lecture from IT/security :)

  • Comment number 14.

    "If you want music streamed to your computer for free there's already a big choice."

    You missed an important alternative, music published under the creative commons license.

    http://www.podsafeaudio.com/
    http://www.jamendo.com/
    http://magnatune.com/

    You also didn't mention _how_ CBS might be trying to make money from last.fm - by collecting and selling user profile data collected from their listeners.

    If you are comparing online services, you should not only list the features, you should also describe the costs too. The services may appear to be 'free' as in money, but they often have hidden costs in terms of privacy.

  • Comment number 15.

    I don't think it has to be a 'vs' scenario at all - both services have advantages and provide different functions. After all, Spotify and Last.fm have collaborated so you can configure Last.fm to scrobble the tracks you listen to through Spotify, which only increases the attractiveness of both.

  • Comment number 16.

    Spotify? The big labels and few 'independents', probably actually owned by the big labels. It's the old dinosaur industry, trying to cash in on the new world. With Last FM it is possible to listen for weeks on end without ever hearing anything from the big few labels. This is why they hate it and will do whatever it takes to hijack it or kill it. Watch out for lawsuits.

  • Comment number 17.

    Spotify is available for free where I live, The Netherlands. So I use a combination of We7, and the following to get freely available streamed music:

    www.deezer.com
    http://3voor12.vpro.nl/luisterpaal/

    The other advantage of Deezer is that it doesnt require a separate application, to run...just a web browser. And they have a fairly decent, ad-free library.

    Luisterpaal is great for discovering new music as they put up a lot of stuff that I wouldnt normally come across.

    I also am a user of last.fm, which I use mainly to record my listening habits and for its recommendations, and those of the other users.

  • Comment number 18.

    I prefer We7 myself. As far as I'm aware Last.FM only allows you to listen to the tracks you want to listen to three times - whereas We7 lets you hear them as often as you want. Yes, it comes with adverts but they're only a few seconds long and hardly an inconvenience. I have yet to use Spotify and I see no reason to when I'm more than happy with We7.

  • Comment number 19.

    Have you investigated whether either of these services are actually paying creators for the use of their music? If you dig down you'll find there are disputes brewing...

  • Comment number 20.

    @ Zarquan: of course CBS are selling our listening habits, just like Facebook sells our interests, relationship status, location.... but it doesn't matter, because neither of them release our personal information along with it, they just sell advertising space to broad categories of users (e.g. people who like Band X will have adverts for Band X's concerts placed on the page, and single men living in Cardiff are shown adverts promoting a dating site that has single women in Cardiff...)

    As for the Last.fm vs. Spotify debate..... they're two very different services. Both are tremendously large musical mines (Last.fms being much more diverse, mind you), but the way in which music is served up is very different. Personally, I prefer Last.fm's model, one that will be improved twofold once they properly release their on-demand services, but there is clearly room for both, along with smaller sites such as hypem.

  • Comment number 21.

    I'm in the UK and discovered Spotify just last night (via a review on the Guardian) and already I've discovered bands I'd never heard of and probably wouldn't have.

    It's one of the easiest utils I've had to install and it's so slick to use.

    The audio adverts are about every 25 mins and last around 30 seconds but it's instantly the song at that time ends and the next song starts instantly after the advert so I don't notice it.

    The music streaming is instant - no buffering - it's remarkable.

    I've recommended it to a handful of friends since last night and they've all installed and are singing its praises. I think it's the recommendations which they're impressed by, opening you up to all sorts of new bands.

    If you love your music this is a must-have.

  • Comment number 22.

    Just tried Spotify - but as it needs a downloadable player and I don't normally run with admin priviledges so can;t instalit - it wall have to wait a bit.

    Been using last.fm for a while - doesn;t need any special player so not sure why I would want to change?

  • Comment number 23.

    @ Roy (post 19)

    Old habits (including recording companies not paying the artists) die hard, don't they?

    The record giants are quick to squish American teenagers for downloading tracks from file sharing services, and yet VERY slow at finding people they owe royalties to.

    As a music lover I've been watching them carefully for the last ten years, predicting their downfall.

    They are just a pack of greedy mega corps, that's all. They are not interested in music, artists or even the customers. Just money.

    As for Spotify, and services like it, they are ok for the rare times when I can't spin my vinyl records on a proper hi-fi and listen to that booming sound thingy - once known as BASS.

  • Comment number 24.

    Looks good although maybe doesn't have as much music (yet) as Last.fm
    I like the social element and stats of Last.fm which don't seem to be there in Spotify.
    Anyway it must surely be a good thing that there are now a couple of serious players in the online music market. Music-listening has changed forever.

  • Comment number 25.

    @zarguan: Do you honestly think a major American corporation will sell data and user information?
    I think whosthatrandom is probably on the money: But this is a good thing. I listen to music - via itunes, Spotify, my Vodafone N96 and it populates my music profile on last.fm. I then get a few ads that are relevant to me... and never 'Got Credit Problems?' 'Get a Loan'... in fact I dont think I have ever seen one of these terrible ads on last.fm?
    I see good quality stuff... anyone else?
    So rich13 is right - it's itunes that Spotify is up against. That's why, I presume Spotify built the last.fm scrobbling app so quickly because it knows it.
    last.fm is so much more that a streaming site - it's my music library wherever and whenever I choose to listen to music. Lastly, it's my music friends - people I have come into contact with all over the world because of the music I like... that's just so good.

  • Comment number 26.

    Spotify sucks!
    Poor music catalogue and no customer support.

    Avoid !!

  • Comment number 27.

    I think that an important point has been missed here. The music distribution and quality trend has been Vinyl 33 -> upto vinyl 45 -> upto CD -> down to downloads in MP3/MP4... -> down to Streaming... but we are starting, at last, to see a break in the downward quality trend and the start of higher quality HD downloads.

    Record companies spend millions on the latest recording equipment and have stocks of wonderful recordings, unfortunately they have not yet discovered the desire, a way or the sense to deliver these to the public.

    What we are seeing at the moment is a move, backwards, from reasonable quality CDs, to rather poor quality streaming and downloads. Whatever the business model the music companies are trying to pursue this has to be a step backwards for anyone listening to the music.

    With the ever improving speeds of the internet, we should by now be looking forward to an improved CD standard quailty of music, not a step backwards.

    Many small companies are responding to this challenge and offering HD download music, but sadly the main stream labels are not. Streaming is just another way of downloading junk music and anyone who does it is welcome to the result. But try an HD download and you will never look back. What we need is a mainstream supplier (iTunes, Spotify, Last.fm or anyone else) to combine streaming with HD downloads.

  • Comment number 28.

    Spotify is an amazing service and here in the UK has around 1 million users already. Its spread so fast , the only thing that would slow it down would be labels removing content.


    http://www.dittomusic.com are also putting unsigned content onto Spotify free or charge which is great for unsigned bands.


    I systematically use Spotify for everything i can get my hands on, iTunes for anything i cant!!!

  • Comment number 29.

    I'm an avid user of both sites. Last.fm for keep track of what I'm listening to and finding new music. Spotify for listening to it.

    Spotify has also (for the most part) allowed me to clear my computer of MP3s which were taking up space on my hard drive.

  • Comment number 30.

    Last.fm is good, but it only allows you a certain amount of plays before the track gets limited to 30 seconds. I use we7 online, and I got invited to a year's subscription advert-free, which makes it perfect to use at work.

  • Comment number 31.

    www.jango.com has no ads and is free everywhere unlike last.fm which ask subscription fee for members in Indonesia.

  • Comment number 32.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 33.

    I love Spotify, allows me to preview albums which I'm "on-the-fence" with (I liked the single, but it's got mixed reviews, so try before I spend £10 on what could just be indie landfill 1-hit-wonder stuff).

    Plus the mixtape feature where people send you playlists is great to discover new artists (both new and old). I was toying with paying for a premium sub, but the adverts on the free version don't bother me.

  • Comment number 34.

    I've heard spotify have a lot of holes in their music catalogue, really well known bands not only barely appearing on the service, but some bands completely missed out altogether.

    Test for soptify users - search up the following bands: Sunn O))), Pentemple, Mr. Oizo, ELO and Boris. These are not mainstream but appear on last.fm. I wonder if spotify can match it.

 

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