I didn’t really understand the point of Last.fm when I installed the iTunes plugin on my work PC a couple of months ago, mostly due to my being too busy working to go and figure it out, and partly because the jargon on the last.fm website doesn’t really come out and say what the benifits of the site are in plain English. So, in an attempt to say it in plain English, here goes:
Last.fm is a website that helps you to keep track of what you listen to, and more importantly, helps you to find new music you are likely to appreciate.
To use it you need to sign up for an account (it’s free for the basic version, which is what I currently use), download a plugin for the music player you use (Windows Media Player, iTunes, or whatever), and then just listen to your music. From then on, when you listen to a track the plugin sends that track name to the last.fm website, and when you visit your personal last.fm webpage (here is mine), you’ll see your tracks listed there. Over time it builds up charts of who you listen to most, which is cool, but not the most useful feature the site provides…
The best thing about the service is the ‘radio’ that it offers. It’s not radio of course, but the analogy is close enough. Last.fm is very clever, and it can find other users who listen to similar music - these users are called ‘neighbours’ and you can visit a ‘neighbours’ last.fm webpage and take a look at the stuff they listen to, perhaps finding new bands or artists to try, or realising that someone other than you has heard of the ‘Telstar Ponies‘. Better yet is ‘neighbour radio’ which you will see as a link on your own last.fm page. Download the last.fm player, click that link, and something very cool will happen - you will start listening to tracks that your neighbours listen to, but that you haven’t! It’s like a computer version of a friend with similar music taste saying “hey, you like The Verve but haven’t got any Spiritualized? Listen to Broken Heart, you’ll love it!”
The last.fm player will tell you the artist, track and album that it’s currently playing for you (all of which are clickable so you can find out more), and you get to listen to the entire song at a reasonable sound quality! I’ve been able to listen to this all day and the amount of music that I like but hadn’t heard before has been incredible!
For me, the ‘radio’ is what makes last.fm so invaluable, and the choice of radio ’stations’ available. I love music, and to be able to listen to new tracks all day that are in a similar vein to the stuff I already love is brilliant. So brilliant that I’m looking into the benefits of a paid for subscription. Additionally last.fm has a search feature and a listing of bands, artists and tracks that is huge, many of which have full length or (depending on liscencing issues) 30 second preview tracks to listen to. If you want to find out more, just go do some searching.