One of the first social networks I ever joined was Last.fm – back in the pre-corporate buy-out days, it was an amazing way to connect with music listeners, to find people with similar taste, and through them discover some amazing music.
What was most revolutionary about it at the time, at least for me, was that it was a website that created ‘charts’ based on listening, not on shopping. So you had a record of the music that was soundtracking your life, rather than just the latest things to tempt you to part with cash.
The logic of focussing on sales for the recording industry is clear – sales charts put the focus on buying music as the most significant transaction, and it also creates a feedback loop between marketing, sales and recognition. Finding out that LOADS of people spend their days listening to records that they finished spending money on 30 years ago is depressing if the massive infrastructure of your CD/LP/Minidisc/SADC/DVD-A selling machine requires you to keep selling more and more shit week after week to feed the voracious beast of your luxurious offices and CD distribution machinery of trucks and warehouses, sales teams and pressing plants.
For us as artists, the meaning of where our music ends up, how it gets there and what part it plays in people’s lives REALLY ought to be a bit different. Even on a commercial level, only the most naive of musicians (or the luckiest) expect to make their entire living all year round from selling recordings, whether they are physical or digital copies. We have gigs, merch, licensing, and all the other things we do that make our lives full and interesting and less precarious than the eggs-in-one-basket life of relying on a record label to actually pay us the money we’re owed for the recordings…
So for us, while knowing what’s happening in terms of sales is REALLY useful – particularly when an album or single has just come out – knowing how our music is connecting with people who bought (or torrented, or were gifted, or borrowed or whatever) our music ages ago is a HUGELY valuable thing.
With statistics like those available on last.fm, we can see what our most popular tracks are, we can see how any promo we get affects people’s listening habits, and for those of us with manageably small followings, we can see who the individuals are who spend large parts of their lives with our music on and can then say hi, say thank you and make it easier for them to tell their friends what we’re up to.
So, here’s a couple of different interesting Last.fm pages to check out:
- The UK chart for most-listened to this week: (at the time of writing, Nirvana, The Smiths & The Beatles were all in the top 20 – three bands who, reissues aside, haven’t made any new music in 20/25/40+ years, respectively)
- My own listening habits: (the last 87,000 or so tracks that I’ve listened to, as a lovely visually represented data set. You want to know what the inside of my head looks like? Pretty much like this list… It’s the story of my last decade )
- My “Steve Lawson” artist page: ( (I have quite a few artist pages on there, for the different projects I’ve been involved in, most are linked from the ‘similar artists’ section on that page) – here I can see who’s been listening to me, which tracks are most popular over time, comments from users, and places to buy my music. Fascinating, useful stuff. )
Questions for musicians – how much of your time thinking about ‘success’ is focussed on sales, and how is spent finding out the kind of impact your music is having beyond the point where people download it or part with cash for it at a gig?
Also, where else do you look for this kind of non-sales data? Are Facebook’s engagement analytics useful for you, or a distraction? Do you get anything similar from Spotify/Rdio/Pandora (I’ve never really looked at them, so would be interested to know…)
answers in the comments, pleaseby