When I discovered Last.fm, I thought I’d stumbled upon a really useful service. If I installed the scrobbler app on my computer, it would count every song that I listen to, upload the data to my profile, and use the data (or “scrobbles”) to provide me with new music recommendations based on my tastes. I’d always loved music, and I was totally thrilled at the prospect of discovering new artists. So I created a profile on January 25, 2006.
The recommendation system worked pretty well. I discovered some great music by listening to Last.fm radio stations derived from my listening data, but the system was basically a database of similar artists. For some reason, I was hoping for some deeper analysis of the characteristics of certain bands that I tend to enjoy. I was hoping for too much.
Obviously, it wasn’t the music recommendations that kept me interested in Last.fm. Call me compulsive if you want, but there was something inherently fascinating about seeing my listening habits displayed as a series of graphs. As of February 17, 2014, Last.fm had tracked 41,359 plays: a sort of musical high score that reflected my eclectic tastes.
The problem was that it became too fascinating. I started going out of my way to make sure that any music I listened to was being counted and analyzed. I stopped listening to music on CD and avoided any online streaming service that didn’t have an option to scrobble to Last.fm. Everything had to be tabulated.
When I finally caught myself, I realized that I had a problem. Rather than sitting down to listen to a great piece of music for its own sake, Last.fm was dictating my music listening experience. Obsessing over this metadata was seriously detracting from my enjoyment of the music, but I couldn’t pull the plug. I was addicted.
Music had died. Last.fm killed it.