freethemusic Music community Last.fm has made a big announcement today: you can now play full-length tracks and entire albums for free on the Web. Last.fm has managed to leap over restrictions on what qualifies as a “jukebox” by signing deals with labels, from indie to biggie. So far, the US, UK, and Germany are covered, but Last.fm promises other parts of the world soon. You don’t get unlimited plays for each track, but a future subscription service will unlock that ability along with other features. (Last.fm’s subscriptions are already a nice feature, so paying a bit extra for that I imagine will appeal to a lot of people.)

So, how do artists get paid? That’s the interesting bit:

  • Artists (or whomever the writer / publisher is) continue to collect royalties via collection societies like ASCAP and BMI, as with other services.
  • Artists and labels get an additional cut of Last.fm’s ad revenues.
  • Last.fm does an excellent job of referring people to digital downloads, via band websites and services like Amazon and iTunes. Those services are increasingly DRM-free (Amazon has the largest DRM-free catalog currently). And you can even go buy a CD if you like.

Beginning to get the picture? The digital age has brought a shift in consumption, but it’s possible it can still bring big revenue opportunities for artists. Connections to live music and merchandise of course can also help, and unlike a service like iTunes, Last.fm’s collections are curated largely by the community of people listening to them — which is good news for artists trying to get discovered.

I’m looking for a catch, but I think the only real catch is seeing whether this will translate into real checks for anyone but the biggest artists. And for that, we’ll just have to see how these services evolve. But by opening the door to full-length plays on Last.fm, that service clears the path for other services to get similar deals, or to connect to Last.fm’s listener data and community for their own service. The business model continues to get better. And for listeners, it’s a dream.

Free the Music [Last.hq, the Last.fm blog]

  • http://www.myspace.com/pax lost

    Until I have broadband internet everywhere, I want the tracks on my hard drive. But once we got Wi-max, 3g, or whatever they're gunna pull out of their asses, then this will be important in my everyday life as opposed to just another step towards the implosion of copyright laws and fair use agreements.

    Streaming subscription services will be the future. Who cares about hard drive space when you can access a server with all the music you can think of from anywhere in the world at any time? And see what the other people on the bus with you are listening to. Or get statistics as to what people are listening to in vermont, or miami, or tokyo. Then you can search for it, and instantly listen to it too. Im excited!

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    I'm excited, but cautious. It's not as severe an issue with music as with video, but physical media generally means fewer compromises as far as quality. (With video, by contrast, the difference between "HD" as delivered by iTunes and HD as delivered by HD-DVD and Blu-Ray is really noticeable. But even with music, I wonder — like what higher-quality surround could be more practical with physical than digital distribution.)

    That said, I think you're right — huge potential advantages here.

  • http://www.klangfreund.com Klangfreund

    @Peter Kirn: Your absolutely right. Just an additional information, if you don't know about already: You might be interrested in MP3 Surround. It was featured in the January 2008 issue of SoundOnSound. Conclusion: High quality and downward compatible to regular mp3, it might help surround to (finally) reach the masses.

    http://www.all4mp3.com/ http://www.iis.fraunhofer.de/bf/amm/mp3sur/index….

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    You read my mind, Klangfreund. ;) Just picked up SoS to read that very article…

    Of course, the online distributors have tended to go with lowest common denominator before highest quality, so there are challenges ahead of us. But I am very interested in MP3 surround, indeed.

  • http://bmi.com Jerry Bailey

    BMI and ASCAP don't pay royalties to "artists" unless they write the songs. In most cases, songwriters are anonymous people behind the scenes, entirely separate from the performing artists who make records, tour and sell concessions. It's an important distinction if you're a songwriter struggling to make a living.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Jerry, correct, good point. I was lumping those groups together. Of course, in many cases that IS the same person, but in many cases it isn't. If you do happen to be the same person, though, this new arrangement from Last.fm with ad revenue means you're getting a heftier check for these plays.

    The one thing Last.fm *isn't* saying — but I think you can read this between the lines — artists wanting to make any significant income will want to translate these listens to some kind of purchase, whether it's merch or a digital download or whatever. So, having just argued for the advantages of online music access, musicians should hope they can find their own way to monetize some follow-up purchase, whether that's buying a file you can play on your portable or — even better — buying ticket concerts, exclusive tracks, etc.

  • http://alonetone.com sudara

    Listener views advertiser's ad on site while listening to artist.

    Advertiser pays site which then pays artist.

    Strange! It takes 3 other parties tangoing to rustle up some cash for the artist, and the income isn't even direct. What a strange world.

    It is really crazy out there – so many crazy schemes and ideas and solutions and suggestions – all regarding how to sell music and play the middle man between artist and listener.

    Maybe the concept of the middleman is something we're holding on to as familiar, but the simpler answer is that it is pretty much becoming unnecessary.

  • http://symbioticaudio.com Symbiotic

    An interesting point, sudara – though I think the whole purpose of the 'middle man' is to expose listeners to music they might not otherwise hear. Sure an artist can distribute directly to listeners, but the listener has to know where to go. I've found some great new music through services such as Last.FM and Pandora – stuff I might otherwise have missed. Make it so that I don't have to leave the site if I want to hear more of the same and even possibly purchase the music, and you've got an effective new model.

    I'm anxious to see what the unlimited subscription looks like and how well this new system will integrate with non-desktop terminals such as mobile handsets, Squeezeboxen, and the like.

  • http://alonetone.com sudara

    True, I didn't mean to imply that there isn't a need to connect the artist with listener. I'm just amazed at the number of companies coming up with creative/crazy/convoluted/interesting solutions. And ultimately, I do think that the model that eventually sticks around will be simpler than what existed before (artist to label to distributor).

  • adamj

    "Amazon has the largest DRM-free catalog currently".

    Is that really true? emusic.com has been around for years and completely DRM-free from the beginning. I don't know how big Amazon's DRM-free catalog is, but it's still fairly new so I doubt it's approaching the size of emusic yet.