This is Hot Pod, The Verge’s newsletter about podcasting and the audio industry. Register here for more.
It’s almost Thanksgiving and I’ve already eaten half a bag of King’s Hawaiian Rolls. Looking forward to signing off later this week, seeing family and eating a lot more bread. But for now: podcasts. Or rather music – most of this week’s news is about streaming music and what we listen to. And usually this week’s newsletter is about a service I have very fond memories of, even though I haven’t used it in many, many years.
Today we have a check-in on Last.fm and its burgeoning presence on Discord, an update on Neil Young on Spotify, a new audio editing tool from Anchor, and an expansion of Spotify’s audiobook efforts.
A quick warning to Insiders: We’re taking Thursday and Friday off for the holidays this week. Ariel will be with you again on Tuesday. Until then and have a nice holiday!
Over the weekend, the service that popularized the practice of tracking your digital listening habits Turned 20 years old. According to a running tally on the service’s website, Last.fm’s users are still scrolling — that is, tracking their music playback — hundreds of thousands of times a day.
Last.fm felt a bit revolutionary when it was first introduced in the early 2000s. The site’s plugins — originally created for another service called Audioscrobbler — tapped into your music player, jotting down everything you listened to and then showed all sorts of statistics about your listening habits. Plus, it can recommend songs and artists to you based on what other people with similar listening habits were interested in. ” the blogger Andy Baio wrote in February 2003 after trying it out for the first time.
This was very much a precursor to the algorithmic recommendation systems built into every music streaming service today. Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal – whatever you listen to, they all track your habits and use that to recommend your new songs. But on those services, your data is kept hidden behind the scenes. Using Last.fm was like accessing your Spotify Wrapped at the end of the year, but available every day and always up to date.
“People like to talk about music.”
(In case you’re wondering, yes, people are scribbling You’re wrong about that, Pod Save Americaand Joe Rogan, too, and Last.fm offers suitable recommendations for each. Podcasts are just not very popular compared to music.)
Streaming services’ automated recommendations have largely obviated the need for a platform like Last.fm (I certainly haven’t scribbled anything in over a decade). But I poked around, and it turns out there are still corners of the internet building vibrant communities around its features. One of the big uses is on Discord where third party developers have built a service called .fmbot that integrates scrobbling data into the popular chat room app.
“People like to talk about music,” says Thom, the owner and operator of .fmbot, who only mentioned his first name in an interview with hot pod. “This is a tool to easily see other people’s taste in music.”
Thom, a backend developer based in the Netherlands, says the bot has more than 400,000 users in total, with 40,000 people interacting with the service every day. It’s especially popular in Discords based on specific music artists or genres — where people want to “compare their stats” — and among servers for small friend groups so they can “dive deeper into what everyone else is listening to,” he says. .
The bot pulls in fun stats for people to brag about: the date they first listened to a particular song, how many days of music they consumed each year, or a list of their top albums. Thom says he joined Last.fm “after it was already dead, you might say.” But he likes the data it offers and sees a future on Discord as long as the service is still around. “Discord is putting more effort into bots… so I think that could help grow the bot even further,” he says.
I was a bit surprised to see that Last.fm was still around when I first started this story, let alone new communities flourishing around its data. (The company didn’t respond to a request for an interview.) But I suppose in a world where most services shut down and hide your data, there will always be people looking for a way to track it and own it. to analyse. And in return, they get the pleasure of arguing about music stats every day – not just once a year when Wrapped comes out.
Neil Young sat down with Howard Stern last week to talk about climate change, Woodstock and, of course, ripping his music from Spotify in protest of the company’s support of Joe Rogan and his spread of covid misinformation.
Stern tries to get some juicy details out of Young about the impact of pulling his catalog (“What’s the calculation? How much money did you turn down? How many millions of dollars?”), which Young quickly dodges (“I don’t know I knew I was going to be fine.”) But he did get a big statement about Young’s future with regard to Spotify: Don’t expect to see him back there any time soon — or ever.
“I’m never going back there — or anywhere else like this,” Young said. “I don’t have to, I don’t want to.”
“Why would I want to keep it on Spotify if it sounds like a gritty movie?”
Losing Young isn’t a game-changer for Spotify, of course, but it does show the power great artists have. Young and other top musicians have the power and success to pick and choose platforms, and in a world where enough big names prefer one service over another, they could begin to dictate winners and losers. For now, though, we’re a long way from that reality. And the rapid decline of streaming exclusives shows that most parties would rather have wide availability than one platform of choice.
During the interview, Young also made sure to get his favorite shot on Spotify – and most digital music, really: that the compression makes it sound like crap. ‘We don’t need it. I got it in all those other places. And it sounds better in the other places,” Young said. “Why would I want to keep it on Spotify if it sounds like a gritty movie?”
It’s a good line. Personally, I don’t share Young’s complaints about sound quality, but I certainly wouldn’t mind learning more about when that level of HiFi will come out.
There’s a smart new addition to Anchor this week that’s meant to clean up audio by popping voices and blurring out noise. After you’re done with a recording, there’s now an “Enhance” button in the bottom-right corner of the screen that instantly adjusts the audio with just a tap.