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]