As of yesterday, anyone can stream full-length tracks and albums for free on the Last.fm website:
All the major labels are on board, and on their blog they mention that they’ve got similar agreements from “thousands” of independents.
Wow! Free music! So what’s the catch?
Simple: you’ll only be able to stream each track a maximum of three times before you’re asked to sign up for Last.fm’s new subscription service. According to the comments on the blog post, this will operate alongside the current basic subscription service, rather than instead of.
Details are sketchy on the price, but we do know that it will be more expensive than the current price of €2.50 per month. Once you’re subscribed, you can stream anything an unlimited amount of times. Here’s the lowdown on Last.fm:
“We’re publicly beta testing our new free listening service. You can listen to most tracks up to three times for free.
When the beta is over, we’ll offer a subscription package with unlimited access to a catalogue of music built on partnerships with Universal Music Group, Sony BMG, Warner, EMI and over 150,000 independent labels and artists.”
For music lovers like me, this is a really tempting option, although the lack of a download option and the open question of quality will no doubt be off-putting factors. It’s also worth mentioning that not every track ever is available to stream. Even so, free music… It’s difficult to complain about that!
It turns out that the announcement could also be great news for artists and labels. Last.fm has announced a payment system which sends money direct to artists every time a track is played. The success of the business model will depend on advertising, of course, and I suppose they’re banking on more people signing up for the premium service.
I’ll be keeping a close eye on this over the coming weeks, and will no doubt subscribe when the option becomes available just to try it out.