Thursday, March 05, 2009

TERRELL'S TUNE-UP: MY LATEST FAVORITE MUSICAL INTERNET TIME-WASTERS

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
March 1, 2009


Collage of my LAST.fm library

After more than a decade as a hopeless Internet addict, I realized things might have gotten really out of hand when, last Saturday, I felt compelled to Twitter from the electronic-junk-recycling collection site on Siler Road.

Was it all those piles of discarded computers, monitors, printers, scanners, and keyboards that fed my compulsion to start tapping on my cellphone, holding it as if it were some security blanket? Hard to say. All I know is that the compulsion was there, and when I thought about it, it seemed pretty pathetic.

A couple of music sites have been taking up an embarrassing amount of my attention lately — as if I needed more excuses to waste time on the Internet.

One, which I’ve been using for several weeks, is called Last.fm. More recently, I’ve been spending lots of time fooling around with Blip.fm. Both provide ways to enjoy lots of free music (sorry, musicians) without downloading anything — and encourage the use of nonsensical baby-talk words that make me cringe every time I write, say, or — especially — think them. Let’s do this one at a time.

I’ll go first with Last:

Somebody’s watching what songs I play on my computer! I’ve got to admit, the concept of Last.fm sounds pretty creepy when I think about it. When you sign up, you give this UK-based site access to what songs you play on your computer’s primary media player. You can also set it up to get the songs you play off your iPods and cellphones. This is called “scrobbling” — a much nicer word than “spying.”

With this group of songs, Last.fm creates a personal library for each user. Many, though certainly not all, of the songs you play end up in your library. (You also can manually add tracks you see scattered around the Last.fm realm.) That means you can use any computer that has Internet service to access a nice chunk of your music collection — without having to lug around external hard drives or crates of CDs.

When you press “Play your library” it starts playing tracks you have in shuffle mode, which is what I like anyway. In the last few minutes, as I worked on this column, it has played tracks by Bo Diddley, Dinosaur Jr., the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Graham Parker.

And it gave me the Willies — “Whiskey River” by Willie Nelson was followed immediately by “Pain in My Heart” by Willie Dixon.

And yes, there’s a skip button if the Last.fm library player comes up with something you’re not in the mood for.

Another cool thing: sometimes the version of the song played is different from the version you have in your computer. And sometimes it comes up with something comically wrong. For instance, a few minutes ago, it played what it claimed was “Birth of the Boogie” by Bill Haley. But instead, the song playing was some yodeling cowboy. I liked it, but it wasn’t Bill Haley.

I also find it interesting to keep track of my own musical tastes. Last.fm keeps a running tab of your most-played artists. Here’s my Top 10 as of last Saturday afternoon: The Fall (429 plays); The Cramps (408 — and yes, they were high on my list even before Lux Interior died); Captain Beefheart (356); The Mekons (346); The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (313); Tom Waits (290); Otis Taylor (256); The Fleshtones (251); The Dirtbombs (232); and Andre Williams (215).

(Update: Sometime before Friday night, The Cramps had overtaken The Fall in my never-ending Last.fm rat race.)

Actually, Andre would be higher, but many of the tracks I have by him list whatever band he’s playing with — Andre Williams & Green Hornet, Andre Williams & The Sadies, Andre Williams & The New Orleans Hellhounds, etc.
Joe West with Santa Fe All Stars
And you can listen to the music libraries of others. Last.fm is also a social network, though I admit I don’t use it much that way. Most of my 10 friends are people I know from other music sites or from “real life” (whatever that is). One new friend, a fellow New Mexican, dropped me a line saying, “anyone who digs Joe West and the Mummies is a friend of mine.”

Everyone’s a DJ: I’ve been more active recently on Blip.fm, which some of my buddies from the GaragePunk Hideout turned me on to.

On Blip, you look for songs or artists, and when you find one you like you “blip” it, making a comment if you so desire. Users create their own “stations.” You can choose your “Favorite DJs,” which is a good way to discover music you like — and you don’t have to sign up to hear the songs.

If you’re on Twitter, your blips go out as tweets. (I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence.) And if you’ve set up your Twitter to go to other points in your Internet stomping grounds, those blips/tweets will appear with your comment and a link to the song.

For instance, someone following me on Twitter or reading my music blog or checking out my Facebook profile on Saturday afternoon would know that I blipped “Daddy Was A Preacher, Momma Was A Go-Go Girl” by Southern Culture on the Skids and “Guacamole” by the Texas Tornados — and would be able to click and listen to those tunes. (There’s also a widget to embed your Blip.fm station on your sites.)

However, I think I might have arrived at this party a little late. According to a Feb. 12 story in The Wall Street Journal, Jeff Yasuda, founder and chief executive of Blip.fm’s parent company, the San Francisco-based Fuzz Artists Inc., plans to shut down the Fuzz Web site for economic reasons.

WSJ notes that Yasuda is keeping Blip.fm going. But you’ve got to wonder how’s he going to keep the lights on at the free service when his main business has folded.

Until that dreary day, check out my Blip.fm station at blip.fm/steveterrell and my last.fm at last.fm/user/robotclaw. You can follow my Twitter at twitter.com/steveterrell.

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