One of the best ways to discover new music online is with Last.fm, a music recommendation community. Last.fm serves you up new tunes based on a marriage of your unique preferences and the rest of the huge Last.fm community. Last.fm is a pretty simple way to listen to tunes, but there are a few quick and dirty ways you can oomph it up a little. Keep reading for fifteen ways to tweak your Last.fm listening experience.
1. Exploit Your Neighbours
One of the ingredients in Last.fm's secret sauce is the ability to eavesdrop on other listeners' playlists. Here's how it works: You listen to at least five tracks and Last.fm starts compiling people who have similar tastes. You can see these neighbours at the bottom of your Last.fm dashboard and click on their username, a song they've listened to recently, or genre tags. It's good to know your neighbours in Last.fm; you'll hear music you never knew you liked before.
2. Not Enough Content?
You're eventually going to come across the dreaded "not enough content to play this radio station" message when Last.fm comes up against a variety of roadblocks that may prevent them from playing more of that particular artist's songs: copyright snafus, not enough songs in the system, etc. You can (kind of) get around this by exploring your neighbours personal tags—the tags they come up with to label their faves, such as "breakfast mix" or "after work"; there's also the global tags that cover a specific genre of music, such as "Southern rock" or "ambient." Either way, these tags need to have at least 15 tracks under them in order to work correctly.
3. Explore Radio Modes
There are quite a few different radio modes available for free to Last.fm listeners (the only one that is not free is the Loved Tracks mode). For instance, there's group radio, available via a Last.fm group's page, i.e., there's a magic rainbows group that actually has a ton of good music to listen to.
4. Explore tags
One of the best ways to find good music is to explore tags. You can check out the most popular tags to begin with, then move on to personal tag clouds (at the time of this writing, Last.fm does not provide personal tag clouds for users, but you can get around that). Use Last.fm Extra Stats or Last.fm user tag cloud in order to explore other people's listening preferences via tag and add 'em to your favorites.
5. Download free music
You can download a ton of good stuff completely legally at Last.fm; check out all the free downloads at the free music section. There's also Last.fm. users that have taken the time and effort to put together ginormous lists of free Last.fm downloads.
6. Add your music to Facebook
Last.fm has created a widget so you can add your recently listened to tracks to your Facebook profile. It's just another way to find other people who like the same music you do (or not), and discover the new.
7. Rip it. Rip it good.
8. Eclectify your playlist
Last.fm already plays a pretty eclectic stream of music no matter what you key in, however, you can mix this process up even further with this simple script: "The following script takes the 20 top artists in your musical profile from Last.fm, and finds the collection of top 5 similar artists for this top 20. The resulting is a list of artists similar to your preferred artists. As the list is larger (maximum = 100), your musical preference is more diverse."
9. Give your music time to develop
This one's pretty basic, but still necessary. Last.fm tends to get better the longer you listen to it, especially if you take the time to rate your tracks (click the heart if you love it, the ban button if you don't). You'll also get more interesting suggestions if you tag your music (yes, this is sort of a pain in the patoot, but it is eventually worth it).
10. Use other services to further seed your playlists
11. Integrate with iTunes
12. Combine your Pandora and Last.fm stations
Many people love Pandora just as much as Last.fm (I'm one of them), and PandoraFM is a good mashup between the two. This particular application takes your Pandora songs and send them to your Last.fm profile, making your musical preferences both more eclectic and personalised.
13. AutoHotKey it
For those of you with a keyboard-only fetish, there's a very good AutoHotKey script for Last.fm that enables you to streamline some processes, such as skipping music, recommending your faves, etc.
14. Mash it up
There's a lot of very smart people out there that have created some very cool Last.fm mashups, i.e., Last.tv, a video mashup, and the Mainstream-O-Meter, which "calculates your mainstreamness by comparing the listener count of your favourite bands to the average listener count of the five bands who have the most listeners among Last.fm-users."
15. Extensions, Widgets, and other fun stuff
There's the Last.fm Firefox Extension, which is similar to PandoraFM in that it submits your Pandora tracks to Last.fm...LastGraph, a wave generator for your Last.fm songs...Last.fm Reverse Neighbours, a tool that finds users that have you listed as their neighbor....Last.fm Desktop Generator, which generates a cool desktop for you based on your Last.fm playlists...and the official Last.fm widgets, which basically allow you to embed your playlist on your site or blog.
Obviously, there's a lot you can do with Last.fm, but I'm sure you can come up with more; please share your Last.fm tweaks in the comments.
Wendy Boswell, Lifehacker's Weekend Editor, can be found at Last.fm under the username "wboswell".