Last.FM, Jango, Pandora Trounce Music Discovery via Radio

    by Jennifer Woodard Maderazo
    November 29, 2007

    Back before the Internet, listening to the radio was a one-sided experience. Beyond the occasional call-in request, music radio was about listening to whatever the DJs decided to play whenever they decided to play it. But a new breed of online music services are giving listeners access to music content on demand, and most are for free. Can these services compete with traditional radio? They can, and then some.

    The on-demand nature of the Internet — getting what I want when I want it — is what has gradually pulled me away from traditional media like print and radio, which I stopped listening to consistently back in the ’90s. As my focus for media consumption turned more toward the Internet, I looked for an online substitute for radio and found the jerky streams of early Internet radio broadcasts as just a bad version of the radio. It was hard to listen to before broadband, and the music was largely stuff I didn’t want to hear.

    But now Internet radio is back in a different form; some don’t call it radio but rather “music discovery” or “social radio.” For me it has taken the place of the staticky old box. Traditional radio was always hit-or-miss for hearing music that I liked, but these services have made it so much easier, as they allow you to filter out what you don’t want to hear and discover new things you might not ever hear on the radio.


    The most notable of social radio services is UK startup Last.FM which was recently acquired by CBS for $280 million. I joined Last.FM last year and was not completely satisfied, so I decided to see how other services stacked up. Here’s a roundup of some of the more interesting social radio sites.


    Last.FM is the biggest and the baddest of the music discovery services. More than just a place to listen to songs, Last.FM is a virtual world of music.

    Getting started is pretty easy: You download a plugin called “Scrobbler” which lets Last.FM track what you are listening to in iTunes. Based on your music, Last.FM starts to form a profile of your tastes. Visit the site and you begin to see recommendations on similar artists as well as other people who like the same music you are listening to. You can add them as friends, or “network” with them in a non-committal way by sending emails to them or adding a message to their “Shoutbox” (“Hey! I see you like Merle Haggard too! Cool!”).


    Last.FM’s listing of tracks

    Because there’s so much to the service, your first visit to the site can be a bit overwhelming. As a user, you’re confronted with a ton of options: watch videos, get music recommended, see what what your friends are listening to, and much more. I appreciate the diversity of content on Last.FM but sometimes I just want to listen to music and not be bombarded with so many ways to have fun. But I shouldn’t complain, as this service is amazing when it comes to discovering new music. Last.FM’s technology matches up the music you listen to with artists it predicts you will like, and it’s almost never wrong.

    If you’re into privacy — and let’s face it, if you are into social networking, it’s probably not a huge priority for you — then Last.FM is probably not for you. It’s like opening up your iPod to the world. I can’t count how many times I’ve been called out by friends and strangers about my ridiculous musical taste, which includes a healthy helping of ’70s AM radio hits and gangster rap. And everything you listen to on iTunes, no matter how embarrassing, gets “scrobbled” and broadcast to the Last.FM community. That includes podcasts, so if you are ashamed of being caught watching dirty standup comedy or ESPN while at work, you’ve been warned.

    Another not-so-great thing about Last.FM is that you can’t listen to everything you want. I know that sounds like I’m asking for too much, but I don’t like how the service suggests music and then only lets me listen to 30 seconds of a song. If I want it, I’ll have to buy it.


    I have to admit that after using Last.FM for a good two months last year, I abandoned the site and the online radio thing altogether. Part of it was social networking burnout, but mostly because it didn’t let me listen to whatever I wanted in its full form and that the experience depended largely on my iTunes music collection.

    But I recently found a service that satisfies what was lacking for me in LastFM: Jango. Less feature-rich than Last.FM (I didn’t need all those features anyway), Jango is instant gratification from the moment you visit the site. You can start listening to songs in their entirety immediately, without even signing up. Not having to sign up hooked me into trying it out, and I’ve been using it daily ever since. You simply type in an artist, and a song starts playing.

    Jango’s personalized stations

    A huge advantage of Jango is that you don’t have to own any music to get a great experience. If you don’t have iTunes, it doesn’t matter – the music is just there for the listening and with nothing to download. And since it’s all web-based, you can use it on any computer, not just your own.

    The music matching system on Jango is okay, but it could use some work. For instance, it seems to think because I like Steely Dan and James Taylor, I’ll also like the Beach Boys. No. And while I am a frequent listener of Mary J. Blige, I want R. Kelly out of the mix. Unfortunately, even though I click on the sad face to tell Jango never to play the offending song again, “Trapped in the Closet” continues to haunt me.

    The social networking part of the service is also my speed. Little to no interaction is what I tend to like, and while the system lets you get really specific about the kind of user you want to interact with based on music compatibility, age, gender, location, etc., the communication itself is limited to comments or passive “thank you” emails sent to other users automatically after you listen to their stations.


    Pandora is another service that gets my kudos for being super easy to get started with and available with no downloads. I went to the site, was prompted to type in the name of an artist that I like. I typed in “Estopa,” a Spanish group I love. A song plays immediately, and I’m told that the system has created a station for me based on Estopa’s traits: “similar male lead vocals, mixed acoustic and electronic instrumentation, flamenco influences…” The next song that came up was in fact a song by an artist from the same genre, Manu Chao, that l like a lot.

    After that I was presented with Jumbo, a group I’d never heard of but ended up loving. That’s what music discovery is all about. If you like what the system is suggesting, you give it a thumbs up. If it bombed at predicting your tastes, a thumbs down will help get more accurate recommendations.

    Unlike Jango, Pandora has a more international selection of music, which is an advantage for someone like me who enjoys stuff from all over. And it seems that the library is pretty complete, as it took me several tries of searching for international artists to finally stump it with one they didn’t have.

    i-05855bae3042f62804bd5386b67e7c86-Picture 3.jpg
    Pandora interface

    Another attractive thing for those who want music and not relationships is that Pandora isn’t pushing the social networking thing on you. In my trial of Pandora, I listened to hours and hours of music without seeing a single avatar or any other sign of other users (though the service does allow you to add “friends”). While some might find that a turnoff, I find it refreshing. I’ve got enough with the incessant Facebook updates.

    I’d give Pandora a 5-star rating for Zen-like simplicity in usability and for letting me listen to entire songs if it weren’t for one annoying catch: You can’t skip more than a few songs. If the system matches you up with 5 or so songs you don’t feel like hearing and you attempt to skip over them, you’ll get a polite pop-up telling you that Pandora’s music license only allows you to skip a certain number of songs per hour. The only solution to the problem is to create a new station.

    Best of the Rest

    Many more music discovery services are popping up left and right. Using a combination of the ones I’ve reviewed or some of the following standout services might be right for you. I don’t like some of the ones below as much because they depend on user uploads to populate their catalog of songs, meaning — like on peer-to-peer sites — if someone else hasn’t uploaded it, you won’t be listening to it.

    Very popular with the Facebook set, iLike is similar to Last.FM in that much of the experience is based on your iTunes music collection.

    A service made for social networks, among them Facebook.

    A desktop application which, once downloaded, provides a ton of features such as the ability to organize “music parties” and synchronize your iPod to the service.

    Mog is like a music magazine, MySpace and Last.FM all rolled into one. Here reviews are important, and presented like articles, and the user’s profile plays a much bigger role in the experience.

    My final verdict after trying all of these sites is that a combination of Jango and Pandora satisfies my online music needs. I’ve all but given up on Last.FM, and only use it to check up on what friends have been listening to.

    The great thing about these services is that they’ve allowed me to leave behind my reluctance to embrace new music and discover artists I love without even really trying – something I missed about traditional radio. And I find it interesting that while radio and TV are often considered kissing cousins, TV is a bust online while radio seems to have reinvented itself. Or are we reinventing radio?

    Perhaps the fact that these services don’t try to emulate traditional radio but expand on what makes it great — while taking out what we don’t need — is the real innovation. Unlike my TV, thanks to the Internet, I can live without a radio — for now. With the recent hubbub about skyrocketing web royalties, some question the viability of these services in the long term. Indeed, just this week Bloomberg News reported both Yahoo and AOL were considering closing shop on their online radio services. If that trend continues, I’d be very sad.

    What do you think? Do you enjoy listening to music online or are you still addicted to traditional radio? What social music services do you use? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

    Jennifer Woodard Maderazo is the associate editor of PBS MediaShift. She is a San Francisco-based writer, blogger and marketer, who covers Latino marketing at Latin-Know and Latino cultural issues at VivirLatino.

    Tagged: music radio
    • Excellent article for I am addicted to last.fm, mog.com and another website that you did not mention called fuzz.com.

      As a user of last.fm and pandora.com together, one of the artists featured on pandora.com told me to check out fuzz.com.

      Every site has its pros and cons but the reason why I prefer last.fm is that I enjoy the exploration mode and also updating profiles of artists who have nothing in their journal section or even in their bios. Last.fm is a community effort for everyone to teach everyone. I have found everyone there to be very open minded and supportive.

      I have to admit that I am social butterfly and that is probably why I enjoy last.fm for I do have about 190 friends on there who I try to keep in touch with via my blogs and checking in on them but it can be so hard to be too much in the know.

      The one thing I love though about the combination of pandora.com and last.fm is that you can listen to radio via either service. However, I prefer pandora.com’s radio because of the ease of the use system and how it matches up to my musical tastes pretty well.

      When I am traveling, I do not worry if I have my entire iTunes music collection with me because I can listen to pandora.com and be more than satisfied because I am always on discover mode.

      The one bad thing with all of these services is that you discover so much wonderful music that you wonder how can you afford to buy the albums of all the artists you want to enjoy?! For me, I discovered http://www.emusic.com from a friend on http://www.last.fm where the music prices for independent artists are much less than iTunes and are DRM free. Huge appeal. I only use iTunes as a player and I do not buy my music through there. However, I do listen to podcasts through iTunes.

      Great article!

    • So, I used to love Pandora, until I moved back to my country, Brazil, and noticed that, because of some copyright laws, I wouldn’t be able to use their services down here… too bad :(

    • Hi Jennifer,

      Thank you very much for your sharing your thoughts and for letting us know about the services I didn’t include in the post. It’s interesting you mention that music discovery sites pique your interest in purchasing albums, as I think that the music industry is afraid of just the opposite happening — that these sites will make buying music no longer necessary. I must admit that at least for me I am content to listen online to most music, but will shell out money for the artists I really love.

      Thanks again for your comments.

      Hi Paulo,

      Thank you for your comment. That’s very discouraging to hear. I spend a fair amount of time outside of the U.S. and I was looking forward to using Pandora on trips abroad. Like many of the online television applications, these services would be great for travelers looking to have access to all of their media while away, or for people outside of the U.S. to enjoy. Unfortunately, if it’s a licensing issue I doubt we’ll see that anytime soon.

      Thanks for stopping by.

    • You might also check out http://www.yottamusic.com – a service built on top of Rhapsody, a paid music subscription service. I haven’t liked the rhapsody interface itself, but Yotta makes it much more enjoyable, easy, somewhat social, and chock full of amazing music, continuous streams by artist/genre etc.

    • Shawn

      Hi. An interesting article, but from reading the article one would think you completely missed the fact that you really can play stations with last.fm, with songs in their entirety and everything. It’s not just 30 second previews. You can type in an artist and play a “similar artists station”, you can play what the fans of that artist listen to as well. I find that when I play a similar artists station, if I’m playing that station for the first time that day, it starts out with a song from the original artist you entered and goes from there. It depends on the artist, but I’ve had good luck with most I’ve tried. After a couple hours it tends to wander away from the closest ones, getting farther and farther afield, but a couple hours isn’t bad. You can also play stations based on “tags”. People can tag artists, albums, or songs with any tag they wish. You can find genre tags like deth metal and latin, and non-genre tags like winter, sunny, even rediculous ones like “man beating a goat”, lol. The problem with tags is that the ones you’d expect to reflect a given genre can be polluted by virtual vandals who might, for instance, label Megadeth as “classical music” or “easy listening”. But there is some filtering to keep such aberrant entries out of the mix, but it doesn’t always work. So some tags are better than others, and a tag that was good a few months ago might not be so hot now, but I’m talking about global tags. There is also the possibility of listening to tag-based radio stations created by paying subscribers. If you find one who’s taste you like, listening to their “bossa nova” tag for instance will probably not have you listening to Megadeth or even “Mastruz com Leite” which is Brazilian but not bossa nova. In adition to all this you can also listen to your neighborhood which consists of a conglomeration of all the music your 50 musical neighbours (people who have similar music tastes to you because they share a number of your artists) listen to. You can listen to the conglomeration of all the music that just one user has listened to by listening to their personal radio station. You can listen to the collective music of a group, which on last.fm is a space for people to post about a certain topic of interest. You can create a group on any subject, anyone can do that, just like with yahoogroups. Only on last.fm you post on the website. And last.fm doesn’t care that I don’t even have iTunes. I have a 3rd party scrobbler for winamp to add the music I play on my computer to my profile. Actually I don’t even use the last.fm player. I’m totally blind, and the native player isn’t accessible, so I use a 3rd party player that works just as well. So it’s not perfect, but with a little perseverance you can find a lot of great stuff to listen to. And if you do subscribe you can listen to your own personal tag stations, and your love tracks station. Anyone can create a playlist and listen to it, though this feature does have it’s flaws as well. I’ve found pandora to be completely inaccessible. It’s so bad that I’ve read that if I want to sign up I would have to write an email to their help and support staff for them to sign me up. Their flash-driven GUI oriented site is totally unfriendly to screen-readers. I did get to experience it a bit by using a sort of hack I found in a journal entry on last.fm. You have to type the URL of each search into your browser, since the site won’t allow a screen-reader user access to anything. If your search turns up more than one result you’re just out of luck. If it turns up one result it will play. But you can only do this a few times before it tells you you have to sign up. I did enjoy the results of my searches. I was surprised when I plugged in Chileno Sanchez and heard lots of great narco-corridos, but there were things I couldn’t listen to because the search turned up too many results, and I was powerless to choose one. I’m a bit of a cynic when it comes to trying to ask a large corporation to help me do something the large majority of their users can do themselves, so until they make their services more accessible, which probably isn’t likely to happen any time soon, I think I’ll pass. I’m going to have to try jango though. I know it’s accessible because I already know a blind guy who’s using it.

    • I don’t really like jango, it only seems to carry the mainstream artists. Maybe I’m slightly biased because I noticed the code uses IFRAMEs. :p I still prefer Pandora.

    • This is a really perceptive article, Mark.

      This entire genre of web service continues to be in jeopardy, and I think Pandora, which is my favorite, continues to lose money hand over fist. A huge part of the problem is the unfair application of royalties to such services. If you’re interested in finding out about or even helping solve the problem, look here:


      For those who haven’t yet explored Pandora, I wrote a screencast on it here:


      I’m working on another about Jango, which I think may be the best of the social networking sites for music discovery.

    • The key to survival of any internet service is to keep people on the site and interacting with it. That’s what attracts the advertising dollars.

      Jango has a really good hook, with a scrolling ribbon of like-minded users at the bottom of the player, along with the songs they are listening to. Click on the song and you can listen to it immediately; click on the user’s image, and you go to that user’s profile page, where you can IM/email them. It’s obvious that Jango has been successful with getting advertising.

      I completed the screencast on Jango, here, to complement the one I did on Pandora:


      For those turned off by last-fm’s user interface, Jango is far simpler to use.

    • natasha

      Jango and Pandora both great, because they get you to your music fast. Personally, I like to just turn the music on during work. I’d rather have the service just figure out what I like instead of having to vote on every song.

      I think independent internet radio isn’t going to make it. Satellite radio could make a play for the same users if they added some personalization like Dash Media http://www.dashmediausa.com

    • Checked out some of your recent tweets and it seems like you’ve come back around to last.fm? You’ve used imeem songs on VivirLatino, as well, so I think you’ve definitely found some of the best services. I’m also a big fan of rateyourmusic.com when you want to find the best-rated stuff and releases from a certain band, although I don’t actually listen to music on that site.

    • Roger

      I fell inlove with Jango.com, but was upset to find that they didn’t have some time of desktop application, until I found http://samuelhaddad.com/software-projects/jango-desktop/ This with Jango has completly replaced any other music player I used.

    • teresa

      hola chicos

    • Baldemar Gonzalez

      all i wanted itis to listening to some salsa . its there a problem?

    • Abe

      @ Paulo

      I had the same issue with Pandora – when I left the US I couldn’t access it anymore. Yet, if you use a VPN service and get a US IP address you’re back in business. I have an iPhone (which has a built-in VPN client) that is set up with VPN Television and it works great.

      Also, here’s a good updated list of all the current US & UK streaming media sites:


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