I recently signed up for "pay-to-play" promotions for Last.fm and Jango.

Last.fm and Jango are both systems that will recommend your music to others based off of similar tastes. Users of the sites listen to music through their online players, and they get a mix of artists that are their favorites, and new artists the system believes they will like based off of analyses of "similar artists".

The question for independent artists is how to break into that and get your music recommended to new ears. On the one hand, the whole point is for listeners to find new artists - that's you! On the other hand, the system needs to know about you, which requires many listens from many people. It's a catch-22.

So the way around that is to buy plays from these services. There are of course a variety of opinions on whether a good artist should even need to do this, but listeners need to hear about music somehow.

I decided to test Last.fm against Jango. I used two of my songs, She Believes and Damn My Eyes, and I picked the smallest play package for each. Here are the results:

  • First, I signed my last.fm copy of Damn My Eyes up for a promotion of 100 plays for $20. I chose similar artists of Ben Folds, Jamie Cullum, Harry Connick, Jr., Randy Newman, and Marc Cohn.
    • Full Listens: 71
    • Skips: 27
    • Loves: 3
    • Bans: 1

    In addition, another last.fm user recommended it to a friend of theirs.

  • Then, I signed my last.fm copy of She Believes up for the same promotion - 100 plays for $20. I chose similar artists of Billy Joel, Ben Folds, Jamie Cullum, and Harry Connick, Jr.
    • Full Listens: 75
    • Skips: 23
    • Loves: 0
    • Bans: 0

    In addition, two people outside of the campaign "loved" the track during this time.

  • Then, I signed myself up for Jango - on my artist page you can see the rough results. I ran two separate promotions. The first one was for Damn My Eyes. The minimum was $30 for 1000 plays. You need 50 "likes" for a song to get into general rotation. After 1000 plays, I had somewhere around 200 likes, and 10-12 fans.
  • After that, I signed up again for She Believes, for another 1000 plays. I got another 150 likes and another 6-8 fans I believe. It's hard to tell which stats are for which songs because their stats page doesn't list a complete history, but that seems to be the rough breakdown.

To judge these results you can go listen to my songs to get a relative sense compared to other music you like. But when judged against each other, my rough conclusions are that Damn My Eyes is slightly more likeable (in a broad sense) than She Believes - however I find that She Believes tends to make a stronger impression on the people that like it.

But regarding the services themselves, while it was fun getting the extra listens, I'm still not sure of the benefit of either of these services, for a variety of reasons.

  1. Last.fm does not give you a sense of where that critical mass point is. How many listens does it take for them to start recommending you after a paid promotion? After the conclusion of my promotion, I haven't noticed any additional plays of my tunes through last.fm. Having no sense of how many listens it takes, I don't find it worth the money to pay for additional promotions.
  2. It's too early to tell with Jango since my promotion just ended, but I think I am getting at least a couple of plays a day out of Jango now, after the conclusion of the promotions. That's not a lot. I'll report back here if that jumps up at all.
  3. Response rate sucks. I tried writing my last.fm listeners to say thank you, and I got some new last.fm "friends" out of it, but out of more than 100 messages that I sent, only two wrote back, and I only got one new signup to my mailing list. I am sure this is because many of the plays had to have been to passive listeners.
  4. It's the same with Jango. I've tried writing all of my 18 fans independently and I got one signup - a guy that joined my facebook group. This is better than last.fm, but Jango is still confusing here - I can see on my page who has "liked" me and who has signed up as a "fan". In terms of functionality, there is absolutely no difference. I can't write all my fans at once.

My whole strategy at this phase of my career is to build my mailing list and write songs. I don't yet have a cd or a product to sell, so I use my music to build my mailing list so I have as many likely buyers as possible when I eventually do have something to sell. So from my perspective anyway - and factor in your own opinions of my music quality - it doesn't look like these services are worth the results. I basically paid $50 per lead. (Update: Jango response rate is getting better - their listeners might be more active.)

Now, there are several things that could moderate these conclusions:

  1. Continued future plays could yield more mailing list signups, which could make the services feel "worth it". I'm noticing Jango plays, but not Last.fm plays.
  2. Since my two tracks are well-mixed but one-off rehearsal takes, better produced studio versions of the same songs might yield better results
  3. Flat-out better music might yield better results, but that would always be true even if you're Mozart.
  4. I'm sure I could design a website that would better designed for increasing mailing list signups.

But overall I think it's important to note that both of these services appear geared to the listeners, not the musicians. It does a good job of introducing new music to listeners, but neither do anything towards encouraging the listeners to become active supporters of the musicians behind the music. There is a lot of music out there, and you're really just sort of being anonymously presented to people. This creates a low likelihood of building an actual relationship.

Update: I'm informed that Jango is only a few weeks old. My impressions of Jango overall are positive, and it's clear they're actively working on functionality. After getting another 3-4 mailing list signups I'm more optimistic that Jango's promotions might be worth it.