Saturday, March 10, 2007

Last FM: a Mainstream Classical Music Barometer

Just for fun I clicked on the Technorati link for "Classical Music" and found myself looking at this list of 100 pieces ranked in order of popularity. These are the pieces that people have "scrobbled," whatever that means, at Last FM.

Pachelbel's Canon is (no surprise) number 1 on the list (as well as #7 and #46 due to some common misspellings). I image that it will always be at the top of this use-generated list because its perennial use in weddings. I have been playing weddings for the past 15 years, and it is very rare that a bride doesn't want to have the Pachelbel Canon played. (It happens to be a very useful wedding processional because it is possible to tailor it on the spot to be any length and to fit any "mood." In spite of what some people might say or how "tired" some people might be of it, I think it is a remarkable piece.)

I was not surprised to see the "Lacrimosa" from Mozart's Requiem in the number 2 spot because of its exposure on the basketball shoe commercial, and I was not surprised to see a bunch of pieces that are used in many of the standard music appreciation textbooks. I was not surprised to see music used in a few Star Wars films, but I was surprised to see Shostakovich's The Gadfly and Five Days-- Five Nights as well as some Debussy Preludes.

The labels on this list are sometimes incorrect. Young people often confuse the composer of a piece with the performer on a recording, hence the use of that all-purpose (and misused) word "artist." Some of the labels on this self-generated list confuse the "artist" with the composer. Maybe the people at Last FM or Technorati will fix that and make the resource even more useful for people new to classical music.

5 comments:

Elaine Fine said...

Update! It's March 14th and The Lacrimosa from the Mozart Requiem is now #1 on the list with 2,316,973 plays.

John Althouse Cohen said...

Wait a minute... I'm a "young person." I enter classical composers' names in the "artist" field. I don't think I'm confused. It's just that I understand that there's no better way to organize my classical music in iTunes, since the iTunes interface wasn't designed with classical music in mind (ditto for last.fm, which is integrated with iTunes). Why would I want my classical music organized by performer?

Elaine Fine said...

Last FM has changed a great deal since I made this post last year!

It is clear that you know the difference between an "artist" (performer) and a composer, but I run into a surprising number of college-age people who do not know the difference.

manolo said...

I am "Young person", I enter the name of composers in the "composers" tag field, and I don't consider myself confused because I KNOW iTunes' interface has a composer field. It is important to me to be able to oraganize music by performer, maybe it is not so for most people since in popular culture the artists assume both roles: interpreters and composers or listeners simply assume the prefabricated nature of what they are listening and forget about the composer to focus on what the singer is wearing. In classical music it used to be so...but it's hard to come by with a recording of Chopin...himself playing that is!

Tallis Fantasia said...

I know this post is pretty old, but here's my 2 cents anyway.

What Last.fm presents is sort of a classic example how programmers and innovators are so often limited in their design process. The tool is usually only programmed for a certain target group.

Last.fm is a fun toy to play with but it still isn't even remotely adequate for handling other than pop music. I listen to pop music as well as classical music and movie soundtracks. Classical is problematic and movie soundtracks especially, as they can vary from pop to classical or electronic (all can present different problems for last.fm).

I don't consider myself as a "young person" anymore, but I was still a bit offended by your assumption that teens don't understand the difference between artists and composers. Most teens that I used to know weren't that stupid.

The mess on last.fm reflects how young people need to make a difficult choice. Either you conform to the limitations of the system which is imposed on you (thus changing the composer info into the artist field), or you hope and wait for the system to be fixed.

I'd say that it's better not to conform Nowadays, iTunes is pretty decent for managing your music by the composer, the artist of a single piece, or the overall album artist. But as last.fm is only an additional tool, and not your actual music player, it would be idiotic to change the information in the actual music files. It really isn't your fault and in the end you might have to change it back.