Over the last week or so I have started scrobbling my music. What the hell is scrobbling? Audioscrobbling is where you submit the music you listen to, as you listen to it, to a central database where is it tracked. Doesn't sound so cool now, does it? That's probably why they called it audioscrobbling, not as-you-listen-music-tracking. :)

So what's the point of scrobbling your music? As you submit the tracks you listen to to the audioscrobbler main database, it watches and recommends other artists that you may like and lets you see statistics on your listening habits. You can listen to free online radio in the genre that you like best (determined by the system by looking at your listening habits).

So how do you go about audioscrobbling? They've made it pretty simple. Last.fm is the place where it is all centred. You download a client for your computer which installs plugins into your favourite music player. I use Winamp (it really whips the llama's arse!) to play and manage my music, so it installed a plugin for that. When you start your media player, it starts the Last.fm client software as well, which hides away in your system notification area. As you play your music, the plugin in Winamp will send what you are playing to the client software which will submit that to the main audioscrobbler database.

As you listen to your music you can tag the tracks with tags (short informative labels) which helps classify them. So for example, if you tag a track as "vocal trance" your tag gets added to the database of all the tags that everyone else has tagged that track with. The song could then (if Last.fm has it) be found on the "vocal trance" tag radio. You can also mark tracks as Loved or Banned and recommend them to to other Last.fm users. You do this through the client software or through the website if you're using that to listen to music.

Most of the functionality of the software can only be accessed via the website. The client is very weak, in my opinion. It lets you do standard operations such as play radio (by artist, or by tags), set tags, Love, Ban, and Recommend, but not much else. Its got a weak display that talks about the artist of the track being played and lists the track's play count, but compared to the website, it does nothing.

The website. That's where the functionality of audioscrobbling all comes together. Its a bit of a web 2.0 application, a community based app where users create the content. However, it is presented in a slish usable fashion and is actually useful, so don't blacklist it along with MySpace as an annoying, rubbishy "Web 2.0" application.

The website lets you view your statistics such as top artists listened to, play count, etc. But its best feature is its recommendations. By looking at your listening habits, the system will recommend you music to listen to. You can listen to specific tracks on the website (normally 30 second clips, but if the artist is feeling generous, the whole track) using a Flash object, or you can listen to a radio stream via a Flash object or via the client software.

You can do other Web 2.0 things like add friends, write journals, talk in forums, post in peoples' (and artists') shoutboxes. You can join groups of other users who have a similar taste in music and tune into that group's radio or talk with its members. I don't find I use those features much, other than the friends feature. Its pretty cool to be able to see what your mates are listening to right now and be able to recommend them tracks.

I find the most useful feature of the website is music discovery. It lets me find new artists to listen to and when I get bored of my current music collection I'll jump into a radio station and listen to that. I can view the artist I've found on the website and preview their music and see what artists are similar to them.

Audioscrobbling is an open protocol. You can write your own applications that use the data generated by their database, or you can write your own plugin or application to submit tracks listened to. Audioscrobbler.net has the protocol specifications and data feeds.

I use an iPod to listen to music on the train to University, so naturally I wanted to scrobble the music I listened to on my iPod as well. I don't use iTunes (rubbish software) and instead use Winamp + ml_ipod, which made my life a little difficult trying to scrobble my iPod music. The plugin that ml_ipod has that does scrobbling isn't compatible with the Last.fm client software (the client software must be relatively new) so I couldn't use that. I have ended up using Audiopod+, a simple Java application that has a distinct "hacked together overnight" feel about it.

Its a bit of a pain to use: first you need to set it up. Launch it and set the preferences. Tick the two checkboxes to delete the playcounts after scrobbling and set it to only scrobble when you tell it to. Then you have to connect your iPod (make sure Winamp is closed), start Audiopod+ and set the path to your iPod database in the preferences. It probably won't find any music to scrobble. Close the app. Listen to some music, then connect the iPod again (making sure Winamp is closed). Start Audiopod+. It should detect the music you have played. You can then scrobble the tracks you want. Its messy and hacky, but it works.

Words of warning: note that because iPods only record the last date a track was played, if you listen to a track twice without scrobbling it you will only be able to scrobble it once. Also note that you should NOT scrobble any other music from any other source until you have scrobbled your iPod. The audioscrobbler database will not accept music submissions from a time previous to the time that the last track was scrobbled. So if you come home after listening to your iPod on the train, listen to a little music in Winamp (which gets scrobbled), then decide to scrobble your iPod music, you will not be able to. This is apparently a spam prevention mechanism.

My Last.fm account is ratfink88 so if you want to give me a shout in my shoutbox go ahead. Add me as a friend and if you are a trance fan (especially vocal trance) recommend me some tracks.

"The Future's Bright. The Future's Audioscrobbler."

Tip: Check out the bottom of Last.fm for a random selection of Audioscrobbler quotes like the ones I used for the title of this blog and the last sentence. Some of them are gold.