Martin Stiksel Co-Founder of Last.Fm

Martin Stiksel, Co-Founder of Last.Fm Austrian-born Martin Stiksel has been working with music since 1995, starting as a producer for Austrian National Radio (ORF) and a sound designer with NBAW. In 1999, he and Felix Miller set up insine.net, an online record label and platform for unsigned artists & bands. Joined by Richard Jones of Audioscrobbler fame, they founded Last.fm in 2003 with a view to building the social music platform to end them all.

What should musicians know about using Last.fm to reach an audience?
Our users tell us about what’s out there; users essentially build our catalogue. Last.fm was set up because we were running an online record label and looking for a service like ours, which could plug our music automatically to the right people. Last.fm was set up with artists and labels in mind as much as music fans; we saw it as a great way to connect listeners with the right music. We always thought, damn, if we could find 5,000 people on this planet that liked this music, they could carry on being full-time musicians and producing one album after the other and get paid for it too. Before, it was not possible because you had to go through traditional broadcast channels, which make it very difficult and suffocating for you to reach out to your people. The other great thing is we have these artist pages — on MySpace you have to go and set it up it but at Last.fm we have it already because the users build the catalogue. Also MySpace doesn’t have any of the recommendations where you can jump from one artist to the next. MySpace is very much the old model of building a website and driving people to it and hoping there is someone there that finds your music interesting. At Last.fm, if the music has been listened to 50,000 times then there are 15,000 fans already waiting for their new release once it comes out. Last.fm already knows the people who are going to be into your music. I think that’s the big advantage that we have.

What are the benefits and challenges of being an international presence?
We are uniquely positioned, with music being an international product, to also be an international website. Music doesn’t need to be translated; it’s an international currency and an international language. This also means we can grow our music catalogue very rapidly. All we need to do is translate the website and our software in different languages and then people use it and tell us all about the music that happens in their country. We released our software in ten different languages before Christmas, and because of our unique "scrobbling” [every time someone listens to a song it builds a page on the database] within two weeks we had millions of tracks of Brazilian music and Spanish music and Russian music added to our catalogue, which is really great.

So how does music get on Last.fm? I’ll take the example of the U.S. because that’s the easiest and most transparent: we are licensed by SoundExchange, BMI and ASCAP. The labels give us the music and we report to and pay these organizations — we’re not paying the labels directly. In the case of EMI and Warner and IODA, we made content agreements where we get delivered the music. But working with labels enables us to have a conversation and make them aware that they can do a lot with Last.fm’s label emphasis. As a label, you can go there, register your music and do quite a number of things yourself on the website. That obviously has benefits beyond just the royalty implications. [We work with content aggregators] because it’s almost impossible is for us to deals with everyone individually. There are millions of labels out there and we don’t have the bandwidth or the manpower to do the deals directly. We do deals with IODA and the Orchard and this way we get all the music and make sure that people are properly compensated for the use of their music.

What’s your advice to indie labels and bands that are struggling survive in the new musical economy?
To quote Daniel Miller, the head of Mute Records: two things you have to keep in mind if you are running a record label. First, only sign bands that are good live, because that is the real hard currency of the music business. Musicians made money long before the invention of the wax cylinder. The second thing is to produce an interesting product that people are actually going to buy. CDs and their crappy little jewel cases are bad product. People treat them badly, leave them lying around on the floor — there is no respect because the CD is a crappy product. Mute has gone the opposite way: limited edition photo booklets, posters, special editions, with an attached DVD and so forth, which ends up making the product interesting again. There’s still lots of juice in recorded music. The record labels were taking the piss for quite a while, re-releasing stuff that was around already in a different format and just hoping to sell it again but, from a consumer proposition, in an inferior format.