…has this changed me permanently? What exactly is my taste in music? How will I know if the stuff that thought I liked was not just a product of my addiction? Only time will tell I guess…
I wrote those words the better part of a year ago referring to my taste crippling addiction to my last.fm playcounts and the various insalubrious statistics which one can derive from it. It turned out I wasn’t the only one. One commenter wrote:
You have opened my eyes, this has to stop. Today I’m removing my the AEP counter from my page. This can’t go on. Scrobbling should be about the fun!
Indeed. More recently I received an email from a fellow sufferer looking for guidance:
I recently read your article on your LastFM addiction (I’m very behind I know) and I HAVE THE EXACT SAME THING. How has your withdrawal gone? I’ve wanted to delete it several times, but I feel like losing all my Scrobbles would be wasted ‘work’ or something. Plus I’m just now getting into Porcupine Tree, and I’ve got this ridiculous idea that not being able to see how many Scrobbles I have of them will prevent me from gauging my ‘progress’ in getting into them. I would try and stop visiting the site and scrobbling, but I know I CAN’T DO THAT NOW because I’m hopelessly addicted. I also have the problem you had where I’m not even sure if I really like artists or if I’ve convinced myself I have to increase my versatility. Anyway, any tips? How did your attempt to break the addiction go?
I did break my last.fm addiction, for the most part. Here’s how.
After writing the article I struggled on for a few more weeks and nothing had really changed. Even if I wasn’t checking my last.fm stats (which I still felt compelled to do, at least once a week), always present was the knowledge that it was there, and everything I listened to was still out there for analysis and interrogation. Some more drastic action was needed. I toyed with the idea of deleting my account entirely, but it still seemed like an important document to me, so in the end I simply opted to cease scrobbling. Job done. I scrobbled nothing for at least 6 months.
Knowing that no-one but me would know what I was listening to I was slowly allowed to listen to music free of that volition. It felt really liberating, and what followed was a voyage of rediscovery. The feeling that I could listen to anything that I wanted was an intoxicating one – holding on to this feeling is what allowed me to finally kill my addiction. Eventually, what I discovered was that my music taste wasn’t as perverted as I had expected, just a little more directed – I was always listening to what I wanted to listen to, for the most part, but now it doesn’t feel like a guilty pleasure.
However, in the end, I really still valued the service of having a log of all my music listens – I’m both a music and stats geek (as you may have noticed) so the lure is inevitable. After some agonising, soul searching and mental preparation, I fired up a fresh last.fm account and started scrobbling again a couple of months ago, but this time with a resolve to use it as it was intended, to log mine and my family’s music listening in all its dread reality, warts and all. There’s no point in hiding from yourself, it will always catch up with you in the end.
Ironically, when you install the iTunes Scrobbler it scrobbles your entire history, which for me went back years, so my new account is pretty similar to my old one. However, I only check it occasionally. I checked my AEP once, but It’s not on my profile and it’s not something I pride myself on (there’s nothing that commendable about taste diversity after all, is there?).
Recently my son, 3 years old, learned to adore Neil Young’s Live Rust (don’t ask how he stumbled upon that album, I hardly ever listen to it!). He listens to it all the time, and each time it gets scrobbled (I intercepted a few but the vast majority are). It irks me a little, but I can live with it. I think that is a sign of recovery, for the most part.
In the end, my ‘addiction’ was probably a manifestation of some latent OCD tendencies, and these things should be tackled head on, which is what I eventually did. There was always a hint or irony in my original article, there are many worse an addiction to have after all, but I’m absolutely serious when I say that it had a real affect on my life, and I felt genuine elation to be rid of it. You’ll also see that I’ve learned to control last.fm and use the beguiling data in there for more constructive purposes.
Music isn’t and should NEVER feel like work, it is one of the ultimate escapes and releases. Music should be celebrated in volume and at volume, not measured out in rations.
So, am I reformed, rehabilitated? As much as I need to be and probably as much as I’ll ever be. Music, after all, doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and outside influences will always play a part in your music tastes and last.fm is but one of these. I can live with that.
Here’s my last.fm account if any of you want to join me on are bored/perverse enough to spy on my listening habits.