One of my resolutions this year is to try to cut down on the carbon I spend on music. Notwithstanding my purchase of the In Rainbows discbox, I’ve amassed an awful number of discs of metallized plastic in barely-recyclable containers. (I say “barely” because K. got me a pencil for Christmas made out of old CD boxes, and a pen from dead car parts. But there’s only so many pencils the world can use.)
As I spend the scraps and offcuts of January and February evenings ripping and filing my 2007’s CDs—some of which I won’t listen to very often once they’re fossilized in the collection—I’m aware of a tremendous weight of madeness and invested time and energy on the part of the manufacturers, and of a sort of casual luxuriating in my first-world lifestyle on my own part. You prepare a playlist before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my tapeheads with crude oil; my CD tray overflows. So in 2008 I hope to buy as few CDs as possible (none is the target) while also avoiding DRM-crippled music and staying legal.
To this end I’ve been seeking free and semi-free online music—free as in beer, semi-free as in of limited choice—since the new year. So far, outside of bittorrenting (which is obviously of variable legality, depending on what you’re downloading), I’m having some success with Last.fm. Until recently they offered a sort of customized “radio station”, where your input into the of the next track was limited to an intelligent deduction by Last.fm based on what you told it you enjoyed in the past. Now, alongside this potluck service, they’ve just started offering three free streamings of any explicitly chosen track before requiring you to buy the track from a commercial partner.
I’ve yet to try the former service (I think you might have to subscribe to be on the beta wagon: I’ll look into that later), but the latter has so far provided our house with unlimited, free access to a radio station for our very own target market. While such slightly sinister profiling might make it harder for me to discover truly new music, it does at least permit me to expand the boundaries of my comfort zone slowly, and cast a critical eye over my friends’ music preferences, while at the same time giving artists their due and most importantly avoiding physical recordings unless I really want them.
Most commercial support for Linux distributions still consists of monolithic installations, wrapped up with checksums to prevent you tampering with them, and installing themselves on your computer in whatever location and potentially harmful fashion they fancy. Until upgrading to Gutsy this was largely my experience (painfully and often repeated) with such packages as nVidia and wireless drivers, and interesting software that barely gave a second thought to existing Feisty users.
After a spot of Googling I was expecting to have to go through the same palaver with Last.fm’s client, and crossed my fingers that nothing would go horribly wrong. But I needn’t have worried: the Linux client for Last.fm is
- free of cost, as in beer
- free of restrictions, as in open source
- free of hard work, as in a no-sweat installation utilizing the Debian packages and apt package management that’s core to Ubuntu
To install it on Gutsy, you first want to add the GPG key for the repository for security reasons. At a command line, type:
wget -q http://apt.last.fm/last.fm.repo.gpg -O- | sudo apt-key add -
You’ll be asked by
sudo for your password. Then, open Synaptic Package Manager (under “System > Administration” in the GNOME menus); then, via “Settings > Repositories”, add the following new third-party repository:
deb http://apt.last.fm/ debian stable
You can then search for the Last.fm widget’s package in the manager (hint: it’s called lastfm) and install it. When you first run it after installation it’ll ask for your Last.fm account, so best have one of those in advance. And that’s it: you’ve now got Last.fm’s widget on your Ubuntu PC.
All of the above is explained briefly on the very URL of the apt repository. Not only that, but they have a free bonus photo of a very cute bunny in case all the apt stuff bores you rigid. Like a TV licence for the Flash version of the BBC iPlayer, all of this is practically worth a subscription alone. As I type, my mouse sits over the very location of the link to do so in a separate tab. I just need to know first: how many more rabbits do I get when I join?