Speaking of online radio, I'm a little excited about Last.fm coming to the Xbox 360 sometime in the near future. It may seem like a small step for a service that has already made its way through the Internet and on to many mobile devices. The big thing here is that putting it on Xbox 360's Live service is that it gives a huge amount of independent music a direct line to consoles inside many, many homes. You still have to trust the listener to make the leap of actually choosing the right radio station, but it places the music in a good place. Twitter and Facebook integration are a good move as well, but I'm hoping the Last.fm integration ends up making a big difference for a lot of musicians.
I have no idea if the "world's largest bass guitar" is a Photoshopped work of trickery. I have no idea of the scale on it or the notes. Would it even make an audible tone, or does it just rumble quietly to itself when plucked, the soundwaves passing below our ability to hear? What the hell is up with the flame job anyway? So many imponderables.
What is being heard it Last.fm's response to Techcrunch's allegations that the service turned over its data on what its Scrobble users listen to over to the RIAA, specifically the folks who gave a listen to leaked U2 tracks. Last.fm is claiming they only collect aggregate data to share with labels and artists, and the private stuff never makes it out of their servers. Techcrunch is backtracking somewhat on the claims, but the implications are already out and the debate is underway. If anything, this is as much of a warning to make sure exactly what data is being collected from your system before you use a service (and maybe turn off the service that broadcasts the music you're enjoying to the world, even if it hasn't technically been released yet). Given that your information is already being tracked, though, whether by Amazon's purchases or iTunes' Genius feature or another feature, this kind of becomes a non-issue.
So Last.fm is paying royalties to unsigned bands that aren't affiliated with major labels or (it would appear) organizations like ASCAP or BMI. On the surface, it only makes sense - ASCAP and BMI have traditionally relied on journals or random sampling from those that played the music, and digital programming makes it a lot easier to see what exactly gets played. This makes more sense for smaller artists whose individual plays might be ignored in favor of the artists who received far more spins. It doesn't look like last.fm would make anybody rich off of these limited spins, but it's something.
Hypebot makes the move look a lot more pragmatic and mercenary than it might on the surface, and there's a kernel of truth to that, too. Merely offering something is more enticing to individual artists who haven't been getting anything up to this point, so it might seem like a good idea to take whatever the payment is. Plus, the artist can sign up themselves, without dealing with management or lawyers or the like.
It's worth noting here that just because you can doesn't mean you should, though. The temptation to get something could lead to selling yourself short, and it's not a bad idea to check with the experts to make sure what the best move is for you. Opinions on the actual rate seem to vary, so make sure you're comfortable with the rate (listed on the Last.fm site as 10-30% of their net revenue for your play on that service - not exactly a hard number) before you sign up.
In any case, transparency is key to these agreements. Artists need to know up front what they're making and get a fair and accurate accounting of their royalties. It's a lack of that information that helped set up the broken system musicians are faced with today.