Feral Tagging

Tagging – that nightmare point in your upload when you have to pin yourself down. Some places give you wiggle room as a musician, others are more prescriptive. How do you make the most of the process? When Matthew Hawn, Last.fm’s VP Product, gave a cutting edge talk on tags at the amazing Digital Shoreditch festival, we were all ears. You need to know this stuff and not just in relation to Last.fm.


Tech, Publicity


With a global website that features 100 million tracks by 45 million artists, Last.fm’s approach to tagging is enthusiastic and limitless – and they are adamant that tags are much better than genres.

Matthew said the reason that iTunes only has 15 genres is because Steve Jobs hated them, and tagging is much more flexible.

In contrast, at Last.fm 2000 genres tags are created very week.

“We let them grow in a way that is feral and slightly wild”, said Matthew. He harked back to our basic need for “tribal sorting” and explained that new tags bleed into the music press.

Some tags may be classic and legendary such as Northern Soul. They can be used to argue with – Old School Death Metal and Brutal Death Metal are examples of competitive tagging.

Tag jokes are also common – Rick Astley’s Never Gonna to Give You Up has been tagged to become the top Brutal Death Metal video on Last.fm!


Big scenes attract new tags such as IDM (Intelligent Dance Music – musicians like Aphex Twin, Squarepusher and Boards of Canada)) or they get attached to the smallest of scenes. It’s all about “personal maps and legends”, and “temporal music communities”.

Matthew revealed some of Katy Perry’s more unusual tags, which include “guilty pleasures”, <3 and “Katy Perry isn’t really English”.

It’s in the newer genres that the art or science of tagging really comes into its own. Freeform tagging is fantastic for bands.

Matthew talked about the emergence of Witch House and bands like Ritualz. A new tag like that means that bands can find each other and see who they should tour with. They can also check out their competition and see who the fans are. It’s useful on Twitter too.


Tags solidify after about three months he revealed, and some become classic while others are just temporary. “The cream rises to the top”.

Late last year, Last.fm launched an experimental, and hidden, interface for unsigned artists. If you put a tag in it suggests others. So for Black Metal you might get offered Symphonic Black Metal, true Norwegian Black Metal, or even Depressive Black Metal.

You can see the full set of slides from Matthew’s presentation on Slideshare.

With all that tagging talk we had to think carefully how to tag this post, so we’ve filed it under Tech and Publicity.

Any more thoughts let us know. [email protected]