October 17, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Boston Music Hack Day: Scrobble Your Vinyl

sketch of Scrobbyl architecture

Alistair Porter (left) and Greg Sabo (right) sketch out the Scrobbyl architecture on a whiteboard during Boston Music Hack Day 2010.

The much-ballyhooed vinyl revival first spotted in 2007 shows no sign of slowing, as the RIAA tallied a nearly 11-percent increase in vinyl albums from 2008 to 2009. In fact, last year, vinyl was the only physical music format to show an increase in both units shipped and dollar value (PDF).

However, until now, there hasn’t been a good way to link your vinyl listening to your online music preferences as tracked by Last.fm. If you’re analog-hip enough to listen to vinyl — and digital-hip enough to track your music listening through an online profile — the only ways to add your vinyl listening to your profile have required active behavior, such as typing in song information or identifying each song with Shazam. And the very nature of scrobbling is to allow passive documentation of what you’re listening to, rather than requiring listeners to log each song played.

McGill music technology student Alastair Porter and IBM web developer Greg Sabo spent their Boston Music Hack Day solving this problem, writing code that tracks your vinyl listening with desktop software that runs passively in the background, identifying songs using The Echo Nest’s audio fingerprinting API and funneling that to the listener’s Last.fm profile, just as if the tracks had been scrobbled from digital music playback.

Even better, because Last.fm lists the source of each scrobble, friends who view your profile on the site will know that you listened to the song on vinyl – the music format most likely to enhance one’s online reputation as a Serious Music Person.

scrobbyl gathers content from vinyl

Here's one possible set-up for scrobbling vinyl with Scrobbyl (photo: Greg Sabo).

Their creation, called Scrobbyl [new link] — a combination of “scrobble” and “vinyl” — allows vinyl junkies’ most prized music to be included in their online profile passively, without requiring the listener to do anything other than play a record once the system is put into place. (This requires either using an audio splitter or connecting the amplifier’s line-level output to the computer.)

“For a lot of people, having vinyl is a status symbol, and I think of Last.fm as sort of a passive microblogging service where other users can look at what you’re listening to at any given time,” said Sabo. “It’s kind of like your musical status, so the ability to say ‘I’m listening to this on vinyl’ is an extra [boost].”

“I’m a snob, but I’m even more of a snob [because I'm listening to a given song on vinyl],” added Porter.

Vinyl is arguably the most important format to track if you really want to know what music someone loves because it cannot be downloaded casually, for free. In order to buy a record, you really have to want it, obviously — and that’s what makes this information so valuable in developing accurate listening profiles.

“My favorite albums: I always get them on vinyl, eventually,” said Sabo. “It’s important to get those scrobbles in my stats, and it affects my recommendations and everything.”

Scrobbyl will available for download shortly, for Mac and Linux users with Python installed. Future versions of the program, say the pair, will have everything built-in so that even English majors will be able to run it with ease.