Sunday, January 31, 2010

Lala - my not-so-new favorite thing.

This post is long overdue.  If you have seen any of my recent activity online (Facebook, Google Reader, or certain posts about top music), you might be aware that I have become an avid user of Lala.  The short story: Lala is a free online music service without advertising.  The longer story follows.

You can read Lala's official story about their features at their How it works page.  I'll expand on what I like about these main features, and one additional minor feature, to show what I think makes Lala pretty awesome.

  1. Play over 8 million songs for free.  They have a pretty extensive music catalog, of which you can play any song for free once.  After the first free listen, you can listen to 30-second clips of songs you don't own (you can always listen to full-length songs you own - see #2).  I especially like that they organize music so that it is easy to queue up albums, which is how I prefer to listen to music.
  2. Play your music, anywhere on the web.  You can match your music collection on your computer to Lala's catalog so that Lala recognizes what songs in their catalog you own (no, it does not matter how you came to own the music).  If you own it, it can always play it for free on the web.
  3. Discover new music through friends and experts.  They've got some social networking and cataloging aspects.
  4. Buy new music starting at 10 cents.  You can buy any song as a "web song" for 10 cents.  This gives you unlimited plays of the song via the web, but you can't download it to your computer.  You can also buy songs for download, usually for 89 cents.  Note that if you have previously bought a song as a web song, you only have to pay the difference (79 cents) to buy it as a download.  The song files are DRM-free variable bit-rate MP3s.  In my experience the bit rate is usually around 240 kbps, which is excellent unless you're an audiophile.

    I will add here that Lala's download prices are pretty phenomenal in comparison with the competition.  For example, here are some comparisons with two other major MP3 vendors for four new album releases that I bought this past Tuesday (yes, I went kinda crazy):

    Four Tet - There is Love in You
    iTunes - $9.99
    Amazon MP3 - $6.99
    Lala - $6.49

    Charlotte Gainsbourg - IRM
    iTunes - $9.99
    Amazon MP3 - $7.99
    Lala - $7.49

    Basement Jaxx - Zephyr
    iTunes - $9.90
    Amazon MP3 - $6.99
    Lala - $6.49

    Jaga Jazzist - One-Armed Bandit
    iTunes - $8.91
    Amazon MP3 - $6.99
    Lala - $6.99

    As you can see, iTunes is kinda ripping people off (though I will concede that they pioneered the MP3 selling business and make selling/buying music very easy for both producers and consumers), so it's a good thing that I don't even have an iTunes account set up.  I used to use Amazon MP3 quite a bit, but I have more recently been buying the majority of the music that I purchase through Lala
  5. Scrobbling to Last.fm!  Listening to music is pretty much worthless to me unless I can scrobble it to Last.fm, my ultimate music listening cataloger.  Without this minor feature I don't think I would have begun using Lala nearly as much as I do now.
I've actually been a Lala member since early 2007, back when their main thing was trading CDs, though I never really used it.  They've since dropped that business model and are now a digital music service.  I rediscovered them this past fall when Pitchfork started using Lala to share music that they reviewed and Google started including Lala previews in music searches.  Since then I've been using Lala to check out new releases, listen to recommendations from friends, and listen to my collection from work (don't tell Boeing).  It has greatly contributed to the amount of music I listen to and to the amount of music I actually purchase.

I was a bit disappointed in December to hear the news that Apple acquired Lala.  Although Apple appears to have used Lala technology for at least one good purpose (providing browser-enabled previews for iTunes songs), my fear is that Lala will be absorbed into iTunes and I will lose some of the features I have come to love.  For example, I'm pretty sure this would result in increased music prices.  Also, if the web streaming becomes part of Apple I think Boeing will get wise to the goings on pretty quickly as users jump on board, and therefore block it.  I hope these worries do not materialize.

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