Do More With Your Music at Lala

Posted by Matthew Murphy on Tuesday, July 24th, 2007. Filed under: eHub Features

I came across Lala while looking for a (free) way to listen to my music collection when the computer that I was at wasn’t mine. While I’d toured similar services like Oboe Locker by Mp3tunes.com, in the end I grew tired of dealing the limitations of these other services. Limits to the size of your online library, or limits to the size of the mp3 file itself, for example, are common among free accounts.

Enter online music sharing community and marketplace, Lala. Except that Lala doesn’t just give you a place to upload your music so you can play it elsewhere. Still in relative infancy, Lala is striving to be the all-inclusive resort of music communities. In addition to housing your own tracks, you can dynamically create playlists that can be loaded directly to your iPod. Combine that with being able to listen to other people’s playlists, leave comments for other users, find artist information, purchase and trade CD’s, and you’ve got a pretty good shot at attracting a lot of attention. Especially when you announce that you’ve got a partnership with a major label to offer some 200,000 songs for download DRM-free.

As it turns out, Lala is attracting a fair amount of attention lately. Last month, they received press from, among others, Ars Technica and PC World, regarding their above-mentioned deal with Warner Music Group. This deal allows users to listen to full length tunes from the Warner catalog and purchase the music DRM-free as long as the tracks go straight to your waiting iPod.

Lala sports an impressive list of standard features. Being a community, you’ll have to set up an online account, which is as easy as it is free. Once that’s complete, you’ll be taken to your My Music page. You’ll be asked to download a smallish bit of software that is used to sync your music with, well, everyone else’s music. Specify the folder where you’re music lives, and go explore the rest of the site while it uploads what it doesn’t already have.

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Tabs at the top of the page give you the option to Discover, Trade, or Buy. Clicking the Discover tab brings you to a page with a half dozen ways of finding new music. You can browse through popular albums, scan playlists, watch studios appearances from WOXY.com, and see what other people are listening to. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the artist search box (available from any page) will auto-suggest artists as you type. Doing a search for Indigo Girls also brought up the band Indigo Swing, which also brought up fond memories of swing dancing during my college days.

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Bring up an artist, and you’ll see a page that’s packed full of information, including a band bio, discography, similar artists, popular songs by that artist, and a list of other users who happen to like them too. Emusic users will find that the layout is rather familiar. Band bio’s come from Wikipedia.com, so if Wikipedia is short on band info, you won’t find much here either. Beneath the bio section, you’ll see familiar social bookmarking icons so you can easily share new finds with others. If Lala has an agreement with the label, you’ll be able to play songs by that artist and others that are similar. If not, you can still listen to 30-second clips with the option of buying or trading the album. The site also scours Google for artist videos. Don’t forget to scroll all the way to the bottom of the page to find them.

Trading is done in a manner made popular by book swapping sites like ReadItSwapIt.co.uk. A Lala trade costs you a dollar and they provide you with a mailer. Any album on Lala has a “Have It” and a “Want It” button near the cover art. Like most trading sites, you have to give before you can recieve. Send a CD off, and before long, a CD from your “Want It” list shows up on your doorstep.

In addition to swapping, albums on the site are available for purchase. Lala boasts that they can sell discs for cheaper than most online music stores, and, apparently, they can. Wilco’s new release Sky Blue Sky shows up on Lala for $12.09 versus $13.99 at BestBuy.com.

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Although my original intent was simply to upload my music somewhere, I’ve found that Lala has some other really cool features that will to keep me coming back. I’m impressed with how easy it is to find new music. The auto-suggest search results are great for this. There is also a strong social element to every part of the site, and a strong user community. (There is a very active user forum that’s hidden in the upper right corner of the site- don’t miss it!) On the other hand, if you (gasp) don’t use an iPod, and/or you just buy digital instead of purchasing the actual CD, you may find that Lala doesn’t have quite as much to offer.

Lala’s theme very well could be, “Shares well and plays nice with others.” Others, of course, being the recording industry. They are doing a very nice job of complying with the DMCA and are very public about the license fees they will be paying. Negotiations with Warner Music Group will, hopefully, urge other labels to adopt the same stance, increasing the amount of music available to listen to and download. Lala’s John Kuch has acknowledged that Lala will be paying out instead of raking in for at least the next two years. Time will tell if they can leverage their loyal user-base enough to weather the financial storm created by music licensing fees.

Editor’s note: As of writing, Lala has temporarily suspended their free music streams. Mashable quotes Lala as stating that the free streams “..have generated significant consumer excitement but have also generated an overwhelming load on our systems.”

Though Lala plans on bringing back it’s free streams, they have not stated when that will be. You can, however, still listen to your own music from any machine on the planet with internet access.