Lala.com: Your Music, On Demand, Anywhere

Lala.com is an online music company that started as a CD-trading site and has evolved into one of the most interesting music players on the Net. It's a combination online music locker, music sharing service and music store.

Thanks to the service, you can listen to all of your own music from the Web, or any of six millions songs once for free or forever for 10 cents per song.

Once you set up a free Lala account, you're invited to download a piece of software for Windows and Mac called Music Mover that allows you to transfer all of your music files to their server and listen to them from any compatible net-connected device.

For most songs, it doesn't actually copy the music but checks to see if the song is on your PC or Mac and, if so, matches it to songs already on Lala's servers. But if you have songs not on their servers - such as some of my son Will's trumpet solos - it does copy them over.

Once your songs are on Lala, you can listen to them from anywhere and as often as you like. I'm writing this column from a hotel room in Columbia, Mo., where I'm enjoying my own music, streaming to my laptop through the hotel's Wi-Fi network.

Lala is developing an iPhone application that will allow you to listen from virtually anywhere, as long as you have a cellular or Wi-Fi connection.

In addition to your own music, you can stream any of the 6 million songs in Lala's library from the four major labels - EMI Music, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group - and more than 170,000 independent labels, according to founder Bill Nguyen.



You can listen to any song once for free. But if you want to continue to stream it, you pay a one-time fee of 10 cents per song.

Like Amazon.com's music store, it lets you purchase unencrypted MP3 files from major labels. If you paid the 10 cents to stream a song, that's deducted from the 89 cent purchase price. Unencrypted files can be copied and played on any digital music player and easily burned to a CD.

As you'd expect in our "Web 2.0" world, there are social aspects to Lala. The service encourages you to share music with your friends, who can listen for free to any of your songs. Like Facebook's Newsfeed, Lala offers you a "Music Feed" to see what your friends are playing. Like Twitter, you can follow other people who want to be followed without necessarily having to get their permission.

I started with one friend on the service and extended that by following some of the people he follows whose musical tastes I like. I find this a great way to discover new music and, because there's no charge to listen to the entire song or album once, I can try before I buy. If I like it, I can continue to listen indefinitely online for 10 cents. If I really like it I can buy it for 79 cents more.

This 10 cents-to-listen online model could, eventually, change the way people buy songs. These days most of us have Internet access whenever we're not moving and it's pretty common for people to listen to music from net-connected computers.

IPods and other portable devices are also common but even those eventually will be connected to the net much of the time. The iPhone, for example, lets you stream music from anywhere you can get a Wi-Fi or AT&T signal, including a moving car.

As the mobile networks improve and these devices become ubiquitous, we might get to the point where we no longer need to own songs if we can stream them. Ten cents a song isn't much for an individual, but if millions of people buy into this model, the recording industry and artists can still do quite well.

Lala could offer this service because the recording industry finally seems to be adapting to the 21st century. And Lala is not the only progressive model. Rhapsody and other companies have been offering subscription services that provide almost unlimited access to songs for a monthly fee. And there is speculation that Apple might offer some type of subscription service for iTunes.

Another interesting model is Ruckus.com, which offers a free all-you-can-listen-to service for students at more than 1,000 colleges. Music can be downloaded and enjoyed on computers and compatible portable players but will stop playing if the membership has expired. I guess you could call that the silver lining for those who wind up having to spend a couple extra years finishing college.
By Larry Magid