Cult of Mac Favorite: Lala Makes Buying Music Fun Again

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What it is: Lala is a newish (about a year old) web-based music marketplace, but to brand it as simply that does an extreme disservice to an interesting, innovative Internet destination that, given enough publicity, strong management and bit of good fortune could become the first online music store to give iTunes a real run for its money as a music distributor.

Why it’s cool: When I was a kid growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, I spent uncounted hours in the music listening rooms at the back of Pop Tunes on Summer Avenue, where I discovered the heritage of the city they call the Home of the Blues, and learned about the ground-breaking artists who gave birth to the Blues’ baby, Rock & Roll.

Pop Tunes was a great spot to get in out of the hot summer sun or the cold winter rain, where I could browse the racks, amassing a stack of LPs and 45s, both old and new, and head for one of the four or five sound-proof listening rooms at the back of the store, where I’d listen to my heart’s content before deciding which of the albums or singles my meager allowance or paper route money would buy me any given week.

By the time I left home for college in another of the great music cities in the US – New Orleans – I had a music collection numbering over 1000 lp records and another few hundred 45rpm singles.

What does my ancient music-buying experience have to do with Lala and this review?

I’ve got over 10,000 songs in my iTunes collection but the overwhelming majority of them got there by my ripping CDs from my own collection and putting them into iTunes. Of course, I have bought music on the iTunes store, and there’s no denying that, as a music industry lawyer I know in Los Angeles says, “iTunes is the only online music store that matters.”

However, one thing I’ve always found limiting about iTunes, and a feature that seems to have been copied across the board by other online music retailers, is the 30 second preview.

Sure, you can check out any song in the collection, but the limitation to what can often seem like a randomly selected 30 second slice has always left me feeling short-changed.

Which is why, when I discovered Lala I was immediately transported to the halcyon days of my youth. You can listen to any of Lala’s more than 7 million songs all the way through once before being limited to a 30 second preview, and the effect of that feature is not only a feeling that the retailer is treating you fairly in the complex dance that can go on between buyers and sellers of music — but it also has the effect of providing you a way to check out whole albums and genres of music in what amounts to potential hours and hours and hours of free listening.

In my personal view, the complete listen-through feature is enough on its own to make Lala worth checking out the next time you want to buy some music.

But the site designers have built-in other innovations that make Lala a serious long range contender.

Web-only versions of songs you add to your collection, which is instantly accessible through any browser on any computer anywhere in the world, cost only 10¢. Most MP3 versions of songs available on Lala cost only 89¢ (79¢ if you’ve already bought the web only version) and are delivered in completely DRM-free 256kbps files that you own and can do with as you please forever.

Lala also has built-in social media features that allow you to find and follow other Lala members, discovering music through friends and other ‘influencers’ on the site. Songs can be rated and you can make notes about music in your collection for your own reference or to guide others in their pursuit of new music.

The clean, uncluttered, intuitive interface will be familiar to anyone who’s ever used iTunes and it allows you to easily organize your collection by artist, album or song, make playlists, share songs or albums via email, embed them into websites and post to Twitter, Facebook and Lala itself.

Using Lala’s Music Mover plug-in, uploading your current iTunes collection to Lala is effortless and instantly makes your music collection available to you anywhere in the world you can open a browser and get on the Internet.

Lala gives you 25 web songs free just for signing up so, it’s worth a look and a listen. I’ve only been using Lala for a few days, but I’m already having more fun with music than I’ve had since I was a kid riding his bike down Summer Ave. in Memphis, with Pop Tunes’ glowing neon record album beckoning me in the distance.

Where to get it: Signing up for Lala is absolutely free at http://www.lala.com.