I wrote about the latest version of Lala when it started beta-testing back in May. At the time, I dismissed it as a weird hybrid between all-you-can-eat subscription services like Rhapsody and free streams from the likes of Imeem. I didn't understand who'd pay 10 cents to stream a song an unlimited number of times when there are already plenty of free (mostly ad-supported) streaming sites out there.
So I was surprised to see reviews of that service Monday that used words like "spectacular" and "revolution." As it turns out, Lala has made a couple of small but crucial changes that could turn it from also-ran into the first indispensable online music service since Pandora.
The changes affect Lala's music locker service, which lets you store songs from your personal library "in the cloud" (that is, on Lala's Web servers) and then access them from any computer later.
Back in May, the locker service worked only with MP3 files, which meant that anybody with a large collection of CDs ripped from iTunes (which uses AAC by default) or a Windows Media-based player was essentially out of luck. No more--the Music Mover application now recognizes both AAC (.m4a) and WMA files as well as MP3s.
Second, the company has worked with the major labels to give users the right to access songs they already own without having to upload them. If Lala has the rights to a particular song, and it recognizes that you've got it in your library, it just lets you stream it for free. (Eight years ago, the labels sued the original MP3.com out of existence for doing exactly the same thing. How times have changed.)
That means you can get started quickly--so far, after about an hour of scanning, the Lala Music Mover has recognized 500 of the songs in my collection and added them to my locker without forcing me to upload them manually. (The final tally after running it overnight: 1,971 songs recognized and added, 1,474 that I'd need to upload manually. That's a ratio of just under 60% recognized.)
Finally, Lala is reportedly planning an iPhone application. That would mean iPhone access to your entire music library--goodbye capacity limits! I can't wait to download it.
One annoying bug: I couldn't resize the window for the Music Mover application, which meant I couldn't read some of the error messages songs that Lala couldn't upload. In particular, it rejected three songs because they were too large, but the error message was cut off before I could read the maximum size. Turns out, these songs were all over 50,000KB--huge epic songs, 25-plus minutes in length--so that seems like a pretty reasonable limit.
Once you're using the music locker, the other parts of the service begin to make much more sense. For example, if you're already streaming all your music via the Lala player--which looks a lot like iTunes in a browser --then buying perpetual rights to stream one more song for only 10 cents becomes a very reasonable idea. That's the whole dream of "cloud computing" in a nutshell--once Internet access becomes ubiquitous, the differences between online and offline blur until the distinction eventually becomes meaningless. There are also some interesting social networking and sharing features that could help users discover music on the site, such as a widget you can post on your Web page that lists four favorite songs.
A great idea, well executed. Nicely done, Lala.