Rdio On

Rdio logoI just got my invite to Rdio, and started my free trial. My first thought was that Rdio reminds me of MOG. The free trial lasts three days, with no credit card required to start it. Thereafter, the cost is $5/month (basic – see below for what another $5 gets you).

Rdio also reminds me of some of the reasons I decided MOG is not for me. There are gaps in the music library. I continue to use Josh Ritter’s So Runs The World Away as my first test case. Rdio fails that test.

That’s not an isolated gap in the library (or even in the Josh Ritter collection). Three of my favorite five albums of the year so far (The Golden Archipelago, July Flame and Sigh No More) aren’t available at Rdio.

A different sort of gap in Rdio is the current lack of an Android application. It is apparently coming soon. Use of mobile apps (currently BlackBerry and iPhone) is part of Rdio Unlimited, which costs $10/month.

It may seem premature to criticize such a new service for gaps. I believe that the gaps are being addressed. I don’t mean that I have inside knowledge that the four albums referred to above are seen as particularly high priorities by Rdio management. I mean that I believe Rdio’s statement that the library is growing, and its statement that Android is coming soon.

Rdio did decide that its service is ready for trial. It seems to be, in that I’ve found the site easy to navigate, and encountered no problems with streaming the music that is in the library. I doubt that I’ll subscribe beyond the 3-day trial, although I don’t rule out another trial as the gaps are filled.

If you’d like to try it for yourself, I have some invites to give away. Leave a comment while stocks last, and a Rdio invite will be yours.

Update: my 3 free Rdio days are up. It seems that I can still give out invites. I have 8 left as of June 20, having sent an invite to each of the first two people to comment.

AOL's Spinner for New Music Releases

Since I can’t visit Lala to check out new releases, I’ll be visiting Spinner’s Listening Party even more. It features a dozen or so recently-released albums, with the roster being refreshed every Tuesday.

Spinner is owned by AOL, which means that it has me visiting an AOL site regularly. That’s quite an achievement these days.

Currently spinning albums include Antifogmatic by the Punch Brothers. My first impression is very positive. If it continues to sound this good after a few more listens, it’ll make my soon-to-be-posted list of 6 albums from the first 6 months of 2010.

Not the Lala: Grooveshark and Rhapsody

I miss Lala,and its extensive music library, more and more as I try other music services. Yes I am using the “does this service give me what I liked about Lala” test.

That test may be particularly unfair on Grooveshark, which has a music library comprising stuff that users have uploaded and labels haven’t demanded be taken down. Basic Grooveshark is free. VIP includes ad-free service and access to mobile clients. It usually costs $3 a month, but the first month is free for Lala refugees (thanks to Mashable for the heads-up).

Rhapsody provides a more direct comparison with Lala, and suffers for it. It has a smaller music library, is far less exciting on new release Tuesdays, insists that you download an app, wants that app to be the default player for all sorts of things, and… I think there are other things I’ve forgotten.

In sum, there is still an opening for Andrew’s favorite music service. If you have suggestions, particularly if you are a USA-based Lalagee (Lala refugee) and have found a new promised land, I’d love to read.

MOG isn't for me, but Josh Ritter might be

MOG is prominent among the alternatives to Lala, which just shut down. I’m about halfway through the free 3-day trial of MOG All Access.

I don’t think that MOG is the service for me, for reasons including the following.

  • The album I first tried to listen to, Josh Ritter’s So Runs The World Away, isn’t available on MOG (with the exception of the very short opening track/overture).
  • Another album I wanted to listen to doesn’t even have a page at MOG. The album in question is Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Song And Chanteys. It didn’t exactly dominate the charts, but it’s not the most obscure of albums either, given some of the people who play on it, and its movie tie-in.
  • MOG seems more inclined to buffering interruptions than was Lala.
  • There isn’t an easy way to embed playlists at blogs and other sites (although there are FaceTwit buttons).
  • MOG doesn’t have an affiliate program (which reminds me, my links to music are affiliate links to Amazon).

In sum: MOG’s missing music, compared with Lala. The other objections are minor. I admit that all my objections are based on a short period of pseudo-research. I also admit that MOG is tremendous value for $5/month (currently). But I suspect that I can do even better, and so will keep on exploring music web services.

As for Josh Ritter, he has long been an artist who makes music I kind of like, but don’t really really like like. His new album might change that, which is why I want to give it a few more listens. I heard a recent NPR studio appearance while driving, and like the web version even more, featuring as it does a rather cool video.

I’ll look for Josh at the next music service I check out, which will probably be Rhapsody.

I Quit the Wrong Service

As of today, I have a Facebook account, but not a Lala account. That seems like the wrong way round, given that yesterday was Quit Facebook Day, and that I liked Lala.

But Lala did indeed close as yesterday turned into today,so it really is time to look at alternatives to Lala. I’ll probably start with MOG, since its free trial does not require a credit card; on the other hand, that trial only lasts three days.

Simplify Music the Android Way

Alternatives to Lala are much sought-after at the moment, if the search traffic arriving at my post with that title is any guide. One things I didn’t mention in that post, or in the follow-up about music lockers, is that I was disappointed when Lala was acquired by Apple, rather than by Google.

One of the many interesting pieces of news coming out of Google I/O is that Google did make a music-related acquisition recently: Simplify Media. According to MG at TechCrunch, Google will use the acquired technology to give your Android devices access to your music – including music you’ll soon be able to buy in the Android marketplace.

Farhad at Slate provides more detail and enthusiasm.

As [Google’s Vic] Gundotra explained, you’ll do this by installing a small app on your desktop that will send your music… to the Internet… Once the files are online, your phone will have access to your entire music library whenever you’ve got an Internet connection… Even though the music doesn’t live on your phone, it behaves exactly as if it does.

Count me interested, although not inclined to get as carried away as Farhad. Here’s where he goes further than I’m willing to.

In the future, not only will you not get a CD when you buy an album, you won’t even get a digital file. All you’ll have is an access flag tied to your account in a database in a server farm in some far-off land.

I know that land: it’s Lala land, which got taken over, and is about to shut down. That model counts has too many breakable components to be feasible in the forseeable future.

Music Lockers and Lala Knockers

The Lala shutdown is just a couple of weeks away. How you replace Lala depends on what you used it for. For me, MOG looks like the closest thing to a replacement: a previous post includes a comparison of MOG with some of its rivals.

That post drew a comment from Martin Rigby of Psonar, a music locker service. Lala does provide a locker, as well as samples and streams, and so Psonar is a Lala replacement for those who used it mainly as a locker. Martin is critical of the Lala shutdown.

Isn’t it incumbent on Apple, as Lala’s acquirer, to continue to offer the service as designed to the people who had signed up for that service?

At Psonar we offer our users and prospective users this pledge – we will never do anything that denies you perpetual access to your music other than due to events beyond our control. And, if we are forced to change or take down the service, we will do all we can to ensure users get adequate notice… and are given a means to transfer their music elsewhere.

Michael Robertson of MP3tunes offers a similar mix of criticism and comfort to Lala users (via RWW).

I feel bad for those who purchased Lala songs with expectations of permanency only to find out they lost their music. To help those jilted customers take back control of their music MP3tunes is offering a music locker for 10 cents – the cost of just one of those web songs.

The MP3tunes offer seems to be for a 50 GB locker for one year. I presume that subsequent years will cost the regular price (currently $40, although I’d expect the price and/or size of a Premium locker to change over time).

I’m not particularly surprised or outraged by the Lala shutdown. In particular, it doesn’t change my attitude toward Apple. I didn’t expect that the Lala service would be around forever, and factored that into the decision to spend a buck for multiple plays of an album I particularly like.

One of the last albums I added to my library was Gogol Bordello’s Trans-Continental Hustle. Had Lala stuck around long enough, my cost to listen to a track would have fallen below a cent. That won’t happen, but I think I’m getting value for my dollar.

I still have $3.38 in my Lala wallet. I decided to spend it, and an additional $1.61, on The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter. It’s as eclectic as Trans-Continental Hustle, it’s freak-folk from the 1960s. As Pitchfork’s Andrew Gaerig remarks, it’s the Incredible String Band’s best album and “A Very Cellular Song” is their best song: “a 13-minute tour de force” (as much a suite as a song, and yours for only 69c if you follow the above link to Amazon).

Which brings me to something that does annoy me about Lala. If you buy something for more than you have in your wallet, you are steered toward paying for the whole thing and leaving your wallet intact, rather than emptying your wallet and paying the difference.

That said, I will miss Lala, and not just for the streams I paid for that will dry up at the end of this month.

Alternatives to Lala

Lala will shut down at the end of this month. Since I do much of my music-listening through Lala, that’ll leave a gap. So what are the alternatives?

Frederic at ReadWriteWeb discusses five alternatives, and mentions a few more, and yet more are mentioned in comments. I mentioned Frederic’s post in my own post of yesterday, but forgot to link to it.

Posts I didn’t mention or link to, because I hadn’t seen them at the time, include: Peter Kafka on why you shouldn’t hold your breath a streaming service from Apple; Pitchfork, which makes extensive use of Lala amongst its reviews, and is exploring other media options.

Talking of exploring other options, I’d like a table, or some sort of graphic, to compare alternative music services. Here is such a table. Note that MOG is one of the music services in the table, as well as one of Frederic’s five. MOG is also the source of the table, as you may have guessed from how well MOG seems to compare with the other services.

  MOG Pandora iTunes Rhap-sody Last.fm MySpace Music Groove-shark
Instantly play any song Y N Y Y N Y Y
Non-stop artist radio Y Y N N Y N N
Community-based recommendations Y N N N Y N N
CD-quality audio streams Y N N N N N N
Mobile app Soon Y Y Y Y N N
Comprehensive music library Y N Y Y N Y N
Legally licensed music Y Y Y Y Y Y N
Free access Y Y N Y Y Y Y

The Free access line is rather misleading. If I were to switch to MOG, I’d pay $5/month. Given that services differ with respect to what you pay for, how you pay for it, how much you pay for it, etc., it’s hard to provide a good comparison of the services in terms of cost.

Are there better comparison tables or tools out there for those of us pondering life after Lala?

Lala May Shutdown

Lala May shutdown: as in Apple will shut Lala down on May 31. I saw the news twice this morning: once as an email from Lala, then in my feed as a post on TechCrunch (which quotes the email sent to Lala users).

When Apple acquired Lala, I described the news as rotten. I’m pleasantly surprised that it’s taken this long for the axe to fall.

At ReadWriteWeb, Frederic followed up the shutdown news with five alternatives to Lala. I don’t think that any of the five services gives me what I like from Lala: a very wide range of music; one complete listen for free; unlimited streams of an album for about a buck.

Back at TC, Robin injected a note of fannish optimism. “Does this mean we can start raising our hopes for iTunes in the cloud?” I share neither the fannishness nor the optimism.

Rotten? Apple Acquires Lala

Much of my listening to music, particularly new music, involves Lala these days. Paying a buck to stream an album an unlimited number of times is a good deal, particularly since I can sample (i.e. stream once) before paying anything.

So I was interested in the rumor that Lala would be acquired by Apple. Brad Stone of the NY Times reports that the rumor has come true.

One person with knowledge of the deal, but who was not authorized to discuss it, said that the negotiations originated when Lala executives concluded that their prospects for turning a profit in the short term were dim…

This person said Apple would primarily be buying Lala’s engineers, including its energetic co-founder Bill Nguyen, and their experience with cloud-based music services.

Lala’s engineers have built a service that music enthusiasts say is very easy to use. Lala scans the hard drives of its users and creates an online music library that matches the user’s collection, making it painless (and free) for people to get their music in the cloud.

The reason I regard the news as rotten is that “Lala’s licenses for streaming music with the major music labels are not transferable to any acquirer.” So the streaming rights for which I’ve paid may go away. That said, they’d also go away if Lala went under, and I considered the possibility of that happening when I decided to buy the streaming rights. Jason at TechCrunch hopes that such purchases will be grandfathered, but we’ll have to wait and see.

It may well be time to look at other streaming services…