A love of music can be an expensive love. Over the past four decades, I have watched my 8 track tape, vinyl LP and compact disc collections become varying degrees of obsolete. In the case of the eight track tape, I rejoiced in its demise. In the case of the vinyl LP (including all of my 78 RPM recordings), I clung to my turntable for as long as I could. In the case of compact discs, I grumbled that I had spent so many thousands of dollars on a format that I thought would last forever.
About a year ago, I accepted that I would need to get on the mp3 bandwagon and I purchased an iPod Nano. I then spent two weeks copying many of my CDs onto my computer so that I could then transfer them to my Nano. I found that even though I purged my collection before copying it to my computer, and eliminated several hundred discs in the process, I still had about 17 days worth of music on my computer. Much of it I had not listened to for more than a decade.
I began to wonder whether it was truly important to own music or whether there were legal distribution models available that might satisfy my desire to listen to music without having to pay a fee every time I wanted a song. I knew that there would be songs and albums that I would have to own, but I really needed music options that would allow me to patiently wait until I could find great deals on music before I actually bought it. To my delight, I found many online music venues which give me a steady stream of free music. If you also enjoy music, you should check out:
I love Lala.com. Of all of the sites that I have tried, Lala offers one of the best user interfaces, an excellent free option, and reasonable pricing options when I do want to buy. Lala’s model is simple. After you have registered as a user, you can listen to almost all of the 5,000,000+ songs that they have in their music library. The first time you listen to a song, it’s free. If you want to listen to the song on the Lala site a second time, you must pay ten cents, for which you then receive unlimited on-line listening privileges for that song. If you want to be able to download the song to your iPod, you need to pay a higher fee but it is usually much less than the fees seen elsewhere (79 cents to 89 cents per song).
I have been listening to Lala for the past 2 months and I have not at any time felt the burning need to listen to a song more than once. Currently, I am working my way through all of the many Wes Montgomery albums included on Lala. I will probably continue to do so for the next week. After that, I will move on to another performer. With 5,000,000+ songs, I have never failed to find a performer that I wanted to find. I have also found several songs that I could not find elsewhere in any format (especially Husker Du’s awesome b-side “Love is All Around.”) One of the best aspects of Lala is that I can create a playlist that Lala will play even if I move around on different pages within the site. Not all sites offer that flexibility.
QBox offers an even better selection of songs than Lala (18 million as compared to Lala’s 5 million). It taps into the major social networking sites such as myspace, youtube and bebo to provided access to all of the music available on those sites. QBox does require the downloading of a player (a simple 3 minute process) and offers only free music. The major drawback that I have experienced with QBox is that if you listen to music that is not hugely popular with the social networking crowd, you will have to help QBox to establish a link to the songs that you want to hear. That requires searching social networking sites (using a tool that QBox provides) and I just do not find that to be an enjoyable part of what should be a listening experience.
Imeem is an interesting site. Imeem has agreements with several record labels and provides access to music without charge to the listener. In order to pay the licensing fees that it pays to the record labels, Imeem sells advertizing space on its site. The advertizing makes for a cluttered visual experience. Also, although Imeem allows users to listen to individual songs and to create playlists, it does not allow the playing of entire albums, which is how I like to listen. Accordingly, unless you want to take the time to create playlists when you visit Imeem, you will likely find the listening experience too interrupted.
Last.fm is a social media music site. Users can create radio stations based on their favorite songs and share them with their friends. The site uses decent artificial intelligence to create play lists that it believes a particular user will want based on the user’s past listening selections and the music that the user’s friends select. It offers both a mobile option and on-line videos. The user interface on last.fm is not as appealing as that of Lala.com, but the selection of music is good and navigation of the site is not difficult.
MySpace launched its music site only recently. There has been some criticism that it is does not yet have licensing deals in place with certain important labels. That said, I am sure that the millions of MySpace devotees will not find fault with the site and it will do well. (Indeed, I noticed that Yahoo Music closed up shop this week and I have to wonder whether that was a strategic decision to avoid competing with MySpace, but I digress.) MySpace has an ample selection of songs, a somewhat unattractive user interface (but that is not a surprise since I feel the same way about the original MySpace site), and access to YouTube videos among other perks. My issue with MySpaceMusic is that I cannot navigate the site and have my music continue streaming. That is a flaw that I have experienced in every site other than Lala so it does not rule out my return to MySpaceMusic.
And So Many More: I have visited about 40 music sites over the past month in reviewing sites for this article. Many of them you already know – iTunes and Amazon, for example. Others, I eliminated from consideration of the top 5 because I was not entirely confident that the sites were properly licensing music from the proper copyright holders. If the above are not enough to fill your musical interests, here are some others that may be worth checking out:
- Media Master
- mp3 Tunes
- Reverb Nation
- Spiral Frog
Image courtesy of laurenatclemson