Rhapsody v. Zune v. Lala

I recently discovered Lala from reading Ed Bott’s “6 Music Services Compared:  Who Can Beat the iTunes Monopoly?”  Lala is the slickest way to listen to music on the web yet.  And since it’s free, anyone who loves music would be crazy not to try it out.  Joining Lala gets you 50 free web songs.  Lala offer four ways to listen to music.   First, the free one time only listen.  Second, the ten cents per song to listen via the web for as many plays as you want.   Third, Lala lets you buy a MP3 version of the song, at prices a bit cheaper than other sites, and finally, they help you play songs you already own through the web.

I’m already a subscriber to Rhapsody and Zune and I’ve bought music from iTunes and Amazon.  Digital music continues to blossom while traditional music sales continue to tank.  I never liked buying music from iTunes because I was locked in to its DRM.  In fact I’ve bought so few albums from iTunes that when it came time to upgrade my computer I didn’t bother moving them, it was just more trouble than I wanted to mess with, but I have access to those albums on Rhapsody and Zune.  And although I like Amazon and its unlocked songs, buying songs one at a time and trying to keep up with them is a pain.  I much rather have an unlimited subscription music.

Subscription music is the least amount of hassle.  From thinking of a song to playing it, takes the least amount of time.

I do have 18,000 ripped songs from my CD collection, but even it’s a pain to deal with.  For instance I’m thinking about putting Linux on my second machine but that’s where I keep my music library backup.  Worrying about a 192gb music collection is a real ball and chain.  Also, 18,000 songs is just too limited.  This past couple weeks I’ve been playing all the versions of “All Along the Watchtower” that I can find.  My collection has 5 versions.  Rhapsody has 153 versions, and Lala claims to have over 300, although both Lala and Rhapsody list a lot of repeats.  But I have heard maybe 60+ distinct versions so far.  Damn, I love that song.

Playing musical games like this just isn’t practical with iTunes or Amazon, unless I wanted to buy the songs, say $60.  Lala is free to listen to any song for free once, or 10 cents for unlimited web streaming, and Rhapsody provides all I can listen for $10 a month (I pay by the year, it’s $13 a month if you pay by the month).  Zune is $15 a month.  Spending $28 a month for two subscription services is wasteful because of the overlap, but I used to spend at least that much a week before digital music.

Lala is great to share with friends.  It’s easy to sign up and use, and it’s free to use for playing any song or album once.  I’ve never gotten my friends to join Rhapsody so we can share playlists, and I don’t know any Zune users either.  So Lala is great for sharing.  Lala might even be good for all my listening.  $10 a month means 100 web songs.  On Rhapsody and Zune I never find 100 songs a month I want to replay, so if I wanted to live on $10 a month or less for my music budget, Lala would be the way to go.

Zune is great for throwing albums onto the player and carrying them around.  The trouble is I don’t like playing music on the go, so I will probably cancel my Zune membership in the future.  If you do love playing music on a digital player, Zune is the easiest and cheapest way to go.  Dragging and dropping albums onto the player can’t be simpler.

I’m going to play with Zune for awhile longer.  Like Lala and Rhapsody, it allows me to play music anywhere I have a computer and network access, but so far it’s web interface is my least favorite for playing music online.  Rhapsody and Lala are much faster at queuing up a list of songs to play.  And Rhapsody beats Lala in that I can queue up songs to play on my big stereo through my SoundBridge, although I play 95% of my music while working at the computer at home and work.  But if I do sit down and listen to music on the big stereo, Rhapsody wins against the others, but not against CDs.

I don’t buy many CDs, only ones where I think I want to own them for life and love playing them on the big stereo.  And now that I’ve discovered that Tower.com is a dirt cheap way to get CDs, I’m buying CDs again.  $6.99 and $7.99 CDs are not uncommon, and at those prices I’m much rather buy the physical CD than the download.

If CD prices are low enough to beat the prices of digital music, digital subscription music then becomes the way to discover great music, and you buy the best of the best on CD to keep.  I’m partial to Rhapsody, but if I was uncommitted, I’d go with Lala for discovering music and web playing.  If you have a SoundBridge or Sonos system, or one of the other digital media hubs, you’ll probably want Rhapsody, but that might change.  I bet Lala comes to Sonos soon.

Like I said, you’d be foolish to ignore Lala if you love music.  And if you like to share songs with friends, Lala is great.  I hope Lala succeeds.  It has fantastic potential as a social network.  Lala doesn’t have as many songs as Rhapsody but it’s growing.  If there was a Lala iPhone/touch app, it would be killer.

Give Lala a try, go listen to a dozen versions of “All Along the Watchtower.”

Here is a test to see if I can share Lala.com songs via WordPress. Let me know if you could play the song okay. Lala actually provides Flash code to embed a cute little player, but WordPress strips out that code.

Jefferson Goncalves plays solo harmonica in this version of “All Along The Watchtower.”

JWH – 5/2/9

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