Two very interesting pieces of news today that might (or might not) have a pretty big impact on the way we listen to music in the future.
First, CBS Corp. is buying Last.fm for $280 million. As a founder of a new Web 2.0 startup, this is pretty heartening news. As a music fan, though, I’m not sure how much of an impact this will have on my life. Last.fm is an interesting concept, but I tend to use it (when I use it at all) solely for its indexing function – i.e., the tool that records what you listen to and keeps a record of the number of times you listened to a particular song or band. It’s a pretty cool feature, and you can also use it to have Last.fm match you with other people with similar music taste.
That said, I’ve used Last.fm’s streaming music service exactly once, and wasn’t that impressed. My recollection is that you don’t have any real choice in what you hear, and instead their player plays random songs from bands you’ve listened to or other “similar” bands. This is similar to Pandora’s streams, and doesn’t interest me. I can put my iTunes on Shuffle and do the same thing. Or I can listen to WOXY.com and hear a lot of the same music, plus new music from new artists, with a knowledgeable, down-to-earth DJ. I know what I’ll choose.
The second piece of news is that LaLa.com (WOXY’s parent company) will be launching its own music streams. Why is this interesting? Because apparently LaLa will allow you to choose what you listen to, including individual songs or entire albums. While the streams won’t be of particularly high quality, they’ll be FREE, and give you the freedom to listen to what you want to. Then, if you like what you hear, you can use LaLa to buy the physical (and soon, the digital) copy of the album at a discounted rate. Now this is something I can get behind.
I’m no expert in this market, but it doesn’t take a scientist to figure out that the bulk of the music listening audience wants choice in what they hear, an easy way to hear what the songs they want, and they don’t want to spend a lot of money. While my own sense is that the future of the music industry lies with micro-payments and/or individual-based licensing, I like LaLa’s model more than just about anything else out there right now.