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There are two services I’m really excited about and recommend:  LaLa and Pandora.  While they sound like willing participants in a guy’s fantasies, these flirty-sounding services help make discovering music online manageable.

LaLa is an online system for trading CDs.  It works like this:

  • You list the CDs you have and choose CDs you’d like from a list of over 1.4 million.
  • Ship the CDs to another members who’s indicated that they want the particular CD (LaLa does the matching for you!)
  • You get CDs from your list from other members, all for the low cost of $1.49.

A cool feature of this is that the service kicks back 20% to the artist.  And, like any good social networking site, the more you share, the more CDs you’ll get.  While I can’t control the order in which I receive CDs, it’s kind of a nice surprise when they get arrive.  At the very least, it’s something you requested.  And, if I really don’t like it, hey, I only spent a buck fifty.

One small problem with the service is that their category designations aren’t so precise.  LaLa deals in broad categories.  For example, R&B contains a lot of black music, from contemporary R&B (R. Kelly) to soul (Diana Ross, Otis Redding), current hip hop (Ghostface Killah) to underground hip hop (Company Flow, Aceyalone).  Likewise, in the "International" category, you’re very likely to find Maura O’Connell (Ireland), Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (Pakistan), Femi Kuti (Nigeria), and Ibrahim Ferrer (Cuba) all on the same page.  One solution might be to employ tags for the CDs, so that users can employ a more refined search.

A small digression here: One of the records I’m happy to pass onto some other deserving soul is Mia2_1
M.I.A.‘s "Arular".  I have to believe that her record got so much critical support (#2 on the Village
Voice’s 2005 annual "Pazz and Jop" listing) due to its political nature (her father was involved in Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers, and she shouts out the PLO on the record), all of which got her visa application rejected when it came time to enter the States to record her next album.  However, from a musical standpoint, I just don’t get it.  Subpar rapping and amateurish production is what I hear.  Believe me, I’ve tried to listen to it.  It’s one of those albums I felt I should like because there was so much buzz about it last year.  Derrick in Minneapolis, it’s on its way to you, and I hope you enjoy it in good health.

Pandora enables users to create their own radio stations.  Pandoria itself is an outgrowth of the Music Genome Project, the goal of which has been to capture music at its most fundamental level, i.e., to identify the distinctive elements of each song.  It then uses those elements to find songs from other artists that are similar. 

For example, if I set up a station called "Bad Brains radio", Pandora looks for songs that have "major and minor key tonality, repetitive phrasing, an aggressive male vocalist, unintelligible lyrics and prominent drums."  It took me from the Brains’ "Banned in D.C." to "Run It" by the Replacements to "Live to Win" by Motorhead (purists will note that I’m missing an umlaut).  At this point, I gave this last one a thumbs down, and it moved back to the Brains’ own "With the Quickness" and then onto "Vampires" by Strung Out, which I like.  So I’ve already discovered something new in the course of writing this post.  See, that’s the good thing about Pandora, your input alters the selection.  After all, I could hear why it pulled up the Motorhead song, but that wasn’t what I was going for.  You can bookmark your favorite songs into your profile as you hear them–as I did with "Strung Out"–and you have the option to buy them via Amazon or iTunes.

Now go discover new music: Check out Pandora here.  LaLa is here.

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Posted by Rob Fields

  • http://last.fm is my favorite. It has the “type the band name, get a radio playlist customized to you” feature. But even cooler, it keeps a social-network-like profile of all music you listen to in itunes and on your ipod–and then recommends new bands that are popular with people who are listening to the same music as you. Takes a few weeks to build up your listening profile, but the results are worth it. If you want to get a taste, check out my profile here:
    http://www.last.fm/user/brandonbarr/

  • I have been a pandora fan for a long time. Their founder had a road tour that stopped in NYC where the discussion was about the future of online radio. I couldn’t make it but I would be curious to see what the thinking was there.

  • Very nice and informative post.I think both these are interesting products(or services!)
    I think in an era of reducing customer attention, Lala and Pandora are great examples of how one needs to build customer engagement.It’s interesting that Chris Anderson of Wired has identified peer production as a key trend and these brands seem to have taken a leaf out of this trend.
    If we give consumers ways to customize our product/service to their requirements, they will spend enough time with us.

  • “Interrogating American pop”

    Those of you who know me know that I’m no fan of M.I.A. I have Arular because there was so much buzz about it, I felt like it was one of those must-have albums of 2005. Well, I didn’t get