The music industry has been hurting for years. And yet, when I talk to my fellow music fans of all ages about music, they say -- to a person -- that they're discovering, sharing, and enjoying more music than ever. I should also say that they're doing it legally. Someone is making money by selling all that music, it's just not the established industry players.
Instead, it's companies like Apple, MySpace, and Pitchfork that are bringing new music to the (web) masses. Technology has taken the place of radio (look at Apple's share price vs. XM's), and your WiFi signal has taken the place of the record store. Music still has the ability to bring people together, and that's still happening, despite what CD sales charts may tell you.
Now, a Silicon Valley startup is even bringing giant companies together. LaLa media kicked things off about 4.5 years ago as a way to trade CDs over the 'net. it was an easy, fun way to try new music, but it was still US mail-based, and a little clunky. Nowadays, the company has a new mission: Bring as many new songs to as many people as possible. And they have some very powerful allies to help: Google, which now directs music-related searches (song names, lyric snippets, etc) to the LaLa site; Facebook, which lets you "gift" songs to your friends through LaLa; and even Apple, which as I write is looking at a new LaLa app for your iPhone that, if approved, will knock your socks off.
Short of bringing peace to the Middle East, this is an amazing coup for a company whose entire staff fits into a little loft in downtown Palo Alto, Calif.. In the few days since announcing the deals, traffic to LaLa has exploded, and with it, new revenue opportunities for a company that has, since the beginning, insisted on cutting the artists in on all of their music sales. Google searches alone will bring a ton of music fans into the LaLa world; the Facebook gift-giving page now has something that's actually real: the gift of music.
LaLa's biggest scheme, though, is probably the iPhone app. I had a chance to try it out, and it makes music easier and cheaper to find and listen to even than iTunes. A couple of finger touches, and you have your entire music library in a cloud. A couple more, and you're listening to, buying (for as little as 10 cents a song), and sharing new music with your friends. You can even make playlists on the go, just like iTunes itself.
Will Apple let this one through? I hope so, not just because it's so darned easy to use, but because it's one of those apps that, on its own, may convince people to choose an iPhone over the competition. All phones and platforms let you find, buy, and download music. I haven't seen any that make it this easy.
I always thought LaLa would make a shrewd acquisition for a media company; now, it seems, they're doing it for themselves, and even doing it on rival platforms. No matter how the economy goes, people will still want to listen to music, and thanks to competition, music is still, at least online, pretty inexpensive. The lesson of LaLa may or may not be learned by giant music companies, but it is being scooped up by legions of online fans, who are now moving the industry towards their own desires.