Get Your Free Music Online

Music keeps my culture gene alive and kicking. Most days I'm listening to music while I scribble away. For a long time, LaLa was my all-time favorite music listening and CD trading site. For the most part, it still is--but now it's got some competition.

LaLa Redesigns--Again

Though I've used LaLa for a long time now, for a while it fell off my playlist. About a year ago, I complained about a redesign: Read "LaLa's Redesign Has Free Streaming Music" and also see what I liked about it in "LaLa's Terrific (With Free Music to Boot)."

The folks at LaLa weren't happy with what they had, so they changed the site. While I think this new design looks good--it's fast and mostly easy to navigate--there are some negatives. For example, I have a stack of LaLa friends, people with similar music tastes. I used to be able to scroll to a friend and filter their list according to style, say, jazz vocals or jazz instrumentals. That's gone, and sorely missed--and according to the PR person, it's not well hidden, just no longer available.

There are other changes--big ones, at that. LaLa's focus is sales: They've got more than one way for you to spend a few bucks. You can pay a dime a cut for unlimited, anytime-you-want online listening, 79-cents or more to buy an MP3, or if you're a big shot, buy the entire CD and have it shipped to you.

On a positive note, I can buzz around the site, find cuts that sound interesting, and stick them into a queue. But songs in the queue play full length just once; after I listen, I'm limited to a 30-second cut--unless I'm willing to pop for 10-cent per song fee that gives me unlimited plays.

The only time you're dinged by the one-listen rule is when you've chosen an interactive list, which means that you can decide what you want to listen to and say, skip to another song. It's a little confusing, I know, but it keeps us all on our musical toes.

However, you can play an artist's radio station and there's no limitation on the number of times you can listen. That's because you have no input on what's playing (hence not interactive) which also makes an artist's station DMCA compliant. Ditto for user playlists. For instance, I could listen to Miles Davis's radio station, or any of the Similar Artists on the right side of the page (click the blue button) all day. Or go to my very own Straight Ahead Jazz, click on the blue button, and it'll start streaming in random order--all for free.

Pandora Reads Your Mind

It's almost eerie--Pandora somehow figures out my musical tastes. Don't believe me? Try it: Head for the site and stick in an artist or group, and see if Pandora comes up with a playlist you like. If it doesn't, and you register, you can reject albums or artists, and you won't hear them again. Alternatively, unlike some editors I work with, you can ban a cut for 30 days.

The folks at Pandora have worked hard to make their site easy and fun to use. The interface almost anticipates what you want to do next--rate a song, add music to another station, or bookmark an artist or song.

BTW, if you're not in the United States, you'll have trouble logging on to Pandora and listening to the music. Here's a work-around that may work for you.

Take a break: Sure, I'm talking about streaming music, but Emru Townsend's "5 Groovy Sites for Free Music Downloads" has a different take.

Quick Hits: Songza and Jazz Corner

Songza pops up a list from your search on an artist or a specific song. (It also drives my spell checker crazy.) Click to listen and right-click to rate the tune, add to a playlist, or send to someone near and dear. One downside: Unless I missed it, there's no way to immediately skip to the next cut.

If you're a jazz-kinda person, you'll dig Jazz Corner. After a day of listening to the Jukebox, I can honestly say it's in tune with my jazz tastes. I also get a kick out of watching an artist performing and the Jazz Corner has lots to choose from.

More Streaming Music

If you haven't had enough, read a piece that my buddy Dan Tynan put together: "Five Ways to Share Music Without Getting Sued."

Time Wasters

If you're listening to music, you'll have to hit your player's Pause button to hear the audio for some of this week's time wasters.

Do you have a couple of extra Rubik cubes around? Here's what to do with them.

Now, how about a fire safety demonstration conducted by knuckleheads. [Thanks, Paul.]

Do you have a GPS receiver? Consider using it to create art, more specifically, Position Art. Travel with your GPS and your route becomes a masterpiece. However, the purported author of The Biggest Drawing in the World now admits he never did it. Starvos' The World Is My Canvas seems to have done it. Maybe.

Are you still carrying around business cards? Me, too, and compared to the bunch on the Creative Bits site, I'll bet ours are sort of pedestrian.

Steve Bass writes PC World's monthly "Hassle-Free PC" column and is the author of "PC Annoyances, 2nd Edition: How to Fix the Most Annoying Things About Your Personal Computer," available from O'Reilly. He also writes PC World's daily Tips & Tweaks blog. Sign up to have Steve's newsletter e-mailed to you each week. Comments or questions? Send Steve e-mail.

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