Clouds In My Coffee

15 11 2011

Two years ago I was in LaLa land.

Of course, some of my students will wonder what took me so long to realize I was there. After all, we professors tend to live near the edge of mental ken, to the point of our heads being in clouds. But we’ll get to that in a sec.

No, I was all abuzz about LaLa.com, a free music service that allowed me to upload all of my iTunes library to the cloud (see, I told you). This allowed me to access my music library from any other web-enabled device no matter where I was. Unbeknown to my faculty peers at the College of Business holiday party that year, I did my job as DJ without so much as spinning one tune from my laptop. My Christmas playlist had ’em rockin’ around the Christmas tree.

Well, if you can imagine a bunch of Business profs getting excited about anything. But I digress.

Then I read the news: Apple had purchased LaLa. Rumors circulated about what in the world Apple was up to (dangling prepositions and all). Were they going to keep it going? Were they going to start charging? Were they going to roll it into iTunes?

And then came the day the music died. Apple simply pulled the plug on LaLa early in 2010, and that was it. Poof. Gone. No explanation.

Ah, such is the world of large corporations. Buy up your competitors. And then like Ted Nugent with a bow and a campfire, just kill ’em and grill ’em.

Until the launch this week of iTunes Match, a $25 a year service that syncs a person’s music library to the massive collection within iTunes, and then makes it available via the cloud. If that sounds like LaLa with a toll booth, you’re right. The coffee is getting clearer.

The best part of Match, though, is that songs do not need to be uploaded (which can take hours, even days). Apparently what Apple went after in LaLa was its ability to match songs, a magical black box process if there ever were one. The only problem is that LaLa never really fully exploited this powerful algorithm, because users still had to upload each and every song. But with Match, it simply finds it over at the iTunes vault and adds it to your cloud account.

Which means that Match is light years ahead of competing services at Google and Amazon.

Still confused by all this matching? It really is no different from the Shazam app most people have on the phone. And if you have never used Shazam, you really do need to crawl out of your analog cave and join our party. I use it all the time to find out song titles and artists. The app takes the digital fingerprint of a song snippet, and then matches it to its known collection. Simply amazing.

Better yet, Match does not choke if it cannot find a match (it merely uploads the song then), or, perish the thought, it determines you obtained that song through devious (read: illegal) means. It throws the whole lot onto the cloud.

Of course, Match still stands in strident opposition to music listening services like Spotify. With Match, you own (well, maybe) the songs in your library, either through iTunes purchases, ripping CDs, or “filesharing” among peers. In the listening service model, there is no ownership, just renting and accessing.

I am sure both approaches will survive, at least for the mean time. Those with massive audio collections will find Match to be a godsend, because it means not having to clutter up iPhone space with their music library. As long as there is a clear cell signal, everything can be accessed remotely. The only problem is that all of these CDs must be initially ripped to iTunes (in my case, with over 1500 CDs, this could be a major time suck).

Furthermore, having one’s own collection cloud-based ensures you will never go without a certain obscure artist or album, because while Spotify is pretty awesome, it does not contain everything. I have stumped the band on more than one occasion with it.

But what Apple needs to realize is that while Match is great for all of our existing content, it is marginal at best when it comes to new music. As long as Spotify, et al, can keep the new albums spinning, I will never buy those CDs or iTunes tracks. That alone has to make the Apple folks a little nervous, if they have bothered to think about it.

As for me, I’m going to pony up the $25 bucks (that’s a little over $2 a month, compared to $10 at Spotify). Why? Because I have a family of avid music listeners, and listening services tend to limit the number of mobile devices that can access an account at one time. Which is another way of saying we can all play DJ at the same time and keep those sleigh bells ringin’ for friends and colleagues this holiday season.

Dr “Later On We’ll Conspire” Gerlich

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