I am incapable of stealing music. This isn't due to any moral rigor on my part, nor some weird deficiency in the tensile strength of my finger bones, making them give way all jelly-like when typing "Pirate Bay." I simply can never find what I'm looking for, nor am I skilled enough in the ways of the Interwebs to avoid whatever traps rabid music labels set forth to snare 75 year-old women illegally downloading Chamillionaire or 15 year-olds hellbent on learning the ways of life and love through Fergie.
The result of this sad state of affairs is an addiction to streaming music that results, generally, in a plethora of free songs. Or at the very least heavily discounted songs. The iTunes vs Amazon DRM/Variable Pricing/who-can-find-the-newest-way-to-screw-you-war means little to me. They scramble for my dollars for naught. I've got Lala.
Lala.com is better than Last.Fm. Lala.com is also better than Pandora.com. Lala.com is better than a lot of things - olives, small ferns, medium-attractive sweaters.
I will tell you why:
1. Lala allows you to listen to any song in its vast library once for free, giving you the opportunity to hear an artist's entire oeuvre before committing to any exchange of funds.
2. Upon signing up, you get 50 free songs that you can save online and listen to endlessly from Lala free of charge.
3. Their site is a pleasant teal, reminding me of blue-raspberry AirHeads and hygienic toilet bowls.
4. Once you run through your 50 free songs, web albums are all of 80 cents. 80 cents! Admittedly you can only listen to them online, but I'm rarely more than three feet away from an internet connection, so this bothers me not. Full albums are also available for standard download - usually at about 7 bucks a pop.
5. The site works well, almost never stabbing me in the eye with the cruel spear of buffering.
Last.fm rarely lets you listen to the exact song you want to hear, instead shuffling you into that song's "channel" where similar music you have no say in wafts through, sometimes pleasantly, often just a touch off-pitch. Pausing is impossible. Attempt to pause and you lose the song you were listening to, and will most likely crash the site.
Pandora suffers a similar problem. While it pioneered the space of exposing listeners to new artists they'll probably like, it again falls behind when I want to hear a favorite song or a whole album. Additionally, there's no way to backtrack through a channel. (Please note, what follows is a helpful anecdote that makes me appear folksy and approachable). It's like the farmer who takes his cow up to the bedroom for a night of platonic cuddles, but cannot drive it back down when his vengeful wife appears, threatening steak sandwiches. Cows, like Pandora, can walk up stairs, but not back down. (That should have been read, by the way, with a slightly Southern accent. If you failed to read it thusly, please backtrack and do so now).
And thus, the winner: Lala. Better than Last.fm. Better than medium-attractive sweaters. Better than cows.