MySpace Music: First (Real) Look: For Once, You Can’t Blame The Lawyers

imageI got WebEx’d. I saw a well-practiced demo of the new MySpace Music last night, and fell under the impression that the News Corp (NYSE: NWS) JV with the labels was a simple, straightforward music destination: You search out a song, you add it to your playlist and you listen to it as much as you want, voila. After playing with it through much of the morning, I’m glad I left myself an out, acknowledging that a demo was not the same thing as a test drive.

But let’s start with something good: This is that rare bird, an ambitious new music site not crushed under the weight of legal limitations and lawsuit avoidance. There’s nothing that screams: We sacrificed usability and listener needs in order to satisfy the lawyers, or because we’re bound by some footnote-laden licensing scheme. Sure, here and there, something might be missing due to specific rights issues, but if the song is in the catalog, you can listen to what you want, as many times as you want, in any order you want, without interruption. As for the actual downloads, if it’s on Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) MP3, it’s on there. Of course, we’ve no doubt that the law firms representing the various parties spent plenty of time on this, but it doesn’t show.

More on the not-so-good and playlists after the jump

And now the not so good: MySpace Music is still MySpace, and with that comes a lot of design baggage. It’s hard to know where to start, really, but we can start off with the fact that the actual search box to find songs isn’t on the front page. There are search boxes, but those just take you to artist profiles and various pages. To actually find a song, you have to go the My Music tab, where you’ll find a very rudimentary search system. As far as I can tell, you can’t refine a search by song, artist or album — it’s just a box. So, for example, a search for the band Luna revealed songs with the word “Luna” in the title, bands with the word Luna in their name like “Luna Halo”, and then also the band I was looking for. And there’s no obvious order to any of this.

Getting the songs into a playlist also takes some practice, with too many buttons and too many dialogue boxes. Think of a *Microsoft* product that assumes nothing, clunkily asking you your preferences at every step — it’s like that. Once they’re in the playlist, it takes another couple clicks to listen to it. And since the playlist pops up in a new player, with its own window, it doesn’t update in real time — that is, if you’ve started a playlist, new songs you’ve added to it don’t automatically show up. Instead, you have to relaunch the playlist entirely to have it update with the new songs.

Ostensibly, these playlists are “public” and so I’d love to link to the one I made here (if only to show off my eclectic tastes: I have Juvenile on there and Phil Ochs), but I can’t figure out what’s public about them. They don’t actually seem to show up anywhere — not on my profile, or anyone else. Even the pre-set playlist called “My Profile Playlist” isn’t showing up on my profile. If someone can let me know how this works, that’d be awesome, and I can add a link. As for paid downloads, they’ve made this unnecessarily complex. To buy a song, you have to add this to your playlist, and then click on the Amazon button. Why not just include that button in the original search results?

MySpace Music says it wants to make finding and listening to music as easy and flexible as piracy, which is a pretty good bar to set. And the good news is that design problems are fixable. There’s no fatal flaw in here, since, as I said, it’s not encumbered by legal limitations. Even with site’s frustrating design, I expect to keep coming back for awhile, if only to keep my playlists open in the background while I work. But I’m only doing the minimum. The site doesn’t lure me to interact with artists, view ads, or even connect with friends on it (my only friend on there is Tom — yes, they still do that). A user like me, running streams in a background window, makes no money for the site at all. That’s a problem they need to solve. Fortunately, as SVP-Product Strategy Steve Pearman told me last night, the plan is to “iterate, iterate, iterate”. We’ll keep following this to see how well they do.

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