Hands on: MySpace Music review

MySpace Music: surprisingly smart playlists
MySpace Music: surprisingly smart playlists

The new MySpace Music service went live yesterday in the US and TechRadar was right in there exploring (and listening) to what it has to offer.

The deal sounds pretty sweet - a choice of thousands of songs to stream from your profile page and DRM-free MP3 purchases - but how does it work in practice?

MySpace Music homepage

You start by logging in to your MySpace account at music.myspace.com, a Flash-powered site tabbed into various categories. Here you can browse music-related classfied ads (selling tickets, bands to join etc), check out gigs near your registered Zip code, chat in forums or watch some cheesy music videos.

The most interesting section, though, is My Music. Here, you're presented with a simple search box where you can type in an artist or song title, and restrict your search to Major, Indie or Unsigned artists.

The database covers all the songs on MySpace and returns hundreds of results in seconds, although I found it often had trouble when I entered more than a single word. 'Vampire' and 'Weekend' both gave lots of results, for example, while 'Vampire Weekend' returned nothing.

Although you can listen to all songs instantly in a pop-out player, heavily branded with McDonalds adverts when we tried it, only a selection (those with licensing deals presumably) can be add to a playlist.

Perfect playlists

The playlist functions work very well. You simply click on a '+' symbol by any track in MySpace Music and you're prompted to add it to either your profile playlist (which can hold up to 10 tunes) or a user-created playlist (no song limit). It's a multi-click process for each song, though, and you can only add one at a time, so the ripping an artist's entire back catalogue to a playlist will take a while.

There's also a Featured Playlist tab in MySpace Music, featuring selections from 'famous' musicians, such as the Jonas Brothers, Fall Out Boy and, of course, Tom himself. Very occasionally, I found that individual songs failed to add into my playlists.

When you visit someone's page, you can pause, rewind or shuffle their ten tunes, or add them to your own playlists. Sound quality is very good, better than streaming radio or the BBC iPlayer, for instance..

Don't ring my bell

You can also choose to buy some 99 cent tunes (those from EMI, Universal, Sony and Warner) using Amazon's DRM-free MP3 Download store, which is pretty well integrated. There are no indie labels here yet, so you won't find Radiohead, The White Stripes or thousands of other hot acts, to buy..

The other partnership deal, ringtones from Jamster, is much less impressive. The selection it offered me based on my playlist of obscure electronic and classic soul consisted of Coldplay and 50 Cent. Hmmm.

First impressions

MySpace Music isn't a rival to iTunes. The lack of indie acts, an erratic search engine and convoluted purchasing process won't win anyone over from simply purchasing direct from Amazon (DRM-free) or iTunes (er, convenience?).

However, as a way of exploring new bands, sharing music with your mates or simply listening to an entire album, for free, it's a genuinely useful innovation. The best thing about it? Creating an empty profile takes only minutes and you don't have to submerge yourself into the maelstrom of teenage hormones and text speak that is MySpace proper to enjoy what is actually quite a civlised audio experience.

Mark Harris is Senior Research Director at Gartner.