More free on-demand audio with Muziic

You don't need to wait for Spotify to launch in the U.S.: the free Muziic player offers a massive library of streaming audio, on demand, for free. How? By using YouTube as its database. A great idea, although it could use some fit-and-finish.

I love covering music software because the pace of evolution is so fast. I guess everybody's looking for the next billion-dollar business (after iTunes) to help replace declining CD sales.

Last week, I blogged about Spotify , a free and legal music player that offers a massive library of music on demand. Unfortunately, Spotify's library has some big gaps because of legal disputes with rights-holders, and it's not available in the U.S.

A couple days later, software developer David Nelson contacted me about Muziic, a company he started with his dad--he's 15(!) and has gone from public high school to online private high school to pursue this project. After checking it out for a few days, I think it's got just as much of a chance of revolutionizing how we listen to music as Spotify does.

Great selection, but black-on-black doesn't get high marks in most usability tests.

Like Spotify, Muziic offers a free downloadable piece of client software with an iTunes-like interface and offers on-demand access to millions of streaming songs. Unlike Spotify, I had no problem finding huge catalogs from artists that are notoriously prickly about posting their music online, including Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, and Radiohead. It also did a great job with all of my more obscure test cases.

How did an unknown company run by a 15-year-old and his dad pull off this incredible licensing coup? Easy--they've basically built a customized front-end to YouTube. Any song that's been uploaded to YouTube is available in Muziic, including a lot of music that isn't available on most commercial services, like the full Pink Floyd's performance at Live 8 and Led Zeppelin's one-off performance in 2007.

Unfortunately, a dispute between Warner Music and YouTube earlier this year means that a lot of recordings owned by Warner are no longer available. But in a lot of cases, users have filled the gaps with (probably unauthorized) recordings from the artists--so while I can't get my favorite studio recordings from Neil Young or the Flaming Lips, there are dozens live nuggets from each of them.

With any luck, Warner and Google (YouTube's parent company) will resolve their dispute and these gaps will be filled. In the meantime, the Nelsons can work on some of the fit-and-finish problems I found with Muziic. The Web site doesn't render properly in Firefox 3.0. The high-quality audio option didn't work for me--I think it's supposed to render YouTube's default Flash audio into AAC on the fly, but the description doesn't make much sense so I can't really tell. (The default audio sounded fine anyway--at least no worse than MP3, which of course isn't so great .) They could use some professional design help--I couldn't maximize the player to fill the screen, there's a lot of unused space in the margins, and the black on black toolbar sliders are awfully hard to use for those of us who have no patience to download different skins.

Overall, though, this is a pretty interesting and impressive piece of work. Muziic also offers an encoder that apparently lets you upgrade your MP3s before uploading them to YouTube--I didn't test this as I'm more interested in listening than sharing, but I'll give it a look later this week and let you know what I think. More important, Muziic (and Spotify) are finally showing the world how compelling a free, legal, on-demand music service can be--nearly a decade after Napster introduced us to the concept.

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