The Wall Street Journal reports (free to read) has opened the floodgates to stream music for free with their freely downloadable player.

How do they (you can tell I’m a dot-bomb survivor) make a buck? If you buy albums ($6.50 – $13.50) from them to play offline on your iPod, which works without iTunes on Windows and Macs (the latter with Safari 2, Firefox 1.5, Camino 1.0.3 or newer versions) with a three-meg plug-in.

Albums only are sold, not single songs, and pricing will vary not only by demand, but also based on what tunes you already own. Bill Nguyen, Lala’s founder, lipped, “It’s like the Las Vegas comp system: The more you buy, the better deals you get.”

Make a note to follow up later if you read this Tuesday afternoon, as their download servers are simply, solidly slammed. Also, this deal only covers Big-Four label Warner plus some indies, although Lala’s leaders want to cut deals with other major labels, who in turn will get $6 – $8 a head each month Lala lives.

Nguyen was said to keep the sock-puppet mascot of the defunct on his desk “as a reminder,” he says, of what can happen to a dot-com company, penned the Journal’s reporter. The firm started as a swap-by-mail service for discs you want to swap, and it permits sharing your library with friends or streaming playlists of others.

Is free streaming to promote online sales a revolutionary paradigm or a nickel short? Join the discussion.