It’s funny. A few posts ago I was talking about how digital music distribution can never completely replace physical distribution. I still believe that, but eMusic comes very close.
eMusic was at the forefront of digital downloads way back it 1998 (?). It was the exclusive distributor of “Long Tall Weekend” by They Might Be Giants, the first album available only as a download. Back then there also wasn’t much well-known content; the biggest names were Bad Religion and Elvis Costello (and TMBG). They also offered unlimited downloads at $10 a month.
Things have changed since then. The founder of eMusic was in his early 20s when he started it. He ended up selling the indie-dominant service to Vivendi Universal (funny how that worked out…). eMusic has also evolved from 128kbps MP3s to LAME Alt Preset Standard encoding. The catalog has expanded exponentially and the $10 now limits you to 40 downloads, still a better bargain than iTunes. You can go as high as 90 mp3s a month for $20.
eMusic isn’t for most people since it doesn’t offer major label music, but for everyone else it’s great. I’ve been able to get Sage Francis, !!!, Bloc Party and the new Iron & Wine and Calexico, just to name a few, and at a great value.
eMusic offers a download client (the eMusic Download Manager) which streamlines the downloading of tracks and albums. The service also allows you to redownload the music you have already purchased free of charge…nobody else offers that peace of mind. I was even able to log back in to my old account and download everything I got under that login (lots of George Carlin, Frank Black, and Frances Poulenc).
Of course, the download system is flawed because it counts every track. So, if I download Dane Cook’s “Retaliation“, the 30 second tracks are going to count as one download. This evens itself out sometimes though. So Percussion’s performance of Steve Reich’s Drumming will only count as 4 downloads, and each track is over 15 minutes. eMusic could do it by megs, but most users may not understand that concept. To be fair, those same Dane Cook tracks are probably available for $0.99 on the iTunes Music Store, but they’ll give you a break for getting the whole album at once.
So, why use eMusic instead of Kazaa/Emule/BitTorrent/Soulseek?
I had been looking for MF Doom’s “Metal Fingers Presents: Special Herbs Volumes 1 & 2” on P2P networks. It was hard to do. I had to deal with slow downloads, offline users, and the insecurity of not knowing whether those mp3s are transcoded, etc. The night it looked like I would be able to grab it I also found it on eMusic.
So I signed up for eMusic and got it there.
I (and most people) use the download services for two main reasons:
• Ease of use It’s easier to use these services than an anonymous P2P user, especially for independent stuff. Try getting a whole album off Kazaa and then try to get it from the legal services. You’ll do more listening and less time searching when you use the legal means.
•Experience P2P can be infested with spyware and there’s never a guarantee that Big Brother isn’t staring down your neck. Yes, that’s a bad reason to not use P2P, but I don’t want to be a statistic. In the end, doing things legally is like going to Target instead of Walmart. Products may not be heavily marked down, but at least the place is clean.
Although eMusic isn’t perfect, it’s good enough that I’m actually willing to pay for it. Free music isn’t free if it costs me too much time to find it.