Saturday, March 03, 2007

Cheap Music - An Update

A few months ago, I wrote about trying out eMusic, a subscription-based music site that allowed downloads of MP3s free from any DRM or restrictions from use, other than a sort of honor system. The files are easy to burn to CDs, and are playable in iTunes and on iPods without any problems (at least in my experience). The drawback is that none of the major labels use the service, so you've got to either like music from independent music labels, or be willing to learn to like it.

So, how have things been going?

Surprisingly well. I've either learned to like some indie music, or I've discovered that I liked it all along. Of course, as you can see below, I'm not exactly pushing the boundaries of musical taste.

The thing about this subscription service model is that I get 40 tracks a month1 that must be downloaded. If I don't use them all, they go away -- no rollovers2. Keeping that in mind, though, it isn't very difficult to budget and prioritize what tracks and albums I want. In a couple of cases, I've downloaded the first few tracks from an album, waited a couple of days until my downloads refreshed, and then got the rest. It's a little unusual, but there's no savings in downloading a whole album versus individual tracks, like with iTunes, so it all works out in the end.

Here's a sampling of what I've downloaded since September 2006:

Anonymous 4 -- On Yoolis Night
Arcade Fire -- Funeral
Beirut -- Gulag Orkestar
Blonde Redhead -- Misery Is A Butterfly
The Decemberists -- Castaways And Cutouts
The Decemberists -- Picaresque
Eddie Izzard -- Glorious
El Perro Del Mar -- El Perro Del Mar
El Ten Eleven -- El Ten Eleven
Explosions In The Sky -- How Strange, Innocence
Explosions In The Sky -- The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place
George Carlin -- You Are All Diseased
Kaki King -- ...Until We Felt Red
Kaki King -- Everybody Loves You
Lenny Bruce -- Live In San Francisco
Lionel Hampton -- Jazz In Paris: Lionel Hampton and His French New Sound, Vol. 1
Lionel Hampton -- Jazz In Paris: Lionel Hampton and His French New Sound, Vol. 2
Lionel Hampton -- Jazz in Paris: Mai 1956
London Symphony Orchestra -- Beethoven: The Nine Symphonies -- Symphony No. 9 in D Minor
The New Pornographers -- Twin Cinema
Red Letter Agent -- Burn The Good Ones Down
Spoon -- Gimme Fiction
The White Stripes -- Get Behind Me Satan
Yo La Tengo -- I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass

Not bad, and new downloads seem to lead to new discoveries. Having to download all 40 tracks each month means that I'm much more motivated to try things out that I might otherwise have been hesitant to sample. ("I don't want to waste the downloads!" "If you don't download anything, you'll lose them anyway. Why not get something out of the waste, at least." Or so goes the dialogue in my head.)

There are some snags, though. The Decemberists, for example, signed with a major label, Capitol Records, so their last album, The Crane Wife, is not available. The White Stripes, I have heard, are signing with Warner Bros., meaning presumably that their new albums will not be available, either. (Nor, I assume, will Jack White's other band, The Raconteurs.)

On the whole, though, I'm enjoying the experience. Explosions In The Sky and Arcade Fire are bands that I might never have given a chance if I didn't feel like I had nothing to lose. Anonymous 4's On Yoolis Night is a Christmas album (of sorts) that I heard in a Blockbuster Music (remember them?) years ago and could never quite justify paying full price for, but couldn't find at any discount over the years. El Perro Del Mar wasn't such a great choice, but break it down and I'm only out $2.50, so lesson learned.
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1 - Basic membership has been reduced to 30 downloads per month. However, those who signed up at 40 per month still get that number, and eMusic did send out several emails to forewarn members and offer opportunities to upgrade to other plans before they were also reduced. So it kind of stinks, but they didn't really screw anyone out of what they'd signed up for, and they didn't spring it on anyone with absolutely no warning.

2 - Also available for purchase are Booster Packs, extra downloads available in quantities of 10, 20, or 30, that are good for up to one year and can extend the number of downloads available in a month. So if you want just one more album, but need a couple of tracks more than you have left, having some of these on hand might prove useful. I haven't bought any myself, but I might.