Monday, April 01, 2002

Looking for an internet-only CD from They Might Be Giants, I stumbled upon eMusic, a site which I thought vanished last year in the dot bomb melt-down many of us called their careers. I decided to sign up for a trial membership (50 downloads for free) and within 30 minutes of using the site, I was completely and totally hooked.

I might be a few years late with this fact, but I have seen the future of music retailing and it is downloadable.

Understand, I'm late with that fact because when I last checked out such an operation, I was using a 56K modem. Speedy though I thought it was back then, that modem was only useful for words and a few graphics. A single mp3 would take 3 or 4 minuutes to download via 56K modem. Twice as long or more with a 28.8K modem. With my cable modem, I'm able to scoop up entire CDs worth of mp3s in about 5 minutes.

Simply put, broadband access is the ingredient that makes downloadable music worthwhile.

If you haven't checked it out, here's how eMusic works. After the 50 free downloads, you opt for one of two subscription plans. The first is $9.99 a month for 12 months. The second is $14.99 for three months. In either case, you're looking at spending the cost of one CD or less for the right to download unlimited numbers of mp3s. Quite a deal, I think. In two days, I've already yanked CDs from They Might Be Giants, Laura Cantrell, Nightmares on Wax, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, The Stratford 4 and Wake Ooloo. And becuase they offer samples of every available song, I was able to check out a bunch of other goodies.

One thing that's held back eMusic is the lack of high-profile artists like Britney or Limp Bizkit. Record labels can't figure out how to make a buck off this system without endangering the monopoly they hold over signed artists. As a result, they hold back their artist's material.

Personally, I think that's great. Instead of offering the big players, eMusic has developed a library of over 200,000 mp3s from small, high-quality independent record labels of every stripe and genre. The scope of available music is breathtaking (if somewhat erratic). I don't miss the popular stuff at all and the lack of such material probably keeps the server load managable. If you dig weird, indie music and enjoy browsing artists you've never heard of, this is the place for you.

Mind you, not everything is perfect. They usually don't offer CD art, so you have to scam that elsewhere if you want to build a proper-looking packages from your downloads. Also, they don't offer a way for Mac users to download entire albums with one click (that feature is available for Windows users with a special program). Mac users have to download each song individually.

But on the good side, eMusic claims to pay artists a 50% split of monies received. That might not sound like much, but those in the business know that's an gloriously high payment rate. To make 50% of a sale and not print or press anything or deal with record stores and promoters... that's quite worth it.

In case you're wondering, I don't get a dime from eMusic, even if you sign up via the link above. I'm just letting you know because I think it's a great deal and a good way to explore the world of independent music. I had written off the idea of paying for downloaded music, but now I see how it can work. Once you get into the habit of downloading completely legal mp3s without the hassel of finding them in stores, ordering them online or paying for each and every one, you'll see the genius of this operation. Like the best web ideas (blogging included) users need to participate to understand and enjoy the full benefits.

Having said all that, eMusic probably go out of business tomorrow. I hope not. I've got a lot of stuff I want to download.

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