Digital Music: eMusic

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eMusic is a subscription-based service that specialises in independent music. With over 250,000 users, eMusic is currently the largest online music subscription service. Unlike others, which let you 'rent' unlimited music from their catalogue, eMusic gives you a certain download quota per month and the songs you get are yours to keep. What makes eMusic amazing is the value. The cheapest package gives you 30 downloads for US$9.99 per month. That works out at just over 30c per song, a whopping 3 times better than you'll find in most places. And premium packages give even better value. Not only this, but all eMusic downloads are unprotected mp3s. They truly are the beacon of hope in the digital music industry.


The eMusic catalogue covers the entire independent music spectrum. You have the lesser known artists (I even found locals such as Mercy Arms), the heavyweights (Pixies, Belle & Sebastian, Yo La Tengo, etc.) and everything in between. While it certainly isn't perfect, it's quite impressive. The only real noticeable omissions are the bands on major labels (Arcade Fire, The Shins). I'm not sure if this is a deliberate attempt to stay indie or due to licensing restrictions, but either way, it's not that big a deal. Big guns like Matador and Polyvinyl bring plenty of credibility to the table. One other strange thing was that when visiting a particular artist, I was told it wasn't available in my country. I've only seen it once in about 100 artists and I'm sure there's a way around it, but still, it could be an issue.


Being subscription based, you are required to give a credit card, which is charged monthly. After signing in, you are shown how many downloads remain as you browse through the catalogue. The site has a number of different ways for finding music. You can browse by genre, decade, rating and more, as well as search and look at various lists like ‘Editor's Picks’. Each artist also has links to similar artists, their influences and even bands which they have influenced; it’s a great way to discover by jumping from one to another. When you want something, you can either download it manually or use the client. This client is nice and simple and makes downloading whole albums a breeze. As I mentioned earlier, these mp3s are all unprotected, so once you get the files, they're yours.


The eMusic system has two main flaws. Firstly, there is no flat fee for buying a complete album. This means an Apples In Stereo album (20 tracks) will cost 4 times as much as an Explosions in The Sky album (5 tracks). It's great news for EITS fans, but hardly an ideal system. It also means there is no incentive to buy a whole album instead of just individual tracks (in contrast to Insound). The other problem is the inflexibility of having a download quota, especially since unused downloads don't carry over. If you want three albums in a month, but they have a total of 31 tracks, too bad. You have to wait till the following month before you can get the last track. This is especially problematic because your monthly choices will rarely add up to a nice number. Instead, you'll always be getting single tracks to fill up the gap. Not good. Thankfully, eMusic has a 'booster pack' available, which serves as a reserve supply for when you go over the limit, helping to partly alleviate this problem.

Despite these few negatives, eMusic is very good. Quite possibly the best. Everything I mentioned about the range, value and ease makes it a very tempting option. They offer two week trial which gives you 25 free tracks, no strings attatched. It's a great way to test it and I'm happy to report that you can cancel quite easily without being charged (though they do their best to convince you out of it). As I revisited the eMusic website today, I discovered a number of albums which I wanted to get. I almost wrote them down so I could download them illegally before I realised how disgusting this was. eMusic has impressed me so much that I'm strongly considering signing back up and using it regularly. Sure it has its faults, but eMusic actually does justice to idea of buying music digitally and best of all, rewards the artists we all enjoy so much.

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