Digital Music: Choice / Discovery

A friend once pointed out that ‘Number 1’ records are judged not by the amount sold, but the amount out of the warehouse. So if you make enough of them, any record can be number 1. And what is the first thing people who don’t know any better buy? The number 1 record, of course. Thus your artificially inflated CD becomes a justified chart topper.

Now we may just be conspiracy theorists, but it raises a legitimate point. When we get to a shop, it’s so tempting to just buy what’s popular. All the music we discovered at gigs, various blogs and Myspace gets dwarfed by the shelf space and promotional weight of the top ten. Thankfully though, digital music stands to change this. The wealth of information out there and the ability to buy on the spot, when we find something, means we can get music that is not only better, but more suited to our individual tastes.

Winner: iTunes

Now digital stores are far from perfect. Home pages are still dominated by Top 10s and the financially backed, and iTunes is no different. However, it still wins, quite simply because its large catalogue is most likely to give us instant gratification. Not only that, but the many ‘Buy with iTunes’ links that are scattered across the web help to make the job even easier. It also has other nice touches like a personalised home page, which uses your previous purchases to feature music you’re more likely to enjoy.

Runner Up: eMusic

It’s a bit unfair that eMusic comes second, because they certainly put the most effort in. There are all sorts of editorials and lists to help you find something new and the music is divided into everything from genre to year, so you can browse how you like. On top of this, each band’s page has a list of similar bands and influences, allowing you to jump from one to another with ease. There’s so much interesting content to read through that you’ll forget you’re at a store.

What Is Needed:

While iTunes and eMusic solve two big problems with finding music, they don’t offer complete solutions. When you open iTunes thinking “I want to buy some music!”, but you’re not sure what (as I did), it’s very hard to know where to start looking. Some possible solutions could include scanning your browsing history to find which artists you have been looking at or a small program that allowed you to ‘note’ bands of interest as you browse, and then be reminded of them when you next visit the store. Clearly there aren’t any fundamental problems here, just the potential for new and interesting ways to make sure you’re getting the music you like best.

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