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emusic.com: A review May 6, 2007

Posted by oktyabr in listen to this, opinions, personal.
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Obviously this is my PERSONAL OPINION (that green eyeball over there means “personal”) so take it with a grain of salt but no, emusic isn’t paying me to write this post…  in fact I’m doubtful they even know it exists!

I love music.  All kinds of music.  Always have.  Music is to me, well, while perhaps not comparable with life stustaining factors such as food to eat and air to breath, remains a very important aspect of my life.  Hell, being able to listen to music (and occassionally talk radio) all day long while earning a paycheck played no small part in my choice of careers even.  That said I’m also very picky!

In a world of subscription music services I’m one of the late adopters.  I’ve always preferred purchasing my music in a physical format (CDs and recently, vinyl!) just to *have something physical* I can look at and hold in my hands, in part to help justify the expense of my musical addiction.  I sit here typing this in a comfy basement study/studio/dungeon with a Yamaha synthesizer and professional mixer rack mounted on my right (and I’m absolutely NOT a muscian!), no fewer than four different pairs of speakers in front of me, connected (all the way from small bookshelf monitors to 5-way towers), something like 400 cds and 100 vinyl albums (my collection is young but growing!) on my left and our family server in the room next to me with something like 6000 songs it.  Is any of it required to keep me alive?  Nope.  Sane?  Definitely 😉  I’m lucky my wife loves me!

There are lots of reasons I could give you why I don’t subscribe to this music service or that one but it basically comes down to two things:

1) Cross platform compatible.  I spend more time in linux than I do in any other OS.  Your software and downloads had better be penguin friendly if you want my money!  As a side effect of this requirement that also means that purchased music needs to be hardware compatible too…  I don’t want to *have* to buy an ipod to listen to song X or a Microsoft Zune to listen to song Y.  Music I buy WILL play on any MP3 portable or I’m not interested!

2) No DRM!   DRM stands for “Digital Rights Management” and is basically a clever way of making sure that you never have complete control over the music you purchase.  If you ask the RIAA or most of the major record labels DRM is there to stop piracy and to make sure the artist is paid!  If you ask me, well, I’m not in favor of stealing music either, but when I buy something I want to be the final judge about what I can do with it.  That’s what a conscience is for, after all.

There are a few good companies out there that meet these  simple requirements, in fact I list a few of them in the column of links to the right.  So why emusic?  It’s CHEAP!  US$9.95 a month gets me 30 songs…  that’s affordable enough that not only do I not mind not having a physical product to hold in my hands but also cheap enough that I’m much more willing to take chances on artists I’m not familiar with or to buy entire albums as opposed to “cherry picking” individual songs.  For me 33 cents a song is apparantly the sweet spot and emusic has now had my business for three months beyond the original free trial  (want to try emusic?  Email me at october001 AT gmail.com and I’ll send you an invite that will score me a few free tracks too, if you decide you like it!)  So basically they are doing something right!

A part of the service that stand out particularly well is user-made lists of recommendations.  No matter what artist or album (or song) you are considering buying there are plenty of “sounds like…” recommendations as well as links to other artists/albums made by other emusic customers that bought the one you are considering… in other words people who might have similiar tastes as yours.  This is a very nice feature and I’ve found 50% of my recent purchases this way, most of them artists, albums and songs I never would have heard of or considered otherwise.

Things they could still use improvement on would be offering higher bitrate tracks.  At the moment most of them fall in around 160-192kps in (usually) variable bitrate mp3 although some are a depressingly low 128kps (which I don’t usually buy either!)  These are usually high enough quality to be enjoyable and I’ve even burned several mix CDs for road trips that don’t make me exactly wince with quality BUT when I buy a CD and rip it for the same purposes (CD burns and listening at home) it’s in massively ultra-high quality FLAC format, by comparison, and yes, with careful listening you CAN tell a difference!

Emusic could also expand their library to more popular artists.  They certainly aren’t entirely obscure…  I’ve found Tosca, Nightmares on Wax,  Richard Cheese and more relatively well known groups and artists on emusic… there are certainly services with a much more obscure library but emusic is still a long ways behind Napster or iTunes for the “top 40” stuff that gets all the airtime on FM these days.

Still, for the money, emusic offers a LOT of value.  There is something for everyone in their constantly growing library and if you like to find new music you haven’t heard of before there are worse places to spend your time (and money) than emusic.  The fact that they are *entirely* DRM free is essential and does a lot to keep my business (you know the old saying “Put your money where your mouth is.”) but it’s the music the wide range of music that earns my respect.

http://www.emusic.com

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