I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it here, but my favorite online music store isn’t iTunes, it’s eMusic. So I was thrilled to see the news today that eMusic has sold its 100 millionth track, and is the second most popular online music store, trailing only iTunes. If you’ve never tried eMusic, I’ve jotted down a few things you should know, and some reasons you may want to consider it.
Sure, I love the iTunes interface, its integration with my iPods, the track selection, podcast directory, etc. etc.. But no matter how many cool bells and whistles Apple adds to their store, eMusic has benefits that iTunes just can’t touch:
Firstly, eMusic feels like a site for true music lovers. Their catalogue of more than two million tracks covers almost every genre and sub-genre imaginable, and features just about every major independent record label, and a ton of smaller regional labels. If I come across a song in iTunes that I’m interested in, I always check eMusic before buying it. For example, the most recent iPod Shuffle commercial features a song called “Who’s Gonna Sing” by Prototypes. On iTunes, the song is 99-cents. On eMusic it’s less than 38-cents, or pick up the whole album for about $5.25.
There’s a lot of original editorial content on eMusic, as well. I’ve discovered a ton of great music by reading their reviews and recommendations. And the member comments are generally much more insightful than the typical iTunes comments.
Lastly, and most importantly for many people, the files you download from eMusic are plain old mp3 files – with no DRM encryption added – which means that they honestly will “play for sure” on any mp3 player or music software you happen to use. I’m not an anti-DRM crusader by any means, yet I always get that slight “you just made a deal with the devil” feeling when I purchase a DRM encoded track. It goes away pretty quickly, because I have no problems listening to my music anywhere I want… on my computer, on my iPod, or streaming to my stereo (via Airport Express). But deep down, I know the time will come when I’m locked out of using my iTunes music in a way that Apple doesn’t officially sanction, and I will not be happy.
eMusic has a couple of “need improvement” areas, too. It’s a subscription service, where, for an automatic monthly charge, you get to download a set number of tracks. The catch is that credits not used by the end of the month don’t carry over to the next month. It ends up being much less expensive than iTunes this way, but it can also can leave you either scrambling to find tracks at the end of your month, or having to keep track of which album you partially downloaded so you can come back and get the rest of it next month.
eMusic’s user interface could also use some updating. It’s a pretty standard web-based interface, and compared to iTunes, I don’t find it as easy to browse or search. There no embedded music player to preview tracks, so you end up streaming them to your default music program, which can be a distraction. Lastly, when you download tracks from eMusic, it launches its separate download application for managing your download cue. All of these functions should be much more seamless than they currently are, and may be off-putting to people accustomed to the way iTunes works.
But the negatives are pretty minor compared to the awesome experience that eMusic offers to adventurous music lovers. And their free trial is no-brainer… 25 free songs – yours to keep – just for setting up an account with a valid credit card, and no hassle whatsoever to cancel at anytime.
Congratulations to the eMusic gang. Onward and upward to 200 million!
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