Review: eMusic – first impressions

I’m not a fan of iTunes. There are a number of reasons for this, but these are mostly related to the fact that I own an iRiver and not an iPod so I’m effectively unable to use their store to download music. I also think that the music on there is too expensive and too restricted by Apple’s Fairplay DRM. I also can’t use it at home seeing as I’m one of those geeky Linux types.

I’m sure that I’m missing out here though. It’s the biggest source of legally downloadable music and as I’m not too kean on downloading music, burning it to CD and then re-ripping it how am I supposed to get hold of music to play on my media player of choice?

Well, I could buy CDs from CD-WOW or Amazon of course and then rip them myself. I do like to own the physical disk, including the artwork, and so this is how I’ve done this in the past. It does take time though, and I’m still less than half-way through ripping my collection. So perhaps I should be looking at some other legal download services?

I have absolutely no intent on using Kazaa Premium. I’m not even going to link to their website, as their adverts on Newsvine have been driving me crazy with the obtrusive use of flash and occasional attempts at sending me a Winfixer pop-up. There is a more popular alternative and this is eMusic.

So, who are they and what are they about? From their “about” page:

eMusic is the worlds largest retailer of independent music and the worlds second-largest digital music retailer overall, offering more than 1.4 million tracks from more than 4,000 independent labels spanning every genre of music. A subscription-based service that allows consumers to own, not rent their music, eMusic is the largest service to sell tracks in the popular MP3 format the only digital music format that is compatible with all digital music devices, including the iPod®. eMusic targets and successfully direct-markets to consumers who are interested in music outside the commercial mainstream, dramatically expanding the sale of catalogue typically known as “the long tail.” Since Dimensional Associates acquired eMusic in 2003, the company has more than tripled its subscriber base.

iTunes this is not. If you want to get the latest downloads from Madonna, U2 or Mariah Carey then you’re going to be better off using iTunes. There are no major labels here, but there’s a huge collection of independent music from just about any genre that you can imagine. There are some big names there, such as Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys but the majority of tracks are from less well-known bands and artists.

This doesn’t mean that there isn’t quality of course, it’s just that they’re not being pushed by a major label. There’s some good stuff here, and you can be guided to some downloads by the eMusic editorial staff through their reviews or you can search by artist or genre. The site allows user reviews too, so you can get an idea of whether a certain band are any good or not, or you can listen to a sample first.

eMusic is a subscription service so you pay a certain amount every month and they allow you a number of downloads in that time. It’s also only recently launched in Europe despite being an old warhorse of music downloads in the US. Here are some more details from their site:

eMusic has been operating in the US since 1998 and is second only to iTunes in the number of downloads sold, with an 11% year-to-date US market share (NPD Group). Since August, 2005, the company has doubled its subscriber base, selling more than 85 million tracks in the last 36 months alone.

eMusics European sites will follow the same business model as their US counterpart and offer a subscription-based service, allowing members to download tracks for substantially less than they would pay for other download services. eMusic offers 25 free downloads at sign-up, and its subscription pricing gives music lovers an inexpensive, low-risk way to discover great new music.

* eMusic Basic: £8.99/ 12.99 per month/40 downloads – that’s 22p/ 0.32 a song

* eMusic Plus: £11.99/ 16.99 per month/65 downloads – that’s 18p/ 0.26 a song

* eMusic Premium: £14.99/ 20.99 per month/90 downloads – that’s 17p/ 0.23 a song

So, downloads are cheap, if you use up all your downloads, but you really have to be interested in digging through some less popular stuff. This is fine for me as I’m looking to expand my musical horizons. So far I’ve downloaded a few tracks by Miles Davis and a Muddy Waters Tribute. I’ll be downloading a Stabbing Westward album next and looking through more blues, jazz, indie rock and metal stuff over the coming months.

Users start off with 25 free downloads in a 14 day trial period and there’s nothing stopping you using up your trial and then cancelling your subscription. I’m going to be trying it out for a while I think – there’s plenty of stuff I want on there and I can hardly pass up the opportunity to own this new/old music at these prices.

The best thing, for me, is that the downloads are in a DRM-free MP3 format and so I’m unrestricted with my usage of these files. They won’t expire on me or refuse to load onto my player. The quality is good enough – loss-less would be even better for true audiophiles but perhaps these will come along later.

Music needs to be downloaded via the eMusic download manager. This converts the files into MP3 format and sorts them out for you into nice directories. I couldn’t get this to work on my work XP laptop due to restrictions in place with the corporate firewall, so be warned if you’re accessing the internet via a similar method. There may be ways around this but the FAQs are not particularly useful. You can contact them for help of course, something I’ve not tried yet. I can use the service at home on my Ubuntu box by using a thrid-party application called eMusic/J – it works really well for me so Linux users won’t be left behind.

The site itself is nice enough. It’s hardly ground-breaking web design but it’s easy to navigate and there are some nice community features. It’s early days for us European customers but the facilities are there for user reviews, fora and playlists.


US customers of eMusic may very well be used to their service by now, but us Europeans are new to it. From what I’ve seen so far the music selection is good, if limited to Independent artists, and it’s definitely worth signing up for if you’re willing to push the envelope a bit with your musical tastes. The music is cheap and DRM-free, two features that are very important to me.

We shall see how successful they become.

Originally posted on Newsvine

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