Brick-and-mortar and DRM-free: NYC’s Other Music, soon to be online for those of you not near the 6 train, as endorsed by Ben Chang for “On the Inside Info.”

It’s great news that EMI has decided to drop DRM from its music and video catalogs offered on iTunes. Those tracks will instantly be compatible with other players that support AAC (including, oddly enough, Microsoft’s Zune), and there’s even talk (via Microsoft statement) that Zune itself will go the same direction. With one label leading the way, other labels and other stores may follow.

But “news”? Not really to the readers of CDM. DRM-free digital downloads are nothing new, once you get away from iTunes and the big Windows stores. In fact, many “alternative” digital download services offer richer content within their niche (as with the electronic-focused stores), while still providing big-name artists (eMusic, despite its reputation, carries the likes of Johnny Cash and Ray Charles, among many others).

Here’s a quick list of some of the stores I’ve enjoyed using, listed, in fairness, in alphabetical order. And, yep, I’ve bought from all of them:


  1. Beatport: I’m not a fan of its green, Flash-driven interface or clunky downloading, but Beatport does have a rich electronic music catalog, and it’s a must-visit for dance music fans. There’s an embeddable player for sharing your favorite playlists on your site, as well.
  2. Bleep: Indie and electronica, strong IDM focus, embeddable player, small selection but deep and with high-quality downloads. Worth it for their Warp Records catalog alone. (Just beware: I’m betting some of our more experimental electronica CDMers could drop a lot of money here!
  3. Dance Tracks Digital: DTD is one of the few online stores that feels curated the way an offline store does — it’s no coincidence it grew out of Manhattan’s legendary Dance Tracks. And despite the name, there’s quite a mix of genres here, likely of interest to the CDMer. An elegant downloader makes bulk-purchasing dangerously easy. It’s one of the first places I stop, other than Bleep for the weirder stuff they lack. They also offer tracks pre-warped for Ableton Live. (Disclosure: on behalf of CDM, I’m contributing to their new blog.)
  4. eMusic: Far improved upon its initial offering, eMusic now offers a huge catalog (2 million songs from 13,000 labels) at bargain-basement prices (30 tracks for a $10/mo a subscription). Well worth a try alongside other services. We were trying to figure out how eMusic managed to stay this cheap. Answer: screwing over labels and artists? Hmmm… details below.
  5. Other Music, Coming Soon: My favorite Manhattan record store will now have an electronic outlet, coming later this month. If you’ve never been to Other — like, say, you’re not in New York — these guys cover absolutely everything, from rock to experimental Classical. (I’ll be sure to cover their launch here, in the final blow that will destroy our wallets.)

Interestingly, many of these outlets can be cost-efficient, particularly if you fill out your collection on eMusic. And what you get is DRM-free, high-quality music that can fill up players on every platform (Mac, Windows, Linux) and every portable player, without any of the pains of buying music from iTunes. Stream, share, burn, mix, whatever. Ultimately, why bother with the philosophical arguments about DRM-free music when the practical benefits are so clear?

Where do you purchase your music? Let us know in comments. And favorite brick-and-mortar record stores count, too, as CDs and vinyl remain great, high-quality, DRM-free formats. For a nice lineup of these in the US, see Stylus Magazine’s roundup.

What about eMusic? A couple of you have raised issue with eMusic. Lower music prices mean lower revenues for labels and artists, so the industry is balking. One thing about legal services: labels can simply leave, and sometimes rightfully so. Victory Records is pulling out of eMusic as it drives costs down to 25 cents a track. Note that this is not the case with the others here, many of which are expanding sales for smaller labels who otherwise get lost trying to reach their niches on big stores like iTunes.

  • http://www.daveakermanis.com Dave Akermanis

    http://www.boxmp3.net has been a fave of mine when i cant find things on Beatport or AJTunes.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Yikes, no, no, no.

    Don't purchase music from boxmp3.net. An important qualification of all the services here is that they are legal, ethical services that ensure artists get paid for their work. Anything else is about the same as bootlegging. That includes boxmp3 and mp3search.ru and the former allofmp3.

    Note that Monolake (known to some as one of the key Ableton Live developers and founders) has specifically cited these services.

    I believe music has value just like other forms of production, so I can't endorse any of those services. It should be up to artists to decide whether or not to give away their work.

  • http://city-state.net Daryl

    How the heck does emusic.com make money? I love their site, but our band sells our EP on there, and their pay out was about the same as what I pay as a subscriber. That leads me to believe that they only make money off subscribers who don't download all their subscription allotment. Seems like a poor business model.

  • helio9000

    I've been using Emusic since it first peeped its head out the ground. (Back then it was an absurd all you can eat for a monthly fee system.)

    Also: http://web1.amiestreet.com/welcome

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Daryl, I honestly don't know. Someone else requested an Emusic interview to follow up on Pandora; maybe I'll see what I can do. :) I know what they're doing is legal — unlike boxmp3, etc. But whether it works for them, or makes artists money, I have no clue. My sense is that the rate on these other sites is more likely to be sustainable as a business model, but maybe eMusic is selling music that wasn't selling, so they're getting a deal … just not sure.

    Speaking of Monolake, though, he recommends these two services. They seem to be German-only, but maybe some of you are in Germany and can comment. :)

    http://www.yoosic.de/ http://finetunes.net/

    And thanks for the Amie Street tip! I'd forgotten about them.

  • james

    we're on emusic and beatport and emusic are definitely keeping a smaller slice for themselves..

    another store selling pre-warped files for ableton is http://www.3beatdigital.com

  • james

    oh and incidentally, no props to emi/apple for giving us back rights they shouldn't have taken in the first place, and charging extra for that…

  • http://beatfix.com beatfix

    Thanks for the links, Peter. A few notes on the listed sites, from someone who is still learning more about digital downloads.

    Bleep.com – 30 second previews, $1.35 per track (320k mp3). Quick song previewing, nice graphic design, but the layout is cramped, which makes it hard to see a lot of music on-screen at one time.

    Dance Tracks Digital – 60 second previews, $1.89 per track (320k mp3). Nice curatorial feel, as Peter mentions. Previews are a bit slow to load (they come up in a popup window), which discourages the free-range browsing experience.

    Beatport – 120 second previews, $1.49 – $2.49 per track (320k mp3). The flash interface is hard to get used to at first – I found myself constantly trying to use the "back" button on my browser, which would take me off the site completely. You can download tracks as uncompressed WAV for a bit more money.

    Emusic – 30 second previews, subscription service ($9.99/mo for 30 downloads). It uses .m3u files for previewing, which is slow and cumbersome compared to Flash streaming.

    Bleep looks very cool as a place to dig up some interesting new music for listening at home. Dance Tracks Digital appeared very useful for the selectors' picks, but I'm not sure I'd want to browse the categories for an extended period.

    Previously I'd only used Beatport, and after surveying the others, I'd say it's still my choice. The 2-minute previews are essential to getting a better feel for the way a song unfolds, particularly if the track in question is more than 4-5 minutes long. The Flash interface takes getting used to, but it also proves useful in that it enables very quick track previewing, and the tracks keep playing while you browse the site, until you choose something else to listen to (or the preview time runs out).

    One site I'll add is nettwerk.com – their online store is pretty nice. Tracks are only 192k mp3, but they generally range from $0.49 – $0.89 each, and you can download them up to three times from the servers after purchase, which is a handy shortcut if you want to download the same track in more than one location (at home and at work, for example).

  • dead_red_eyes

    If I have to buy mp3s, I get stuff at eMusic. Otherwise I order straight from the label -> distributor -> mailorder site.

  • sasarasa88

    http://www.ruckus.com . Free for those with a .edu email account. WMA format and DRM-protected. Unlimited download. Not uncommon to find albums missing some songs. Some broken license files, too.

    If using windows media player 10 or 9, google for FairUse4WM, a free application that can remove DRM protection. Does not work with WMP 11.

  • Adrian Anders

    Still do CDs… and Beatport if I'm going to pay for downloads (.wav). I really don't like paying for .mp3s no matter the bit rate (perhaps 320k…but still somewhat lossy if I do alot of conversions back and forth).

    I want to get your guy's opinion of the "grey" area of music downloading. Namely the tracks that are no longer commonly available for sale on CD or similar DRM-free formats, whether they be rare, obscure, bootlegs, imports, and one-offs that are impossible to find and pay for a reasonably priced non-drm version (not talking collector's item prices).

    Personally, I do download these “grey” tracks. These days that's the only thing I am downloading off torrent and the like (aside from British TV shows and anime that we’re NEVER getting here). But I would like to get a discussion going on the not-so-clear cut areas of copyright, as I think there can be a balance struck morally when dealing with music downloads. Namely that even though an artist doesn't explicitly authorize downloads, that it is morally alright to do so if they don't provide some reasonable DRM-free version (CD or high-bitrate download) for sale.

    ATA

  • blueshifter

    i for one love beatport – best 'web 2.0' implementation out there.

  • kuniklo

    Also check out boomkat.com. Nice interface and a small but growing selection of quality stuff.

  • Michael Una

    Thrill Jockey's webstore also hosts the catalogs of many excellent jazz, indie rock, and electronic labels who all offer DRM-free, high-quality downloads for very reasonable prices:

    http://www.thrilljockey.com/catalog/distributed.h

    Plus, when you order something from them they send you neat stickers and a poster and stuff for free.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @James — Thanks for recommending 3Beat Digital. I actually talked to them when I did a roundup on Ableton Live-ready for Computer Music UK. They are pricey, though, and charge in GBP.

    @beatfix — great notes! Did you notice on DTD, though, you can add tracks to a playlist? I like full-length plays, though, I agree.

    @Adrian — well, morality and legality are separate issues. I think getting at tracks in this way is moral, when there's no other way of getting at them, for what it's worth. In fact, I'll go further and say we should find better laws that make international distribution, and distribution in general, easier. It should be possible to profit financially and culturally as a result. Right now, a lot of these rules (particularly those barring international distribution) are in place to protect an infrastructure that doesn't exist any more.

  • bliss

    For all the hardcore CDMers you should check out Mimaroglu Music Sales. It's run by Keith Fullerton Whitman, experimental music artist, and old friend of mine from my Boston days.

    http://www.mimaroglumusicsales.com/

  • BassTooth
  • BassTooth

    http://www.vvinyl.com/

    in New Jersey, again.

    ignore http://vintagevinyl.com/ they are from Illinois and Missouri. ewww

  • http://www.sighup.ca Steve

    Word on the street is that Amazon have expressed interest in buying eMusic. I suspect if that happens, its business model will change substantially. One thing about eMusic, there are no majors. The biggest reason iTunes is so expensive is that the majors have set it up to gouge folk as much as possible.

    I've been using eMusic for two years. I like the subscription model, it's like on-demand digital radio for me, great for the 90 minutes of my day taken up going to and from work. For the price of one CD, you get 90 downloads a month. That usually works out to 5-8 albums a month (especially since I tend to listen to stuff with longer tracks). And properly encoded VBR mp3s are no worse than the compression portable CD players add with the ADPCM they use for their no-skip buffers.

    Download services have been a blessing for me, I have well over 900 CDs about the house, I simply have no room left for more (which is bad for a new music junkie).

  • velocipede

    I love eMusic and am glad to hear some artists say that it is not a bad deal for them. Given the decreased costs of online distribution, I think eMusic's pricing is just right. The new music industry model should be sell lots of units for less because the unit cost is so low. The long tail effect is amplified on sites like eMusic where it is easier to discover unknowns.

  • Fatlimey

    The mighty "Juno" began offering digital downloads a while back. They are UK based, ship overseas and have the most incredible catalog.

    http://www.juno.co.uk/

  • http://www.retrothing.com/ James Grahame

    I heartily recommend magnatune.com. They pay 50% royalties to their artists and let the customer choose how much they pay for each album, starting at a mere $5. The service also offers hi-fi streaming so you can try before you buy, and they allow you to share your purchase with up to three friends – legally. Everybody wins.

  • bathyscaaf

    Do any of these stores offer FLAC as an option? I guess WAV will do…mp3 or AAC is OK for a portable player, but when listening through the stereo they sound lifeless and anemic. It's not the sound card — I'm using a SqueezeBox. I rip using EAC and compress to FLAC and it sounds great….

  • Sam

    bathyscaaf —

    Bleep offers FLAC as an option for some songs/albums. To clarify, Bleep does in fact allow one to listen to the entire song, though in 30 second chunks. I've MANY interesting songs there.

    What about http://www.hippocamp.net ? I have found the releases are generally of high quality. And, they are free.

  • richardl

    Another vote for eMusic. It's a great service with incredible depth. High quality VBR MP3s too.

  • Martin F

    I mainly buy physical media from….

    juno.co.uk

    boomkat.com

    amazon.com

    ebreggae.com

    I mainly buy digital from…

    beatport

    kompakt-mp3.net

    calabashmusic.com

    detroitdigitalvinyl.com

    There are many more places I'll buy from, depends how I feel.

    After reading this I'm gonna try an eMusic subscription

  • syncr

    I've been with eMusic for about 2 years. In that time I've downloaded over 12gb of music ranging from "damn, I can't believe this epic group is here", to "one of my favorite labels just released their entire catalog", to "hmm, this playlist of albums matches my interests, I think I'll just download a few albums for sport".

    Its a really fun service, but you have to research and dig for gems. I seriously enjoy the process and I usually spend all 90 credits the day I get them. Trusting the service as I do, I also pay for 12 months upfront for $96 US. Thats , wow, less than 10 cents a track. Krikey.

    If Amazon does buy eMusic, I'll be pissed if they sacrifice the Indie attitude and pricing. But, pathetically I'm still nursing some hurt from that whole Opcode boondoggle.

  • http://www.numblog.de/ Matthias

    You also might want to check out ClickGroove who offer a wide range of dance music from soulful to electro, and lots of small labels, too.

  • Craig

    Did Monolake really recommend yoosic?! That site looks terrible, and the music it sells looks/sounds even more terrible. Yikes. Or Yikesic.

  • Gee Funk

    http://www.traxsource.com has been good to me. They lean toward house. You can purchase tracks @ 192 or 320 ($1.49/$1.99).

  • http://www.podcomplex.com dan

    I have yet to buy an mp3 download, partly out of fear of DRM or other sneaky limitations that may be concealed in the fine print. I would still buy my music on CD and rip my own mp3s from there. Play.com has been good to me when i've used it, as has CDwow, although their selection is poor. For new downtempo electronica, you can get CDs at Podcomplex, of course… there's also a post in the blog there about EMI's tentative steps into a DRM-free world.

  • James

    Would be interesting to put our heads together and compile a list of what artists/indie labels get back from the major stores. Some are definitely exploiting their popularity to inflate their own shares.

    the itunes-expensive comment above interested me – i thought it was universally recognised that apple kept the price artificially low as every single cheap drm-encumbered song further blackmails the users into buying a new ipod when the old one inevitably dies. Their business model screws artists, sweatshop workers and the environment, but the songs aren't expensive.

  • http://jackit.sf.net/ Paul Davis

    beatfix: flash streaming might work for you, but given my choice to use my x86_64 systems with an x86_64 bit operating system and an x86_64 bit web browser, i'm very glad to have technology neutral ways to access previews. there is no flash for any x86_64 platform.

    also, the way .m3u's are generally handled on linux at least makes them more or less as fast as a builtin flash streamer. they also allow me to choose my own playback engine, which is preferable to my browser thinking it understands what to do.

  • http://jackit.sf.net/ Paul Davis

    another nice feature of emusic is that you can re-download stuff any number of times. if you lose tracks or accidentally delete them or suffer a h/w failure, no worries.

  • http://illovich.com illovich

    I use emusic, and although it's true that they don't pay out what other sites do, I'll counter with the fact that I've downloaded lots of stuff that I never would have paid for (that is, I would not have gotten it, not that I would have pirated it) but was willing to try because the price was right.

    So while bands might lose profits from dedicated fans, I think they have increased potential for new sales, and dedicated fan income can be compensated for with additional value added products (see the Def Jux fan club, for example)

  • http://www.mowthelawn.net/ Quinton

    http://www.necodo.com/ has a lot of dance music + some indie electronic… I've been finding some incredible independent stuff through there.

    Also a vote for Juno, and tweekin.com for the vinyls.

  • http://qu-one.com q u o n e

    Bleep has full song previews… jsut need to scroll through the song manually. well worth it.

    and i like the abstract photo of OM….

  • maximillian

    Sorry to state the obvious but my source of DRM-free music is vinyl which I purchase both online and from good old fashioned physical record stores. It's uncompressed and sounds better, has better resale value and offers many titles that simply aren't available as CD/MP3.

  • http://www.rolandreinke.com Roland Reinke

    I've used Bleep, Beatport and iTunes. DRM is a pain and needs to get done away with.

  • http://sidechainmusic.com Dave Dri

    Great article and a brilliant range of comments. This is CDM at its finest :)

    PS: Its Bleep and Beatport for me.

  • http://blog.whats-your.name carmen

    topsites and cute-avatar palace. if anything is good i buy a hard copy from Juno

  • http://www.fakescience.com maer @ fake science

    self serving advert:

    Fake Science Music Store – http://www.fakescience.com

    we work directly with artists & labels. all independent music. we don't employ digital distro services like most of the other stores. 320k mp3 with no DRM (256k on older releases), all genres.

    we're a small boutique operation, and we're in it for the music, the fans, and the artists.

  • http://ocp.pt.vu ocp

    How does one get his/her own tracks to be sold through Bleep or Beatport?

    Do they work with independent artists or just established labels?

    Back on topic, these days I tend to buy less due to the netlabel phenomenon.

    Lot's of quality music out there!

  • http://www.tammen.org Hans Tammen

    Just wanna put in my 2 cents in for the "how does eMusic make money" discussion — literally, because in my royalty statements I saw recently that a piece downloaded from eMusic brought in 2 cents, and the same piece downloaded from iTunes brought in around 50 cents. Oh well…

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  • Arpo

    I am contemplating joining a music download site. I am 49, have a very wide taste in music which includes some pop and 60's soul. I would go for the highest quality possible, WMA files rather than MP3. Any suggestions would be very welcome!

    Thanks.

  • Hemingway

    ru saying boxmp3net or ligamusic are not legal?  Why do they still exist? There are also tons of file sharing sites up and running with iTunes quality music…and all those Russian sites that offer .10 songs like iomoio, mp3million, mp3va, soundike, etc