I’ve resisted the charms of subscription music services for years, and among the few major players, I must admit that I flirted with eMusic most frequently. However, I finally rappelled into the music download abyss, and I have a few thoughts about it.
eMusic is a monthly subscription model for a number of track downloads. An album will basically just “cost” as much as the number of tracks it has, which is appealing for jazz albums that have fewer, longer tracks in some cases. I don’t support track based models generally, so I opt to download entire albums, but that option certainly isn’t missing.
The downloads are per month, so they expire and must be used in their entirety, from what I understand. This is reminiscent of Audible, which I must admit I forgot about more than once. I’m hoping I can keep up with eMusic, but judging by my first day’s performance, I don’t think I’ll have much trouble.
I’m not terribly please with the fact that it’s mp3, since my own ears end up picking AAC every time at matched bitrates, as low as 128 kbps. The mp3s are variable in bitrate on eMusic, but so far they look to be variable averaging around 160 kbps, which is acceptable for demoing but certainly not critical listening.
It must be understood that eMusic has a large number of independent labels. This means no Blue Note, no Sony/BMG, etc. etc. While on the grand scheme of things, this represents a large amount of “missing” music, in reality for jazz, blues, soul, r&b, funk fans, this is not really a problem! In fact, some of the all-time greatest recordings from a lot of these genres are represented, like Prestige and Riverside. If you’re down with pop artists, etc., you might have a harder time finding stuff, but you can check out their catalog before signing on.
However, with the enticing 50 free downloads in addition to my 30 for $10.00 this month, I ended up with the following albums:
Albert King – Live Wire/Blues Power
Boyz II Men – Throwback (yes … )
Mingus – Town Hall Concert
Christian McBride – Tonic Disc 1
Dexter Gordon – Complete Prestige Disc 1
Johnnie Taylor – Taylored in Silk
Max Roach – We Insist! Freedom Now Suite
Miles Davis – Workin’
Pharoah Sanders – Live
Monk – Live at the 1964 Monterey Jazz Festival
I’m going to use eMusic to download stuff I absolutely want to hear, though I still want to purchase CD versions of the great stuff because of the bitrate and lossy problem, as well as the whole CD/LP artistry that completely adds to the experience of an album. It also affords me the relatively cheap opportunity to listen to stuff that no one plays on the radio much anymore, like Albert King or Johnnie Taylor. It’s a great way to sample new stuff and hear artists that, for constraints of time and money, I have overlooked, like Jack McDuff, Betty Davis, and Pharoah Sanders.
eMusic, done right, is an interesting experiment. Now to just fend off that desire to upgrade to the 50/month plan ….