Part two of my review of various online music sources, this one focused on EMusic. EMusic is a different sort of scheme than iTunes or Amazon, in that it is a flat-rate subscription service. The basic plan is $12 per month for 30 downloads, which works out to 40 cents per track if you use them all. The credits are use-em-or-lose-em, so you do have to poke around on the site every month if you actually want to get your money's worth.
Before I get to my comments, two shameless plugs:
1. If you are an EMusic member and a dj, let me know your user name! I'd like to be EMusic "friends" with you. Post a comment or email me. Here's my profile page, from which you can friend me.
2. If you are considering joining EMusic, just hold on a second. They've got an incentive scheme set up so that if I invite you to join, they give us both a bunch of free tracks. So email me if you are considering joining, and I'll send you an invite, and then we'll have extra tracks to play with. And I'll be your "friend."
Okay so that was me pimping for EMusic. Forgive me--read on, and I will give you an honest critique to make up for it.
Starting with what makes EMusic attractive. First and most obviously, the price is right. On a single track per download basis, it's less than half the price of iTunes. Of course, if you download a Best of Oscar Peterson album, you might blow your monthly allowance of tracks on a single album, which you could get for $10 from iTunes or probably less from Amazon. The price advantage comes if you want to poke around and grab a few tracks from an album here, one from that big old compilation, and a few more from somewhere else. If you are looking to build up your collection of danceable music, this is a good approach.
Second advantage: EMusic has an ever-growing collection of interesting music, lots of independent labels, and lots and lots of jazz and blues. I have yet to find anything that wasn't also on iTunes or Amazon, but considering that those services of gigantic international retailers, that's a bit of an unfair comparison--relative newbie EMusic really isn't doing too bad. Several times I have pissed off local djs by revealing that I've grabbed tracks off EMusic that they spent years and years looking for in record shops--stuff that's the prize of their collections. (Two examples: Clora Bryant, ...Gal with a Horn and many of the Definitive Black & Blue Sessions are on EMusic.)
But, EMusic is far from perfect. I would rank the most important drawback as the quality of the digital files you get when you download a track. Some are perfectly good quality, stuff that is fine to spin at a dance on a nice sound system. Other albums are really lacking, so you do have to be careful.
The other drawbacks to EMusic really have to do with the design of the website, so they are aspects of the service that could be improved, if EMusic has the programming talent to do so. Biggest complaint here is that the search interface is PATHETIC. There's no way to do advanced searches, so if you are browsing a particular artist and want to find a specific track, you have to browse through ALL of their albums. Hopefully EMusic is embarrassed by its lack of a respectable search feature, and is working as hard as it can to improve it. If not, shame on you EMusic, shame.
Along with the search interface, EMusic's social recommendation system leaves a lot to be desired. It's impossible to search for your friends (which is why y'all need to tell me your user names), you can't un-friend other users, and you have zero control over your "neighbors"--ostensibly the users whose download patterns are most similar to yours. C'mon, EMusic. Get with it.
As long as I'm griping, here's one graphic design suggestion (you listening, EMusic?): get rid of the pop-up album reviews. Put the full review somewhere on the page, so that I can read the whole thing, or go back and forth between reading the review and previewing the tracks. Thanks, EMusic ;). Also, it would be nice if the EMusic download manager had the option of loading your music directly into iTunes. The Amazon mp3 download manager does this--it couldn't be too hard to add that little feature, and it would save the trouble of having to copy the files from one folder to another, then delete the originals.