19 November 2010


As of last night, I am now an emusic subscriber. I've generally been dragging my feet in transitioning over to digital music acquisition (as opposed to physical media), but if for no other reason, the sheer ease of it is slowly winning me over, even though I do miss tending to my CD shelf. This particular foray, though, is the rather direct result of Apple shutting down Lala. Like many, I was incensed and vowed never to purchase anything from iTunes again (also like many, I doubt very much that I have purchased my last Apple computer; they've still got me by the balls, but I'm making the gesture anyway, even if it's a drop in the bucket compared to what I paid for this MacBook).

eMusic is nice, but like all the remaining options that I've looked into, it's inferior to Lala in some important ways. For one, you cannot preview full tracks, but instead get only very short samples. Also, while the downloads are cheaper than most any other place I've looked at, no one seems to be able to touch Lala's streaming price of just a few cents per track. By purchasing tracks or albums as "websongs," you could stream them to your heart's content. As a musician, I often end up wanting the file for music I intend to transcribe, play along with, or otherwise study closely, but even so, the fact that you could load your Lala "wallet" with the minimum payment of $5 and use it to purchase access to a dozen or so complete albums was, well, too good to be true. I don't know how on earth Lala managed to negotiate this agreement, and I worry that Apple set music distribution back a decade by trashing it, because no one else seems to offer it.

Of course, there are other services that allow unlimited streaming of their entire libraries for roughly the same monthly cost as an eMusic subscription. This is tempting, but I'm not quite ready for it. For starters, I have to be able to move around when I'm listening, usually in the form of pacing. Sitting in front of a computer is among my least favorite ways to listen, not only because I can't move, but also because it's a computer and I'll be on Yahoo Sports before the first solo is finished. Out of deference to my housemates, I rarely use the stereo, since lots of what I listen to isn't music to most people, and since they already have to listen to me practice a couple of hours a day. Once you have the files, though, they can be loaded onto an iPod (a term which is quickly taking its place among the likes of Kleenex and Xerox) and taken wherever, usually from one end of the living room to the other...repeatedly. (I prided myself forever on possibly being the last person left without an iPod; even though I finally gave in, I assume I'm still the only person who bought it with no intention of ever taking it out of the house.)

The transience of streaming in comparison to actually having the files on your hard drive does make me a bit uneasy, much more uneasy than the digital-versus-physical question that hangs up people my parents' age. Witness the Lala doomsday scenario, where everyone who had purchased streaming access to just the tunes they wanted for an incredibly good price woke up one morning to learn that in a month's time they would no longer have access to any of it. The iTunes credits we received in the amount of our websong purchases were virtually worthless considering that single track download on iTunes costs 10 times what a websong cost on Lala. Further, given the attacks on net neutrality and municipal wifi that have already been waged by big telecoms, it might not be a bad idea to have your music on a hard drive rather than in a cloud.


Anonymous said...

If you were a PC user I would suggest getting a Zune and a Zune Pass. It's not perfect, but the amount of content that I have access to at my computer, on my XBox, on the Web, and beyond what I sync to my Zune HD or download anywhere that has a WiFi signal, is quite frankly astonishing. More then worth the price. But it's Windows only so not for everyone.

Stefan Kac said...

Looks great, especially the selection. I searched for several things emusic doesn't have and found them all. The combination of total streaming acceess AND a certain number of downloads each month is also attractive; I wonder why no one else seems to be offering it? It's a little bit more expensive, but would look to be worth it.

I know some Mac people buy cheap PC's for a few random things like this. The cost of that and the player, though, would seem to outweigh the benefits for me at the moment. Let's hope that the services improve across the board over the next several years so that it's a non-issue.

Anonymous said...

It's really too bad the full client isn't available for the Mac in some ways, though I somewhat understand why they don't do it.

It doesn't seem like it would be worth the cost even to maintain two machines, much less purchase them, and that's coming from someone who has a household of 6 machines, three of which are my own. :-)

Stefan Kac said...

Per the other conversation, the cost of multiple machines could be weighed against the inconvenience of having to locate and preview tracks on one site, then search for and re-stream or purchase them somewhere else.

Also, "maintain" gave me a chuckle. You must be a real computer user; I don't do jack to mine unless something serious breaks.