have been using eMusic since it opened in 1998. At the time, the
service was $15USD a month. This let you download any of the available
music. There was no limit. I had broadband access even then, and took
advantage of this generous subscription program. I downloaded nearly
everything that I found even remotely interesting. Emusic introduced me
to Ron Sexsmith, Soulive, Tito Puente, Carl Tjader, Vince Guaraldi,
Chick Corea and some very interesting Oscar Peterson selections. In
fact, I'm still finding new stuff that I indiscriminately pulled down
While the $15/month unlimited feature was cool, it was somewhat unsustainable. In 2000, the site was sold to a German company and things changed considerably. Now, I pay $10/month for only 40 tracks. I get variable-bitrate, decent MP3s for $0.40 a pop. This makes it less than half the cost of iTunes for unrestricted, high-quality tunes. There is only one catch: The selection.
Emusic boasts over 1,000,000 tracks. I believe them, but you're not going to find Madonna, The Beatles or many other top-40 artists of the day. However, if you're looking for slightly stranger stuff, you're all set. I have recently, discovered, Broken Social Scene, Curtis Stigers and Martina Sorbera on eMusic. I've also found interesting artists such as Elysian Fields, Sex Mob and more. Their Jazz and Blues selection is also quite extensive. Moreover, eMusic has a real focus on promoting upcoming bands. They also pay the artists for their work, though details on what exactly this means aren't available on the eMusic site.
Finally, eMusic is cross-platform. Their optional download manager is available for Windows, Mac and Linux. While I miss the days of the unlimited download, eMusic is still my favourite music site out there. For more reasons why I like eMusic, see their "About" page.
NOTE: The Linux download manager is rather problematic and is unmaintained. A Java-based open source effort called eMusicJ has created a better download manager than the one provided by eMusic.
eMusic, Zunior caters mostly to smaller labels. You can buy albums of
MP3s for $8.88 or for an extra $2 you can opt for uncompressed FLAC
files. Downloads include PDFs of liner notes and art.
you're still not convinced about sticking with iTunes and E-Music.
please consider allofmp3.com as an alternative to P2P. This Russian
MP3 site offers a staggering selection of very mainstream music. Like
eMusic, they offer MP3 files, but you pay by the megabyte, not the
track. You can pick the format and pick the bitrate, prices increase as
the quality goes up. The legality of the site is... questionable at
best. According to them, the site is legal in Russia but only because
of loopholes in the country's copyright law. It's arguably safer than
P2P and you can't complain about the quality, but none of the money
goes to the artist. However, at least the quality is high and you
don't have to worry about viruses and spyware.
Wikipedia has an excellent write-up on allofmp3.com and even recommends 3rd-party tools that allow users to access allofmp3.com from non-Windows platforms.
Files are $0.02/mb on allofmp3.com. This means that a typical album will cost somewhere between $1 and $2. Needless to say, this is quite affordable. While I don't like the fact that allofmp3.com doesn't pay the artists, it is a relatively safe way to get high-quality music at very affordable prices. Myself, I tend to stick to eMusic.
course, for more mainstream stuff there's always iTunes. These files
are DRM'd, but Apple makes it pretty easy to burn a straight audio CD
that you can easily rip back as MP3s. Songs are $0.99/each or $9.99
for an album. The selection is outstanding and the quality is pretty
good. The AAC files are only 128kbps, but this sounds much better than
an 128kb MP3. There's a great selection of both mainstream and indie
stuff on the site and more content is being added all the time.
There's a reason iTunes is the number one on-line store. It offers the
most selection with the easiest interface at a fair price. My biggest
gripes are that the musicians only see $0.05/track, while Apple gets
about $0.30 and the studios get the rest. However, these are the
breaks. I wonder how this compares to e-music. In any event, it's a
great service. One sticking point for me is that only a subset of the
content of the US iTunes Store is available to us Canadians. Also, it
is a pain to buy an album, burn it and rip it back. However, this is
still often faster and cheaper than buying it in the store, and that
assumes of course that the store actually stocks the latest Medeski,
Martin and Wood, which isn't often the case here in Kingston.