I don't mind paying for music, but where can I get it?
October 3, 2009 8:39 AM   Subscribe

I don't mind paying a fair price for music I enjoy. Can someone please suggest a good mp3 download site?


I don't want any site that will require me to download any additional software, I just want to be able to buy and then download the mp3 to a folder and be able to play it with any music program or mp3 player.

I'd like the selection to be popular music from the 60's forward.

I'd like a site that has a pay-per-download option as opposed to one with a monthly fee, as I probably won't be downloading too much - most likely just the occasional popular song that strikes my fancy or an old song I forgot I liked.

I'd prefer to stay away from sites that only accept paypal. I don't mind providing my Visa for it to be billed to.

I've searched here (and found a question from 2005) and Googled (getting far too many results), but would rather hear what the hive mind recommends.

Thank you in advance.
posted by NoraCharles to Media & Arts (30 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Amazon's MP3 store is pretty good, especially if you're already familiar with browsing around Amazon. It satisfies every one of your requirements except the "extra software" but the software is just to download the files - it doesn't play them, it doesn't authenticate them, you don't have to run it all the time, and the MP3s have no DRM and are stored on your hard drive in a normal way. It's a small price to pay for an otherwise awesome store.
posted by wackybrit at 8:46 AM on October 3, 2009 [8 favorites]

At this point, my old standby suggestion -- eMusic -- has gone to hell. Amazon MP3 is a very reasonable alternative, albeit with a simple downloader required to complete the purchase; you don't need to use it to find music, just to queue up album downloads, so it may not be as obtrusive as a full-on application.
posted by ellF at 8:47 AM on October 3, 2009

I like Amazon MP3 from Amazon.com. They have a downloader program that I think is optional but makes downloading a snap.

This chart may also help you out.
posted by roomwithaview at 8:48 AM on October 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Assuming you already have iTunes, the iTunes music store will do all you ask. You have to pay a tiny bit extra for the un-DRM'd mp3 files, but you said you don't mind paying.

Once you get the mp3 files you don't need to use iTunes to play them; they'll work anywhere.

Amazon.com also has a really well-stocked MP3 store.

These are pretty obvious choices, but nothing in your question gives any indication that they wouldn't be acceptable, so there you go.
posted by Aquaman at 8:48 AM on October 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Amazon's mp3 downloads.

OK, maybe you have to download a very lightweight, inconspicuous application (well, I did -- I don't know if there's a non-software option), but why is this such a major factor that it should cancel out the fact that it's an overall good service? In fact, the application only exists to facilitate the convenience you're looking for: having the mp3s go directly to organized folders and your music player (iTunes or whatever) without you having to fuss over the details each time you buy a track.

I love emusic, which is much, much cheaper than Amazon or iTunes, but it's all based on monthly fees so I assume you don't want that.

At this point, my old standby suggestion -- eMusic -- has gone to hell.

Because they recently vastly expanded their selection to include several major labels in addition to their great selection of indie labels? Or because they recently raised their price from "amazingly cheap" to just "very cheap"?
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:54 AM on October 3, 2009

Yep, amazon. One thing I like is that they have 50 albums a month that are just $5. I've picked up some good stuff that way.
posted by sugarfish at 9:00 AM on October 3, 2009

BTW, I had to check your profile because my first thought was 7digital. It fits all of your requirements and, well, kicks major ass.. but it's only available in about 10 European countries. Very good if you do happen to be in Europe though and not the Philly suburbs as I suspect ;-)
posted by wackybrit at 9:08 AM on October 3, 2009

Assuming you already have iTunes, the iTunes music store will do all you ask. You have to pay a tiny bit extra for the un-DRM'd mp3 files, but you said you don't mind paying. Once you get the mp3 files you don't need to use iTunes to play them; they'll work anywhere.

That's not true is it? I buy iTunes Plus tracks occasionally but they're still AAC encoded files, not MP3s. Or is there a way to get actual MP3s from them now? (I suspect iTunes will you convert non DRM AACs to MP3s? Though it'd reduce the quality..)
posted by wackybrit at 9:09 AM on October 3, 2009

All the tracks in the iTunes store are DRM-free now. They are all also AAC, not MP3. Unless you've got a player that can't handle AAC, there wouldn't be much reason to convert them.

Amazon is usually about a buck less per album.
posted by adamrice at 9:23 AM on October 3, 2009

Another Amazon fan here. The tracks are high quality, unmolested and the variety is huge.

To clarify the need for extra download software when using amazon: it is NOT REQUIRED if you are downloading single tracks. It is ONLY required if you buy full albums.

If you do end up using their software, they have versions for most all platforms (something that cannot be said for iTunes, which does not exist on Linux).
posted by quarterframer at 9:25 AM on October 3, 2009

Rhapsody doesn't require a program to download music. They have a downloader, but it's optional. Without it, if you buy more than one track, you just download a .zip file with everything you just bought in it. Their prices seem to be about the same as Amazon's.
posted by zsazsa at 9:28 AM on October 3, 2009

Assuming you already have iTunes, the iTunes music store will do all you ask. You have to pay a tiny bit extra for the un-DRM'd mp3 files, but you said you don't mind paying.

Actually the iTunes store is now completely DRM-free
posted by martini at 9:30 AM on October 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

2nding quarterframer. Don't be fooled-- you don't need to use the amazon downloader if you only want to buy single songs. You might give it a try with just a song or two and see if you like it enough to install the downloader.
posted by gueneverey at 9:41 AM on October 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have been using lavamus.com for a little while now. Legality is questionable, catalog is extensive but not complete, prices are VERY cheap.
posted by gnutron at 10:19 AM on October 3, 2009

eMusic went to hell when they (A) doubled their prices to include Sony music, which is the antithesis of what eMusic once was (a spot for finding new independent music), (B) broke their long-standing promise to grandfather members into all new plans, effectively forcing everyone to buy into the new schema, (C) treated their existing customer base rudely when we objected to these changes, and (D) began fraudulently charging people for memberships after receiving requests to cancel in response to the shift.

This isn't the place to have an "eMusic sucks" discussion, but the changes they made are well documented and the way they handled their (understandably, IMO) angry customer response is public.
posted by ellF at 10:22 AM on October 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Well, I've used post and pre Sony emusic, and even though I don't like it as much as I used to, I'd still recommend the free trial. It's free, the songs on non-DRM, and they don't try to screw you (at least not too much). Also, unlike amazon, you can redownload albums. It used to be infinite, but recently has been capped depending on the liscense of that particular work.
posted by codacorolla at 11:09 AM on October 3, 2009

If you go the Amazon route, at least know that some of their mp3's for sale may have quality problems, including possible transcodes, incorrect gaps between tracks (e.g. a 2 second gap in what's supposed to be a continuous mix) and a lot of variation in the encoding methods which so far have been known to include:

FhG 256kbps CBR stereo
Lame 3.91 256kbps CBR stereo !
Lame 3.97b2 -V 2 -Y joint stereo
Lame 3.97 -V 0 joint stereo
Lame 3.98.2 --abr256 joint stereo

Whether you'll notice or care is another matter.

More info in this thread.
posted by dirm at 11:21 AM on October 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

As has been said above, keep in mind that AAC files on the iTunes store are no longer copy protected. The file extension is m4a, which means they're unprotected, whereas the files that used to be on the store back when record labels were forcing DRM were m4p files, with the 'p' denoting protected (DRM = digital rights management, or 'copy protection').

Why AAC instead of MP3?

AACs are smaller files with higher sound quality than MP3s. MP3 is, more or less, the 3rd generation algorithm. AAC is the 4th gen. MP3 is based on early 1990s tech. AAC (why the eff didn't they just call it MP4?) is from this decade.

Seriously... if you're not going to use uncompressed FLAC for your music, at least go with AAC using the highest bit-rate you can. I use 320 bit AAC.

P.S. Add another vote for the iTunes Store from me :)
posted by 2oh1 at 11:49 AM on October 3, 2009

Also, check out this post for some more ideas.
posted by dubitable at 12:21 PM on October 3, 2009

wackybrit: "(I suspect iTunes will you convert non DRM AACs to MP3s? Though it'd reduce the quality..)"

For the love of god please don't transcode lossy formats. And if you're going to pay money for music in lossy formats, please make sure it is at least LAME V0.
posted by turkeyphant at 12:45 PM on October 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

(A) doubled their prices to include Sony music, which is the antithesis of what eMusic once was (a spot for finding new independent music),

I am paying more now per song, but I'm not paying nearly double what I was before. There are many different plans, so I don't know about each one, but I doubt any of the plans has doubled.

I don't think it's just Sony they've introduced; it's several labels. I don't keep track of whether some of the labels are technically part of "Sony" or not, but it's several new labels. The site now includes lots of albums by Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Leonard Cohen, The Clash, Michael Jackson, and tons of others who couldn't be found there before. Maybe you don't happen to be a fan of those artists, but many people are.

This isn't the "antithesis" of what eMusic used to be. I don't believe they've deleted any of the existing indie music from their catalogue. They're still adding more and more indie music all the time, but now they're also adding artists who happen to be on major labels. If you exclusively listen to indie rock, that's fine, but I think you can still get just as much of it on eMusic.

(B) broke their long-standing promise to grandfather members into all new plans, effectively forcing everyone to buy into the new schema,

Naturally many existing members were disappointed by the price hikes (though the prices are still less than half what you pay on Amazon or iTunes), but I got ample notice from eMusic before the changes were made. That's hardly "forcing everyone to buy" it. Did you really sign up for a service with a monthly fee believing you had some kind of absolute right not to have the fee raised?

I was a little disappointed about eMusic's changes too, and I considered canceling the account. But you know what? The previous restriction of just indie labels was too confining; the price is still a great bargain; and I kept my account. As mentioned above, eMusic gives you a free trial, so if the OP is at all willing to sacrifice the "no monthly fee" requirement for other benefits, I recommend it.
posted by Jaltcoh at 1:39 PM on October 3, 2009

My problem with eMusic is that you aren't getting all the latest releases from Sony et al - back catalogs are great, but some albums released this week aren't on there yet, and they don't want to tell me when they will be available on emusic so I can plan accordingly
(i.e. buy new releases somewhere else because I don't want to wait X time period). My email got a vague "We are always adding new albums to emusic; I'm sure you'll find something you like" response. I'd have been much happier with an "We don't know" or "Sony doesn't want you to know that." or "Never. Mwahahahahahaahah!" response. I wish my current plan was going to continue on forever, when it switches to the "equivilent plan".

When scoping out new sources, I've found Amazon has had about 90% of items on my music wishlist, which is pretty good. eMusic in contrast has had 68% of my wish list. iTunes has about 85%. Of course, I sometimes end up buying direct from the artist, too, because they are not yet "discovered".
posted by julen at 2:40 PM on October 3, 2009

I use Amazon and I don't use their little install. I almost never buy whole albums so there's no need. There was one time where I wanted a rare song, but it was one that was only available if you bought the whole album. So I installed their little downloader, bought and downloaded the album, undid their stupid folder stuff, renamed and refiled the mp3s where and how I normally do them, and then uninstalled their downloader and went back to buying singles. Stop helping!

If you sometimes want to check out new stuff in full before you buy, check out hypemachine. It's an aggregator of music blogs. People upload songs to their blogs and talk about them, and hypemachine indexes them so you can search for them. From your search results you link to the blog where you can download. It's mostly newer stuff. As I understand it, the record companies tolerate it because it gets the buzz out there for new stuff, particularly if it's not mass market stuff, but you find big names out there too.
posted by Askr at 4:12 PM on October 3, 2009

why the eff didn't they just call it MP4?

(1) MPEG-4 is something else
(2) AAC is Part 7 of MPEG-2
(3) MP3 is actually MPEG-1 Layer 3

Got all that? :)
posted by dmd at 7:44 PM on October 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

A bunch of previous threads - there are a lot of oddball independent outfits that fit the bill you describe.

1 2 3 4 5

It's worth looking over the eMusic subscription plans to see if there is a level low enough that you would actually use up the downloads, or if you wanted to do a brief stint at one of the lower levels, because even their higher per-track cost memberships (the low cost, low # of downloads for short durations types) give a better per-track rate overall than the big players (Amazon, Rhapsody and iTunes). Look over the catalog though, while they've recently added a lot of Sony back catalog they are mostly indie labels, though they carry a lot of the major indies (Sub Pop being a notable exception, I believe they have an exclusive deal with Rhapsody at the moment). I've never done a brief stint with them though, I imagine you'd have to read carefully about what to do to make sure you didn't get re-upped at the end of your subscription. I barely shop anywhere else anymore, though they jacked the prices steeply recently they still are about half what you pay anywhere else.

I've found Amazon and Rhapsody to be very functional. I guess I'd recommend reconsidering resistance to using download-assist software (if indeed that's what you're talking about), I've found it to be lightweight, innocuous and functional (I don't know about Rhapsody's though, as it is Microsoft OS only). I use iTunes on a Mac so of course I still use the iTMS a fair bit but I understand not wanting to go there if that's not your system already. I think the eMusic downloader may be required but I'm not sure.
posted by nanojath at 8:09 PM on October 3, 2009

Didn't really read the upthread that carefully - if it isn't clear I'm on the side of the debate that eMusic isn't particularly worse now than it was before. They certainly fumbled their pricing transition and expansion into major label catalogs (like a good indie yeg I shook my finger sternly at their hopping into bed with hated Sony... and then shortly started hoovering up massive quantities of Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, Lou Reed, Bob Dylan...) I don't see paying twice as much for music I'm going to buy anyway out of spite.

It does seem like there are persistent tales of them failing to honor cancellation requests, whether out of incompetence or what I don't know (or if it's even true - I never underestimate a customer's potential to just do something stupid and blame the store). Since I just keep re-upping it's never affected me, but I guess it would be worth contemplation as at least a possibility if you decided to go in for a limited period to bargain hunt their catalog.
posted by nanojath at 8:21 PM on October 3, 2009

I like the Amazon MP3 store but I've also been using Lala.com lately. It has a lot of features you're not looking for (playing your existing music via the web, cheaper, web-only purchases) but it has a wide catalog of music available via DRM free files that you can download with no additional software.

The only caveat is that their payment model has you deposit money into a "wallet", then you make purchases and it deducts the total from what you have in your account. I assume this is to make low-cost purchases feasible given the unavoidable fees associated with processing credit card transactions.
posted by camcgee at 8:55 PM on October 3, 2009

Another vote for Lala. The site has a bunch of different aspects to it. Like, you can listen to any song you want, once, for free. Then you can pay something like 10 cents to be able to listen to it forever. Then you can pay an additional 79 cents or something like that to also download the mp3. And you can take the songs you've paid for an build playlists with them.

It will also, as camcgee alluded to above, go through your music libbrary and give you permanent streaming access to the songs you already own, or something like that... I've never actually done that.

- AJ
posted by Alaska Jack at 10:36 PM on October 3, 2009

Are you positive you need to purchase the MP3s?

To me, Rhapsody is one of the best things on the internet.

A Rhapsody subscription allows you to stream songs through your computer and phone, as well as download all the MP3s you want to your MP3 device. The non-purchased MP3s you download to your device have DRMs that need to be renewed once a month (just plug your device into your computer once a month). [note: the MP3s that you purchase from Rhapsody do not have DRMs and do not need to be renewed].

Some people don't like the thought of 'renting' music, but the way I see it I'm basically paying the cost of an album every month but getting unlimited access to an entire Virgin Megastore instantly in the deal. I can stream music on my home computer, my work computer, over my iPhone, and fill up my entire MP3 device all off of the same subscription. Rhapsody allows me to listen to scores of albums every month that I would normally never consider buying, and thus normally never hear.

If you enjoy exploring for new music, Rhapsody is something you should consider. It's fantastic.
posted by Davenhill at 11:53 PM on October 3, 2009

Wow, lots of great responses.

Aquaman: Assuming you already have iTunes, the iTunes music store will do all you ask.

Nope, no iTunes. I haven't joined the cult. ;-)

I was shying away from Amazon, but since quarterframer pointed out I don't need to download the software for singles, I think that's where I'm headed next.

Thank you to everyone who offered suggestions.
posted by NoraCharles at 4:35 AM on October 4, 2009

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