Need Music, man
June 30, 2008 9:40 AM   Subscribe

I need a way to purchase music -- what's your favorite method? I have certain things that I look for -- see inside:

I used to use, but now that they are history (and their sister site mp3sparks doesn't allow credit card payments) I am finding myself with no way to purchase music that I'm satisfied with. What are the best options?

Things I really liked about allofmp3: (1) I could choose my bit rate (I like 320 or 192), (2) It was cheap, (3) there was no DRM (this is a requirement for me, so iTunes is out), and (4) the selection was great.

... Not looking for any discussion about the legality of allofmp3, I'm just looking for current music purchasing alternatives. What do you use? Why? Is there any service on earth that can give me the four points that I named above? Thanks.
posted by crapples to Computers & Internet (25 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I love emusic's selection and that it is DRM-free, but yeah....the bitrate thing sucks. I never know what the bitrate will be. They need to work on that.
posted by melissam at 9:47 AM on June 30, 2008

iTunes Plus is DRM-free, but gives you AAC files. For MP3s, there's emusic,
AmazonMP3, and Napster, who just recently rolled out DRM-free MP3s. I've bought quite a bit from AmazonMP3. Amazon advertises the files as 256kbps, but they're actually high-bitrate VBR, which is even better.
posted by zsazsa at 9:53 AM on June 30, 2008

I like as an option. They are for the most part cheaper then iTunes, and you can typically get a song for $.89 and an album for around $9. All the music on Amazon MP3 are DRM free, and 256kbp/s. They have a selection of over 5 million songs. I think this is as close as you can get to meeting the requirements you have selected above, while also still considering price. The reason I choose Amazon is because it is legal in the US, has a reasonable price, DRM free, and has a great selection.
posted by dpollitt at 9:53 AM on June 30, 2008

CD Baby sells some things in DRM-free mp3s. If you like the kinds of folky music they sell it might work well.
posted by vilcxjo_BLANKA at 10:01 AM on June 30, 2008

iTunes indeed has more and more DRM free music, and it's the default version on some releases. Converting to MP3 is a one-click process.

Amazon has lots of great stuff in MP3 format, and some killer prices. Every Friday, they feature several full albums for $5. Search Amazon by price and you might be pleasantly surprised at what's on sale.

I know some people like for emerging and independent artists, but I don't know all the particulars. Could be worth looking into.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 10:11 AM on June 30, 2008

I like Amazon too.
posted by at 10:11 AM on June 30, 2008

I love emusic. When I can't find slightly obscure artists, they're often on emusic and sometimes ONLY on emusic.

But Amazon is tough to beat. The DRM-free thing and pricing is pretty awesome. Plus, when you download, it automatically adds your purchases to your iTunes library. I like the convenience.
posted by katillathehun at 10:18 AM on June 30, 2008

amazon is nice for legal - mp3fiesta for less than legal.
posted by zeoslap at 10:24 AM on June 30, 2008

Buy a CD...yes. Brand new cd. Rip it into whatever format, whatever bit rate, however you like.

After you do that...sell the cd.

Depending on the money you recover, you could have all the tracks for a brand new cd for about $2-4.

As for rights...I don't know...and I don't care.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:38 AM on June 30, 2008

I used emusic for a good long while and liked it well enough. The selection is good as long as your tastes aren't solidly in the mainstream. There's a bit of a community built around the service (ratings, message boards, and the like) and browsing is great (I loved browsing by release date and finding old gems from the 40s). Their current pricing structure (30 mp3s per month for $11.99, 50 for $14.99, or 75 for $19.99 plus they throw up free tracks through the month) is no mp3tunes, but better than paying for whatever iTunesPlus scams away from folks for DRM-free tracks. They consistently seem to have promotions up, and at the moment you can get 50 free downloads for signing up.
posted by youarenothere at 10:44 AM on June 30, 2008

Seconding buy a CD. But you can't sell it afterwards, that's in clear violation of the copyright act. Keep it as your safety backup in case of catastrophic drive failure. Plus you get the liner notes, and the satisfaction of knowing your music is "your own".

There are starting to be some good digital providers out there (Amazon is beginning to look good), but the selection is shite, if you're into something other than Billboard Top 40 (bit of an overstatement, but let me know when Einstein on the Beach is available in un-DRM'd digital format and I'll recant on the spot!).
posted by Aquaman at 10:44 AM on June 30, 2008

Aquaman: okay.
posted by zsazsa at 10:50 AM on June 30, 2008

Nice one! I formally recant my dissing of Amazon's MP3 service.
posted by Aquaman at 11:10 AM on June 30, 2008

Seconding buy a CD. But you can't sell it afterwards, that's in clear violation of the copyright act.

I'd like to see a citation of law or court precedent supporting that assertion.
posted by nanojath at 11:26 AM on June 30, 2008

Not caselaw, but the only reason you have a right to copy the CD is fair use, which flies out the window once you no longer own the CD.
posted by Brian Puccio at 12:13 PM on June 30, 2008

Don't forget that iTunes does now have the "Plus" section, higher bitrate non-drm tracks at a slightly higher premium, but the selection is so-so (it's mainly EMI plus various indies) - which was cool when it debuted, before Amazon stole their thunder with a huge major label catalog of all DRM free music, often at a savings over even iTunes normal DRM-encumbered rates (I would love to have been a fly on the wall for those negotiations with Amazon, all I can say is, the major labels must REALLY hate Apple).

Definitely check Amazon, they aren't my favorite place in the world but the MP3 store works well, things are fairly reasonably priced and there are often good deals, and I've been surprised by selections several times, though they definitely don't have everything. They make you install a little widget to manage downloads but it's really pretty seamless, and if you already have an Amazon account it's dead easy, you just get right to it, and all a la carte, buy individual songs or full albums, no minimum or subscription business.

eMusic is very worth it if you are a big indie fan. The downside is you have to subscribe, no a la carte purchasing, and if you don't get around to finding stuff in a month your download points don't roll over, you get X every month and it's use 'em or lose 'em. But they have significant portions of the catalogs of nearly all the major indie labels with the notable exception of Sub Pop, who apparently went with Rhapsody, which is, like, WTF Sub Pop but there it is. Still, with heavy hitters like Merge, Matador, Drag City and Thrill Jockey again, if you're an indie fan you can max out those monthly downloads for a long time, and at the highest subscription level it comes out to like a quarter a song. But as others have noted the quality is variable.

There are a ton of little indie digital sellers with widely varying catalogs, but if your taste is major labels Amazon is currently really the only game in town with a broad, DRM free catalog.
posted by nanojath at 1:15 PM on June 30, 2008

Buy used CDs from Amazon,, etc.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:22 PM on June 30, 2008

Like everyone else says, AmazonMP3 is the answer for getting quality, reasonably priced, copyright legit music without DRM.
posted by cnc at 1:23 PM on June 30, 2008 lets you trade your old cds for someone elses for about $1 a trade. i've gotten some fairly obscure stuff this way. they send you prepaid mailers to send the cd (and sometimes the art if requested.)
posted by decaturcomp at 2:25 PM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've been using Rhapsody-to-go for a while and I'm very happy with it. Unlimited downloads and transfers to my mp3 player. $0.99 per song if I want to burn it to a CD (rare for me these days). According to Lifehacker, they now offer DRM-free purchases. I haven't checked into this yet.
posted by Alabaster at 2:33 PM on June 30, 2008

decaturcomp: lets you trade your old cds for someone elses for about $1 a trade. i've gotten some fairly obscure stuff this way. they send you prepaid mailers to send the cd (and sometimes the art if requested.)

I just went to check it out, and see how it compares it to; they appear to offer downloads too, and of popular, recent stuff.
posted by philomathoholic at 2:36 PM on June 30, 2008

Now that LastFM allow UK and US listeners to choose tracks on demand I find myself listening to a lot that way. You can only listen to an individual track 3 times but I have never found that too much of a limit.

If I like something enough at this stage I will often buy the CD - usually second hand from a retailer on amazon. is a non-legal allofmp3 clone which you might have more luck in being able to top up.
posted by rongorongo at 3:48 PM on June 30, 2008

This long-time iTMS customer recently switched to Amazon and hasn't looked back. Their price and selection are fantastic.
posted by mkultra at 8:07 PM on June 30, 2008

Nthing Amazon. While iTunes does have some DRM-free stuff, the bitrate on it is too low for the price and the default of AAC puts me off.

Amazon has recently been running some sales of MP3 albums; Syncronicity and Morrisey's Greatest Hits were both under $5, I am sure if those did well we'll see a lot more back catalog discounts.
posted by phearlez at 9:36 AM on July 1, 2008

I dunno where else you can find the list, but Amazon's daily deals are put into their twitter feed here.
posted by phearlez at 9:54 AM on July 1, 2008

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