Techcrunch posted a nice article on finding DRM-dree music online. I have long been frustrated with the state of online music sales. While I love iTunes, I have never used the iTunes Music Store because I refuse to buy any DRM-crippled songs. The fact that Apple recently made EMI’s catalog available without DRM is a step in the right direction, but unfortunately most of the music I listen to is on smaller labels. I really want to support the artists I like and would much prefer buying their music over downloading it illegally or buying a CD (only to rip it into iTunes and put it into a box in the garage). But I’m sorry, I’m just not going to buy any music with DRM.
So I was happy to see that a bunch of new options for buying DRM free songs are springing up. Many years ago when they first launched, I bought some music from eMusic (but mainly because this was at the height of the dot-com boom and at the time they were giving away crazy expensive things for free with any music purchase, such as a nice set of Logitech speakers and a Creative MP3 player). Since then they have switched to a subscription model, but I haven’t checked them out lately. From what I hear, their catalog is quite large, particularly with music from smaller labels. Unfortunately it seems to be impossible to view their catalog without signing up for a subscription, which is rather annoying. Still, I might give them another try.
Another site I found via the Techcrunch article is Audio Lunchbox. They seem to have quite a large collection, and I was happy to recognize many small Industrial / Electronic artists that I was familiar with. Their prices are comparable to iTunes ($9.99 per album), but all the songs are DRM-free MP3s (encoded with 192kbps VBR, which is adequate for my purposes). Their website allows individual songs to be previewed, but unfortunately the interface is clunky (for example you cannot jump to a particular song by clicking on it; instead, you have to click “forward” until you get to it) and you can only listen to the first 30 seconds of each song. Why not offer the whole song for preview, but in lower audio quality? It is usually difficult to judge a song by its beginning. Still, these minor issues aside, Audio Lunchbox looks very promising and I will keep this in mind. I would prefer slightly lower pricing ($5-$7 seems reasonable for an entire album), given that I can buy a CD for $13 at Amazon, but at least it is DRM-free.
One thing I was very surprised reading is that two of the music stores (WalMart and gBox) are apparently only compatible with Windows. How somebody can try to build a business on the web and be so ignorant of other platforms is beyond my comprehension…