Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Magnatune is not evil! 

Profiled on the Screensavers yesterday was a new music service: Magnatune. It just goes to show the sad state of the music industry that an upstart can have the catchphrase "We are not evil", but this site really does look good so far.

So, what is it that makes this service so interesting? The first thing is that they refuse to work with record labels at all (hence the lack of evil). Magnatune only will work with artists personally. While many of the artists are thus unsigned, there are also a couple who have gotten rights back from a label (aparantly many classical musicians, for instance, do 5-year contracts with labels at which point the rights revert back to them). You can also find side projects from people that might usually release things under a label.

A lot of people are referring to the site as musical shareware, due to how it works. Basically you can stream or download 128bit mp3s songs or radio stations for free, as long as you aren't using the music for profit. If you decide that you like the music, you can pay a fee for an album. You get an album at a time, but you actually choose how much you feel like paying. From $5 to $18. After that you get your own download page where you can download songs or the whole album in various formats like mp3, ogg, or even a zipped wav file which is totally lossless. Also (and perhaps most importantly), no matter how much you choose to spend, the artist will get a full %50 directly to them. You buy an album for $8 and the artist gets $4 in their pocket just like that. Very cool!

They also have options where you can license music for your projects. They have many predefined options of anything from a non-looping 30 second clip of one song on your website for one month, to a full song as theme music for a feature-length film, scaling the price accordingly. And just like in paying for personal use, the artist gets %50 of this price as well.

With mp3.com going kaput, this looks like a pretty nice alternative. However, there are some pretty big differences. Besides the pricing aspects, there is no download chart to track popular artists, or buying of premade cds. They also have some sort of commitee that which evaluates the quality of the music before they will put it up. So, if you have two songs you made in a day in your basement, you're still out in the cold compared to mp3.com. Also, they are still in the growth phase, so there is no country or rap music yet for instance, but I've been pretty impressed by the quality of a lot of stuff I've tried so far.

I have to say that I really like this site so far... Just the psychology of it is so nice. When listening to something, I know in the back of my head that I can easily buy it at any time and not worry about a DRM scheme. When I actually go to buy I know that I can pay what I want and that it goes to the service and the artist. This actually makes me feel more charitable. Instead of just going with the best deal, it makes me feel like I should pay more if I really like the music, and if I only like it a little, the fact that I can pay less makes me more likely to pay anything at all.

One thing I've thought of for a while now, is that even if you are pirating music of popular artists, the record labels are still winning in a way. You're still getting the music that they are promoting, what they say you should be listening to. With services like these, you can find quality music just by wandering around or putting on one of the radio stations. If you really want to rebel against the system, instead of stealing the system's music, how about finding music outside the system and paying for it? That way we'll actually have a system that works when the old one burns down... ;)

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