I first joined eMusic in 2006, back when it was “completely devoted to the discovery of new or established independent artists.” When I joined, the deal was that in exchange for roughly $20 a month I could download 90 tracks. I found a lot of great music in those days. Steadily, however, that number has declined over the years. First, eMusic busted me down to 50 downloads a month for the same price and last year they changed their payment system completely, moving from credits for tracks to having tracks priced in dollars and cents. Since I am a long-time subscriber, I get a bit of a bonus, so for my $20 a month I get $23 to spend on downloads. For that, I usually end up with 3 or 4 albums that are new to me each month.
The change in pricing largely resulted from eMusic’s efforts to get the 4 dominant major labels into its shop. But a consequence of this abandoning of the indie-only ethos was an abandonment of eMusic by some of the key indie labels. Matador and Merge, two of the labels whose back catalogue I most enjoyed raiding, are no longer available. This came after another favorite label, Drag City, pulled their wares in 2007, citing the low return they got on purchases of their albums.
Frankly, since all these changes took place, I’ve found my experiences with eMusic to be more and more frustrating. For instance, last winter, when I purchased Pedals by The Aluminum Group , I noticed little jumps in the music in a couple of songs. In the past, I would have simply re-downloaded the album and the problem likely would have been fixed. But they’ve changed their re-download policy, essentially making it a re-purchase policy. In order to not be charged and to download the music anew, I had to go through their customer support. I filled out a form describing the problem and received the following e-mail:
Thanks for your message.
Unfortunately we have been unable to reproduce the download issue you reported. It’s possible that the issue was temporary.
So that we can better investigate this issue please reply with the exact time in each track where you hear the defects.
We appreciate your patience as we work to resolve this for you. We want to get you back to enjoying your eMusic membership as soon as possible!
I never got a new download of the album. I didn’t find the time to listen to the entire album to take down the exact time that each song skipped. And now I never listen to that album because I have a defective copy of it. In effect, it was a wasted purchase. (I originally purchased it after reading that Edith Frost had performed “some girl-group style backup vocals along with Sally Timms and Amy Warren, on the songs ‘Easy On Your Eyes” and “Miss Tate.'” Edith’s albums aren’t on eMusic because she’s on Drag City.)
Yet, I still use the service. I think what keeps me on board is the subscription aspect. I enjoy the recurring impetus to find some new music and I usually look forward to the one afternoon a month I get to spend combing through online archives, sampling 30 second clips, and following connections until I make my ultimate purchases.
But who knows how much longer I’ll stick with them. I’ve found it quite disappointing that two new releases I want to buy — Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks’s Mirror Traffic and Wild Flag’s self-titled debut — are not available on the service for which I am already paying. Maybe I should just mark a day on the calendar each month to spend $23 dollars buying directly from record labels, through Amazon, and from Bandcamp.