downloading music,, lala, streaming music
Music streaming service and digital music store

Enjoying Music on the Web—Legally

November 07, 2009
by Liz Colville
As governments, corporations, artists and fans fight over the tenets of music piracy prevention, it is possible to sidestep the legal battle and do things the right way with streaming services, affordable subscription sites and plain old online music stores.

Online Music Stores

Amie Street is a new kind of music store with a sliding price system: The more people buy a song, the more expensive it becomes (with a cap at 98 cents). The site explains that this system “ensures that the public gets music at a fair, community-driven price point.” The site also lets you import your settings and preferences from sites and applications including, Pandora and iTunes to better customize your recommendations. Although it previously had an indie slant, Amie Street recently struck a deal with Sony, but Sony won’t be using the “dynamic pricing” scheme, as Ars Technica recently explained.

The cost: Some albums are free, but sought-after releases are usually around $8 to $10.

eMusic bolsters an impressive collection of music and audio books with written content, including artist profiles and in-depth interviews. The site also benefits from user-friendly searching, browsing and general navigation that keeps track of what you’ve browsed, and it stores a history of what you’ve downloaded. It also has human-powered elements that point you to related artists and to the preferences of other eMusic users.

The cost: Monthly subscription plans are as low as $6.49 for 12 songs.

Amazon MP3 Downloads is notable for its $5 album specials, as well as its extensive database of a variety of genres, including country, pop, classic rock, alternative and electronic/dance. Plus, tracks will play on just about any MP3 player, and often come at a quality of 256 kbps or above. (On each album’s page you’ll see the bitrate defined in the “Format” area next to the album cover.)

The cost: Sought-after releases can be had for $5 to $9.99, though some major releases and many special editions are more than $10.

ClassicsOnline is a satisfying source of music downloads for classical music fans, carrying more than 31,000 CDs and more than 560,000 tracks. Although Amazon also has an extensive classical music collection in its MP3 store, the narrow focus of ClassicsOnline ensures a strong database, and the rated staff reviews are an added bonus.

The cost: Most albums are between $6.99 and $9.99.

Streaming Music Sites

Lala is a free streaming music site as well as a music store with more than 7 million songs in its database. With a free Lala account, you earn 25 free songs, which you can put in a playlist to embed on your blog, or simply retain in your browser-based collection and listen to on repeat. After your 25 credits are used, for 10 cents you get unlimited streaming of a song. For 89 cents, you get to download it and keep it forever.

Pandora is one of the most established music streaming sites, but it’s recently gotten some upgrades: Look for a video section featuring straight-up music videos and exclusive concert series, and a paid subscription plan for big users. The fun of the site is creating “stations” based on a song or artist you like. Pandora uses its recommendation technology to keep you supplied with a steady stream of similar-sounding tracks.

Imeem dubs itself “the world’s leading social music service.” Though it permits streaming and playlist-making like Lala, its strengths are in its event listings, New Music Tuesdays  section, video section and recommendation tool, which points you to artists you might like based on your music preferences. Imeem tilts more in the direction of indie than Lala, which offers more genres.

U.S. Web users, stay tuned for Spotify, a much-hyped streaming service that’s currently only available in the U.K. Spotify features a large collection of albums likely to please a range of music fans. Read more at Wired’s blog, Epicenter, where Eliot Van Buskirk describes the site as “like a magical, all-encompassing version of iTunes.”

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