Many people seem to think iTunes and MySpace are the primary sources of music on the internet. A few may even think of sites like AmazonMP3 or eMusic as alternatives to the afore mentioned monsters. However, if you search around a bit there are many many sites available that offer a range of music that is as interesting, competitive or a better alternative in some cases to the mainstream sites. This series of articles will highlight a few sites each week in the hope of providing the music listener with some alternatives.
Two Unique Sites
Magnatune is the first stop on the tour of online music sites that are highly worth checking out. It has recently been getting more exposure through their inclusion in Songbird and other music players. Their website isn’t the most splashy affair. Instead the designers have gone for a clean interface that is easy to follow and navigate, allowing you to focus on your music choices, instead of being distracted by too much “crowd sourcing” and artists trying to hawk their wares at you.
I am especially appreciative of the terms the offer their artists: 50 percent of the gross. But not just on the recordings they sell, but distribution deals, merchandise, everything. Note that this 50 percent is before Magnatune considers their operating overhead: they are really putting their artists first when it comes to remuneration.
They are also mindful of their licensing. All of their releases are CC BY-NC-SA. This means that many of the artists allow buildnig derrivative works on their work, as long as the attribution is maintained, it is released under the same license, and is not for commerical uses. While I have stated issues with the NC clause of the Creative Commons deeds elsewhere on this site, it is clearly obvious that Magnatune primary concern is maintaining a revenue stream for their artists and themselves, which I don’t have a problem with. (Especially when they aren’t super greedy about it, which we touch on below with the “chose your price” options.)
I’m also appreciative of the fact that they are selective of the music and musicians they select for their site. I’ve been to other sites and dug around in their collections, only to find that I am really only interested in about ten percent of what they offer. With Magnatune I find that I am more interested in eighty to ninety percent of what they offer. In fact, I find so many of their offerings appealing that I find it hard to not sign up for an unlimited download account with them. This brings me to another unique topic with Magnatune: their pricing scheme.
I know of no other site that actually allows you to set the price that you want to pay for a recording. Yes, other sites leave it up to you to decide what you want to donate to an artist. However, by taking this ideology and asking you to place a price on the individual recording there is something else that is happening: you are voting with your $$$. In fact, their recordings have been so appealing to me, that I generally start thinking of paying in terms of $12 and up, rarely thinking that I only want to pay $5-$11 dollars, as most of the material I’ve listened to is comparable, if not better than, much of what I’ve heard coming from large music companies.
This actually causes a conundrum for me: I’ve been considering purchasing one of their unlimited download accounts. There is so much material that I really like on Magnatune, that I estimate that I could spend over $1000, and still not have everything that interests me. That’s a strong case for buying a yearly or lifetime download subscription. On the other hand, I feel that if I did buy a subscription, my money would be getting more thinly spread between the artists, and I really want to have them benefit directly from my purchases.
And isn’t that just an odd situation? How often do you read of someone wanting to actually pay an artist more money, as opposed to finding a way to getting everything free? I think these statements are the most convincing argument for Magnatune, and why you should check them out: you may find yourself wondering how do you actually appropriately compensate the artists, and the site for the service they provide.
The Kahvi Collective was one of the first Netlabel sites that I found online, and to this very day, remains one of my favorites. They focus on electronica releases in many styles: IDM, Ambient, Drum-n-Bass, Instrumental, and many others. With over 280 releases since they started in January of 2001 they have built a wildly varied and eclectric range of releases that is certaing to have something for just about everyone.
The Kahvi Collective encourages listeners to make donations directly to their artists, so you know where your money is going. They run the site as a non-profit organization, and ask that you make donations to them (but don’t hit you over the head with the donations…in fact, the page for submitting donations has another form for making a donation to an artist, putting the artists on equal footing with their organization).
A few of their artists have created commercial releases avaialable through iTunes, beatport, amazon.com, MSN Music, eMusic, and other sources. These releases are featured in their own section of the site and are kept separate from the free releases. There are also a few Kahvi Collective releases of tracks that aren’t avaialble elsewhere, which are used to raise funds for the site. Another excellent choice for a business model.
The only issue I have with the Kahvi Collective is their choice of CC BY-NC-ND-SA for their licensing scheme. While I understand the need / desire to support artists, I would like to see this changed: instead of applying this license across the board to all releases, I would really like to see the artists be able to make other choices if they desire.
Okay, this is all for this week. I hope you take some time and check out these sites. They are really worth the time spent, and worth even more if you make some contribution to them. Next week I’ll present a couple of completely free download sites (free as in no $$, and libre music).
The Finding Music Online: Part One by The CerebralRift, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.