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Monday, December 22 12:01 EST

Reviews: Digital Music Stores: Introduction

By Brian Briggs

iTunes Music Store - Napster - Musicmatch
- Wal Mart - BuyMusic - EMusic

NapsterReviewing digital music stores is like reviewing a movie in production. During the few weeks I have worked on this review Musicmatch overhauled their music store pages and corrected a bug, Apple corrected an annoying "feature" of their jukebox, and Wal Mart opened their own music store. As companies compete for market share you can expect rapid changes from each of these services to stay competitive. New competitors such as Amazon and Microsoft would change the landscape even more. It should only be good news for music buyers.

BuymusicI didn't start out this process with a desire to review all the music services, but as a desire to have a "legal" music collection. I found myself jumping from service to service to see what was offered, and found that there wasn't one met all my needs, but some were closer than others.

EMusicA few general notes about each service. All the songs that you buy have various licenses attached to it, and are in a protected format except for EMusic. Expecting the RIAA-backed services to give you unprotected files in the format you want is a bit unreasonable. I am aware the protection and the licenses can be easily violated, but that is not my desire nor the purpose of this review.

iTunesI used each of the services and bought music or subscribed to the service from each of them. Some of the services include digital music jukeboxes, which will be covered, but not the emphasis of the reviews. If you are looking for something to only play MP3s and nothing else then this is not your review. Also, all these service were tested on a Windows XP system with a broadband Internet connection. Not all choices are available on other operating systems. Services are only available to people in the US, except most songs from EMusic. We just can’t trust people in other countries yet.

MusicmatchAvailability of songs that you want is probably the most important issue, but one that cannot be reviewed. I have listed the songs I bought from each service. Please, no comments about my musical tastes. There were several songs I looked for on each service that none of the services had. Most of them were songs from soundtracks. They were:

Self – Stay Home
Gary Jules – Mad World
Phish – Heavy Things
Howard Shore – Uruk Hai

RhapsodyOnly Napster and EMusic carried Ana Ng by They Might Be Giants.

Wal MartMusicmatch and Wal Mart did not have songs from Green Day or Tenacious D. Wal Mart also only had edited versions of songs with explicit lyrics.

What follows are reviews of each individual service including screenshots from each. Since each of us has different listening habits and tastes, I answer the questions like "How much does it cost?" and "Who would want this service?"

If you plan on adhering to the licenses and restrictions from each service then you should read their EULAs closely. The rights listed in the individual review are not intended as a substitute for a lawyer.

Next: iTunes



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