Yes, I am a bit behind the curve. Many have written about the pros and cons of the MP3 digital format and I doubt I will cover any new ground with this post but I thought that in many ways it was important to note my impressions of my first downloaded digital MP3 album. It's a good one BTW - David Kilgour's A Feather in the Engine.
Pete sent me an invitation to join eMusic – something that was deja-vu like, since he was always 'inviting' me to join Columbia House back in those junior high school days to get free records – you know, 12 albums for $.01. This offer was similarly intriguing. They offer 50 free downloads with no commitment to pay a monthly fee, which as a subscriber is $15/mo. for 50 downloads or what equals out to be $.30 a song. How could I say 'no' to free music?
Of course you get no physical LP or CD. No artwork. No liner notes. No lyrics. Nothing to sell if you find that you no longer listen to it. All you get is a compressed computer file that downloads somewhere on your computer and when played back miraculously sounds like music (and much less so on a home system). Through eMusic a typical album will run around $3-4.
But really the most amazing thing about the MP3 stores is that you can preview tracks, pick and download an album quickly and burn a CD in very little time. I did one Saturday morning and it took around 8 minutes from download to burned CD. All the while drinking my morning tea in my comfy chair. So that is pretty close to instant gratification, although I had to remind myself that if I had been in a record store I could easily beat the 8 minute mark from store checkout to car stereo. That is if I had a razorblade. If not, it probably would be a much closer match.
Also, if you are more of the type to buy an album for that 'one great song,' those 50 downloads can probably stretch pretty far over 30 days. Since I'm the type who prefers the album format, my 50 downloads lasted less than 2 days. I got 4 complete albums. Worst part is this means having to wait 28 days until I can get my next instant MP3 fix. Don’t really like this part of the eMusic plan – why not just charge $.30 a track?
So an important question is how much would you pay for an MP3 album? This is not to be confused with what an MP3 is worth(which I will discuss later). My gut tells me it certainly should be priced less than half the cost of a typical cd. The iTunes/Yahoo! $.99/song puts the costs too close in my opinion. I feel eMusic's pricing is much closer to the right ballpark around $3-4 an album.
A good high quality cassette to dub an album used to cost a few dollars and would have the same omissions as the MP3 downloads like lack of cover art and resale value. And the cost would equal maybe 25% of the typical $8-9 LP (This is back in the "C-30, C-60, C-90 Go!" era). This is something I can relate to having done this countless times.
But I think I'd prefer to think of the MP3 tracks being free of charge and that there’s an added $.30 'convenience fee' per track for downloading. Somehow I just feel cheated thinking of paying money for an MP3 which to me has little intrinsic value. In the future will we see people putting their MP3 collections in their will to their loved ones? Well with MP3 collections there certainly wouldn't be any need for fighting over it since multiple copies are a snap. Just give everyone a copy – and hopefully they'll be content and won’t try and sell it. Because if they did they'll just discover Uncle Pete's huge MP3 collection isn't worth much on the open market.
Ok, back to eMusic -- If this were a perfect world, all I would need is a 500GB external hard drive, a MP3 player, an eMusic subscription and an internet connection. My life would be simple. No more clutter or storage issues, cleaning records or changing cartridges. Actually, no more records, no more CDs. Just highly organized music files neatly stored together alphabetically on my computer and accessible in a matter of seconds.
It is a nice thought. But for now that’s all it is.
Old School Mess
Since this space is supposed to have music here's a Link to David Kilgour's MySpace page with "Today is Gonna Be Mine" from A Feather in the Engine