First impressions of eMusic, the number 2 online music store

(Also on p2pnet)
As a music fan and someone who believes in my right to make my own software choices on hardware I own, I decided to try out eMusic. This music service is the second most popular online music store, with Apple's iTunes being the top. Unlike Apples iTunes, music purchased through eMusic is made available in vendor-neutral file formats, unlike Apple's iTunes which are encrypted such that they are only interoperable with hardware/software combinations that are approved by Apple.

Note: Apple claims that their FairPlay system is used to stop people from copyright infringement, but basic cryptographic theory documents how this is not possible. The intended recipient of the files and the alleged "attacker" are the same person, and thus the encrypted files and the decryption keys are both available to them.

The site has a 14 day trial which gives you 25 free downloads. I signed up to the "eMusic Basic" which is 40 Song Downloads per month for $9.99 per month. If I find I am a more heavy user I can move to 90 songs per month for $19.99. The downloads don't roll over, so if I don't use my 40 downloads in a given month they don't accumulate in the next month.

One of the complaints I have heard about eMusic is that they include the independents but not the major labels. I consider this a feature since I don't want to financially support people who are lobbying to take my technology property rights away (See the petition for Information Technology property rights), or that sue their customers rather than work to make money from a missed market opportunity. I fully support the policy views of the Canadian Music Creators Coalition who oppose DRM and suing music fans, and support stable government funding for Canadian creators.

My first attempt to download a song was from the All New Revue - Live at the Glenn Gould Studio album from the Barenaked Ladies. I have always been a fan of their music, and have been to a few concerts. The fact that Steven Page has been so involved in CMCC has made financial support of the band that much easier as well.

When I downloaded a song I ended up with a file with an '.emp' file extension. Looking this up on the site told me that this is a file format used by their "eMusic Download Manager". I looked on the site and could not find documentation on how to download music without this download manager. Since one of the motivations of using eMusic over other music services was to protect my choice in software, it seemed to defeat the purpose if the only way to download music was to install a specific piece of proprietary software.

I asked in their help system. The first reply I got was again to send me to the download section for the "eMusic Download Manager". I sent a follow-up message asking for them to confirm that the only way to download music was to use this software. I then received instructions on how to set up my account.

To disable the eMusic Download Manager:

1. Log in to your eMusic account and click on the "Account" link in the upper right of the eMusic homepage.
2. Under Download Options, click on the link entitled "Change Download Manager".
3. Click the button to "Disable the eMusic Download Manager" (if the button says "Enable eMusic Download Manager", then you have already disabled it).

When I did this I could then go back to the album and when I tried to download I received a nicely titled ".mp3" file (MPEG 1.0 layer III, 128 kbit/s, 44100 Hz joint-stereo) rather than a ".emp" file. I believe it is an oversight for eMusic to not have clearly documented this as part of their help files. Had I not thought to confirm in email about the Download Manager I would have just quietly unsubscribed and revoked my public support of eMusic.

I have since downloaded that entire album, and will look for other related songs. As much as I am a fan of Barenaked Ladies, now that I will have 40 additional songs being added to my music collection per month I will be expanding my listening. I think I'm going to look up some of the other musicians part of the CMCC and see if I like their music.

Now that things are working my only disappointment is that the music isn't offered in a better quality format. MPEG 1.0 layer III is a lossy audio compression format. I have been told by audio specialists that the new AAC format that is also the Motion Picture Expert Group (See: MPEG Audio) is of better quality. Ideal is if the audio is not compressed at all by using a format like FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) which would offer the same quality digital audio as is used on a standard CD.

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Emusic downloads don't roll over???

Nonsense. I have been using emusic for many months now but I haven't made any purchases for a while. I just check my account and I have 56 downloads available. I am on the $9.99 plan so if the download didn't roll over I would never have more than 40 downloads available.

This is the 2nd time I have heard this myth, where does this information come from?

Brent Hannah

Source of "myth"

As I only subscribed to the trial at this point, and haven't been there for a month, I was going based on their help files which state:

Q: Do unused downloads carry over to my next billing period?

A: Unused downloads do not carry over to the next billing month.

If they do carry over, this should be advertised as a feature as it would help convince people to sign up on a whim knowing that they can go on vacation or not download for other reasons without loosing any downloads.


Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) consultant.