A Guide to Buying Music Online

2006 may go down in history as the year that music subscription sites came to the forefront. What began with Napster’s efforts to retool itself as a real business has turned into a business model for almost all of the major services. Yahoo, Rhapsody, Microsoft and AOL have focused their efforts on subscriptions after failing to lure people away from iTunes with cheap tracks–and you may be surprised to learn that these services offer great deals. The idea of paying another monthly charge can be difficult to swallow, but for DJs, buying music online vs in store can be worth its weight in gold.

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Progress: It Comes at a Price

Where pricing is concerned, the playing field for music downloads is pretty level. Most of the major services, such as Napster and Rhapsody, charge roughly $10 per month for the lowest tier of service, and they charge slightly more for on-the-go options that allow you to load songs to your portable device. By keeping a plan active for about three years, you can save hundreds of dollars.

However, there’s more to learning “where can I buy mp3 songs” than just price. For example, if someone else in your house owns an mp3 player, the plan should accommodate everyone. Some services allow you to load multiple players, while others offer more limited options. A DJ or serious audiophile will want tracks with a high bitrate, and not all services offer them.

Finding New Music

With all the choices that are out there, you may end up feeling a bit lost among all the new artists. Thankfully, many services offer help with the discovery of new music, and online radio stations play tunes of a specific genre. If you hear something you like, it’s simple to add it to your library, and some services allow you to create playlists based on genres and artists you like.

The Standouts

Unlike most of its rivals, Music Now does not need client software; all you need is a web browser, and you can play any playlist or track in the site’s entire catalog. You’ll be able to listen anywhere, and music videos are a great add-on, as is the XM radio section. Unfortunately for you DJs, you can’t remotely access your stored music. Napster is right up there with the best, offering an accessible, easy-to-use interface and a long list of features.

Other Options

If you still like to buy your tracks from an mp3 music store, you’re not locked into using iTunes. Sony Connect, BuyMusic and other sources sell single DRM tracks, with prices of up to .99 per song and $10 per album. eMusic sells unrestricted mp3 files that you can copy, burn and transfer to other players, but you have to subscribe and your per-month downloads are limited.

With many online music subscription services sharing the same basic premise, it can be difficult to make the right choice. All of the major players have a trial period, with some lasting up to a month. Before signing on, make sure to try a few services–you’ll be thankful that you did.