Music News

Sony Ruins eMusic's Indie Credibility, Raises Rates

These troubling financial times call for belt-tightening across American society. We all know what's going on with the auto industry, and the record industry is not safe from this recession. As announced Monday, online music retailer eMusic -- one of the largest on the web -- made a deal with Sony Music Entertainment to feature Sony Music tracks through their service. eMusic, a New York-based company, has some 400,000 subscribers, generally described as hip adults who enjoy scouring eMusic's archives for their indie rock fix. Artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson and Bill Joel will now join the ranks of Vampire Weekend, Radiohead and TV on the Radio. The move also means that eMusic will increase its rates -- the most troubling aspect of the deal -- drawing ire from its loyal subscribers.

eMusic users usually pay something along the lines of $11.99 a month to download 30 songs -- free of any DRM bullshit and usually in a 192 kbps VBR bitrate (believe me, bit rate matters a lot, yet 192 kbps is too low for VBR) -- which rounds out to about 40 cents per song, much less than the prices at iTunes (a service that usually sticks you with shitty, low-quality 128 kbps AAC files, yet sometimes lets you have higher quality 256 kbps files still in the awful AAC format). These rates will no longer be available, as users will see their amount of downloads a month drop as well as an increase in the price for their eMusic subscription plan. Naturally, eMusic -- a haven of indie rock and other artists who aren't on American Idol or Disney's current roster -- is the cooler, hipper cousin to iTunes. This move with Sony Music Entertainment is troubling, then, because it signals that all good things must, inevitably, come to an end.

eMusic subscribers aren't as miffed by the Sony Music back catalog as they are by the increased prices. One user puts it as such:

I've been an eMusic member for a long time... and this is really annoying news to me. I don't really care all that much about Sony's back catalog for the most part, and I suspect a lot of eMusic fans won't either, although I could be wrong. For me eMusic has always been a discreet way to get new indie music from small labels legally and at a very low price. They just announced that they're going to gut my membership nearly in half for the same monthly price (50 downloads a month versus 90) -- that's more than "slightly raising" its prices, proportionally speaking. I might cancel and go the route of being more selective via other channels, where I know the money is getting less fully absorbed by the retailer's infrastructure (Amazon or Boomkat as 2 examples that come to mind)... I suspect others are likely to do the same.

(Compliments of Dave Allen, aka the original bass player from Gang of Four, and his top-notch blog, Pampelmoose.)

Yancey Strickler, eMusic's Editor in Cheif, has issued a statement (or began the damage control, whatever you choose to call it is up to you) that comes off as lame attempt to paint Springsteen's Nebraska into some cool, hip record that 18 year old fans of Animal Collective and Spoon should give a shit about. eMusic is his baby, though, and he wants his subscribers to know that his service isn't giving up their credibility just by adding Billy Joel's entire catalog. While this isn't the big issue with loyal eMusic subscribers, it seems to be all Strickler cares about at this point in time. Prince hike, you say? But what about Lou Reed's Berlin? That album is really cool, kids! Yeah, way to go, Strickler.

July 1 is the date when all the madness at eMusic begins.

Check out Dave Allen's take on everything over at Pampelmoose. Zed equals zee also has a top-notch take on the matters at hand. Read the original article in The New York Times here.

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Michael Lopez