Why I’m Not Very Keen On Buying Digital Music

I’ve been wanting to buy two Darren Hayman releases for a while: the EPs Losing My Glue and Songs For Harmonium And Drum Machine. The former was only available on CD as a free give away at a show, whereas the latter was released as a limited edition vinyl record and I ain’t got no turntable. Fortunately, they’ve both also been released digitally at various online stores.

So I looked into buying both EPs from the store emusic, and they even advertise that you’ll get 25 free downloads if you sign up for a free trial. Hey, that means I could sign up and get both of those releases for free! However, to sign up you have to give them your credit card information. The site also uses a monthly subscription model, as you pay a monthly fee to get a fixed number of downloads for that month. I’m a bit weary of signing up for something like that; though they say it’s a free trial, it may say somewhere in the small print that you also need to subscribe to their services for at least a month after the trial period. I’m not very keen on this kind of subscription model overall; I want to pay for what I want and what I use, not end up with a number of slots I need to fill. Not to mention that there are several albums that have many, often shorter, tracks, which would require a lot of slots to get, and in effect costing more.

So emusic clearly wasn’t the way to go for purchasing these releases digitally.

Then I looked into buying them from the  iTunes Store. So I downloaded the needed software to access it – and boy do I hate it when you have to download software just so you can access a store – and made the needed registrations. The Losing My Glue EP was priced at 16 NOK, which seemed like a reasonable price. I tried finding out some more information about this particular digital copy of the release, such as how the files I’d get would be encoded, their file type and quality, and if there’d be any copy protection, but I wasn’t able to find out anything at all. So I just tried buying the release, figuring it’d probably work, and with 16 NOK not being all that much to potentially lose.

Success! Except, it turned out the files were in the m4a format, which my PMP (Portable Media Player) can’t read.

So then I had to find, download, and install software that would let me convert m4a files into mp3 files. I did, gave it a go, but for some reason the time counter (or whatever it’s called) on the files went haywire; they played okay, but when I played them in Winamp the files registered them as being about six times as long as they actually were. I’ve experienced some audio files with the same problem here and there, and they generally make things tricky when you want to bookmark, skip, or fast forward using any standard audio player or your PMP. Fortunately the same program let me convert m4a files into wav files also. So I did, then used my standard CD ripping software, CDex, to convert the wav files into mp3 files. Somewhere along the road I started doing some research on audio encoding quality as I started worrying that maybe I weren’t churning out mp3 files of the optimal quality level, and maybe that some quality had gotten lost on the way from m4a to wav to mp3.

So no more iTunes store for me. Using three different programs to get the files you want – plus having to do some research on encoding – is too much of a hassle.

So for the EP Songs For The Harmonium And Drum Machine I gave amazon.co.uk a spin, which also has a download store. A bit over 3 GBP for the release seemed like an okay price. They also advertised that the files would be in mp3, encoded at 256 Kbps, and that they’d be playable on most any mp3 player. So that sounded good and reasonably straight forward. I tried using the one-click purchase function, but then I’m told I need to download and install some odd program of theirs before finishing my purchase and downloading the files. Oh joy, another piece of software I need to download and install just so I can be allowed to buy stuff. How consumer friendly.

I download and install the software as they ask me to do, I try again, and I’m told that their download store is not available to non-UK residents.Yes, that makes sense, as it’s awfully expensive to ship non-physical digital purchases abroad. The American amazon.com site seems to have the same policy, not selling mp3s to non-US residents.

So I guess I’ll just wait until someone makes this release available for free online and get it that way, then maybe send Darren a couple of pounds by PayPal or mail.

There are actually a couple of decent-ish, nearly no nonsense digital music stores I’ve used though; there’s CDBaby – (which can be a bit expensive) and there’s the SimBioticStore (which, unfortunately, no longer exists). They’ve been good at just giving you direct links to the files you want, letting you download and re-download freely, with no convoluted hoops to jump through. The SimBioticStore would also let you download the files in the lossless FLAC format (in addition to mp3), the format of choice for audiophiles with gigantic hard drives or very small music collections.

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