With all the focus on the Napster glasnost and Urge as part of the revamped Wndows Media troika, there's been a lot of discussion on the "closed" nature of iTunes Music Store and how it is the only online iPod-compatible store for music. This has never been the case. Long before the iTunes Music Store and even the iPod were launched, eMusic.com was selling DRM-free music in the nearly universally supported MP3 format. The downside has been that it hasn't been able to attract content from major — or even, it seems, many independent — labels.
I checked out the site for the first time in a while tonight. The layout is clean and easy to navigate, but I had a hard time finding much music I like and the site isn't helping itself posting AMG reviews that say things like this regarding Todd Rundgren And His Friends:
As well-intentioned as this was meant to be, it really doesn't add much to his catalog and essentially just gives session players like Steve Lukather and Kulick's brother, Bruce, a showcase for their talents. But they have already proven their worth on their own recordings, making this a non-essential item for all but dedicated Rundgren collectors.
Editorial integrity is one thing, but you'd never see such a damning review on Amazon.com. Worse, eMusic combines some of the worst of both worlds in charging a subscription fee for a limited number of downloads! In eMusic's defense, those downloads can be used practically anywhere digital music can be played, with no limits on the number of machines on which they can be used. Furthermore, unlike with services such as Napster, the songs won't expire if you cancel your subscription. Still, there's no way I could find enough content on the service to justify a subscription (although I admit I'm not a big fan of live music which is featured heavily), and that would certainly be true for more discriminating consumers.
As usual, some of the gems seem to be among unsigned artists but, if that's your bag, you're better off surfing garageband.com or cdbaby.com.