After the website was gobbled up by Apple in December of last year, we began to fear for the future of digital music, not only because Apple's iTunes Store was amassing more and more power, but to put it simply: We like options.
If Apple can control the pricing models, distribution and music types, they'll eventually form a monopoly on digital distribution. This is bad news -- not because Apple is inherently evil, but because without strong competition labels will be able to push for higher prices and there won't be anything we can do about it.
Luckily we still have choices. While Lala is the only one we've found that did cloud music purchases and allowed for full album streams without a monthly subscription, we're not out of options yet.
5. Independent Record Stores: Twist & Shout, Wax Trax, Black and Read, Independent Records, etc. Okay, we get that the reason you buy digital music is because you don't like having the hard copies around anymore. Even still, there are records and CDs worth purchasing every once and a while. If nothing else, supporting your local bands at shows and purchasing things face-to-face is sure to make a few people happy.
4. Subscription Services: eMusic, Rhapsody, Napster While these three differ slightly, the same premise flows through all of them. Pay a monthly fee, get music. eMusic offers some great independent tracks and boatloads of rare and hard to find jazz. Rhapsody and Napster both have a lot of popular music and may or may not have a good selection -- as of right now, their websites are impossible to navigate. Hopefully this will be remedied in the future. One more to keep an eye on is Spotify, which isn't available in the US yet, but looks like it could hold the key to our streaming music collection dreams.
3. Independent Online Stores: Insound, Amie Street, 7Digital It's a bit weird to think of an online store as being independent, but right now, there isn't a better word for them. Insound and 7Digital both feature a straight-forward download and go method with albums and tracks following the iTunes pricing model. There are sales to be had here and there, but for the most part, the tracks are about equal with the iTunes store. Amie Street takes a more experimental approach, with tracks increasing in price based on popularity, with the cap at 99 cents. If you break into a band quick enough, you can score an album on the cheap, but if you're late to the party, you'll be paying about the same as everywhere else.
2. Direct-from-the-Band Services: Noisetrade, Bandcamp, Paypal, Labels Noisetrade and Bandcamp have both been discussed here before, but for those wary of an added click, the premise is simple: Band prices album, fans buy album, or alternately, fans price and then purchase album. It's worth noting that many independent bands have their own shops set up on their websites and offer purchases via Paypal -- an excellent way to give money directly to the band and save some cheddar in the process. The same goes for buying direct from the label, an often-overlooked method for album purchases.
1. Digital Chains: Amazon, Wal-Mart We hate to admit it, but the best way to combat Apple's increasing popularity is by supporting the heavy-hitters. Amazon has a massive collection of well-priced DRM-free MP3s and constantly has unbeatable sales. While they're not exactly the little guy, they do offer the closest thing to an iTunes Store quality selection. It might come as no surprise that Wal-Mart has entered the game too and it has stuff on the cheap. While you're not going to find the newest tracks from Arcade Fire here, you will find enough pop-country and gospel to keep your grandma happy for months.