Pay to Play

I’ve always liked the idea of file-sharing, but I could never get quite comfortable with it. You download an MP3, and the artist doesn’t get paid for his time, the record company doesn’t get paid for its equipment and marketing, and the RIAA doesn’t get paid for whatever exactly its jackboot activities amount to.


Two outta three was enough to keep me from file-sharing. Mostly.

Yeah, I Napstered a bit, before it got shut down. And I’ve downloaded some songs off of Gnutella and WinMX. But I always had an excuse. Or one of several. They went like this:

I already bought that album, but I lost it. (“Your Honor, I would never have stolen that TV from Best Buy, but I used to have the exact same one before it broke.”)

It’s out of print. And what is this eBay of which you speak?

It never was released on CD.

Just one little song. . .

Of all my petty excuses, only the third one really has any honesty to it whatsoever. Some stuff you just can’t get in a durable format. Out-of-print albums can actually be pretty hard to find for download, so I have gone to eBay for them. (Two I can remember offhand are Michael Penn’s debut album, “March,” and the Mondo New York Soundtrack. If you’ve never heard Dean and the Weenies perform the grunge-lounge ditty “Fuck You,” then you’re missing out.) And, yeah, I downloaded some ’80s one hit wonder-type stuff that I couldn’t find on any of the billions of ’80s compilation CDs at MediaPlay.


All in all, however, the vast majority of the 3,000 tunes on my computer are legit.

But, yeah, I stole a little. Less than I did taping friends’ LPs as a kid, but more than I felt right about. I’ve been willing to pay to download music ever since I first heard of MP3s. No one, however, ever managed to come up with a service worth my money. And the RIAA’s legal antics went far to soothe my troubled conscience. Besides, illegal downloads have some serious drawbacks, which I went into in this post.

However, things might just be looking up. Read:

Apple launched its online music service today, providing almost unlimited usage rights, CD quality audio and reliable downloads for just 99 cents a song.

But you’re out of luck if you live outside the US – the only territory in which the service is available. It’s Mac-only too. It will come to Windows by the end of the year, the company promised, but it could make no such pledge to international Mac users.

The service centres on a new version of iTunes, Apple’s free jukebox software, and provides over 200,000 tracks at launch. According to Apple CEO Steve Jobs, that number will continue to grow “every day”. At its launch last month, BT’s Dotmusic on Demand kicked off with 155,000 songs, so Apple probably has the lead on volume.


I don’t own an Apple (go on and gloat, Lileks), so I’ll have to wait for the service to become PC-friendly.

But a buck a tune, no subscription fee, and portability to the iPod I haven’t bought but keep promising myself I will? Sign me up.

My only concern here is the size of Apple’s library. 200,000 songs sounds (weak pun ever-so-slightly intended) like a lot, but it really isn’t. And old fart that I am when it comes to music, I don’t want to download the latest from that creepy white rapper guy or the newest nasal whining from REM. What I want is a way to find, legally buy, and play pretty much wherever, that half-remembered song from 1977 that Dad used to hate.

The beauty of Apple’s system


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