So it’s been going ’round the internet that eMusic is making big changes this month. To hear them tell it, they’re adding over 250,000 new tracks to their system because of a new deal with Universal Music Group. Fine. I’m all for expanding consumer choice. But it doesn’t take long for this to get shitty. In order to get the Universal deal, eMusic had to change their price scheme to bring it more in line with the I-Tunes (and Amazon and just about everybody), price-per-song style of doing business. Before, I paid $20 dollars a month and got 50 “credits” good for song downloads. I could usually get four albums a month for $20. I was happy. What eMusic didn’t want to say explicitly is that their price “change” meant you were going to get “less” for your hard-earned “money.” I’m not alone in my disdain for this “change.”
eMusic’s shenanigans have had an unintended result (at least I hope it was unintended) that’s starting to get a lot of attention: indie labels like Beggars Group (which includes Matador, 4AD, Rough Trade, and XL) and Merge have opted not to go along with the new, awful scheme at eMusic. Which means artists like the National, Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, She & Him, Titus Andronicus, Deerhunter, the Arcade Fire, Spoon, Neutral Milk Hotel, Dinosaur Jr., Camera Obscura, Art Brut, Jarvis Cocker, and you get the point will no longer be available (or their stuff will be limited to off-label releases and compilations) on a site that once claimed to be the “no. 1 site for independent music.” But you can get the new Weezer atrocity for just $8.50, as well as albums by Fall Out Boy, Hole, and Steely Fucking Dan. Goodie. A press release from Beggars Group USA says that eMusic “was the dedicated home for independent music and is, in our view, not that any more.” They’re not kidding: if you go to eMusic right now, you’ll find more Ted Nugent than Ted Leo, which ain’t how it should be (Leo and the Pharmacists’ Living with the Living, on Touch and Go Records, is still available as I write this).
What’s clear is that eMusic had to change something to lure in Universal and that change was a bad deal for the smaller labels who, let’s be honest here, provide a ton of the music indie snobs like myself seek on eMusic. The trade-off must have been worth it to the folks at eMusic, and maybe it will be. But the loss of some of the best indie bands in the country could also be devastating (and maybe it should be). I can’t help but wonder, as I cancel my subscription yet again, if eMusic hasn’t just pissed away the one thing that made them distinct among so-called “legitimate” download sites. They emailed out a petition you can sign if you want to (ahem) beg Beggars Group, Merge, and a couple other labels to come back to eMusic, but I didn’t sign it. I have the nagging feeling that those labels got fucked by eMusic or, at the very least, got asked to fuck over their customers. I admit that I don’t have concrete evidence at the moment (let’s face it – I don’t have the cultural cachet of a Pitchfork so no one’s gonna return my emails asking what the fuck happened), but I’m pretty familiar with the artists on Beggars Group and Merge and those are labels that provide an extremely high value-for-money to their fans and I have a hard time believing that they would essentially make their stuff less available to those fans unless there was a good goddamn reason.
The first time I stopped being an eMusic subscriber was when I got fed up with the ratio of stuff they had that I didn’t give a fuck about to stuff they had that I wanted. When they fixed it, I rejoined them and was quite happy with them until this month. Just browsing through the Beggars Group roster, I see a lot of great stuff that won’t be available anymore. And, regardless of what eMusic says, it’s on them. Before they implemented their new scheme this month, those labels were happy keeping their music on the site and that music is gone because of changes eMusic chose to make. One has to guess that eMusic is doing what they’re doing to keep pace with the I-Tunes people, but they’ve inadvertently made it so I-Tunes can offer me something eMusic no longer can: National albums.
Even if I could forgive the fact that most of my favorite bands will no longer be available on eMusic (as I write this, for some reason, even the newest Hold Steady record is gone from the site. That does not bode well), I’d have a hard time looking past the whole thing where my money gets me less. eMusic tries to put the focus on the fact that the price of my plan hasn’t gone up, but if I pay the same amount of money and get less, how the fuck are you helping me? Oh, they also want to give me a paltry three dollar “loyalty bonus” every month, which will also not go as far as my eMusic money went in October. The bottom line, eMusic, is that there’s basically no way on earth to give me less for my money and make me happy about it. I’m better off just saving my twenty bucks a month for a trip to Amoeba.
At the moment, it’s hard to say what effect the loss of some of the best bands going today will do to eMusic, but it had an immediate negative effect on me as an eMusic customer. As I write this, I’m no longer an eMusic member and I made sure to let them know it was because they fucked things up this month. To be clear, I have no problem with the fact that eMusic added shitty bands from a major label – there are plenty of very shitty indie bands on eMusic too. My problems are 1) in order to get the additional shitty music, eMusic drove some of the best artists working today away from their site and 2) they trumpeted the fact that they didn’t raise their prices while hoping I would ignore the fact that my money buys me significantly less music than it did before. I’m guessing that I’m not the only person who has these problems and I’m guessing that I won’t be the only guy getting out of his subscription as soon as humanly possible.