emusic.com for Classical Music, iTunes for Popular

iTunes music store recently became available in Turkey, were I live, and in many other countries, for the first time. This is a great advantage for those looking for ways to download music legally and those selling the music. The latter point leaves me very puzzled about why it took so long for iTunes to spread in availability. It’s very obviously to the advantage of Apple to be able to sell music everywhere. I can only guess that it is music copyright holders who have been slow to adapt to the reality that mısic is increasingly downloaded, and that if it is not available to download legally potential consumers will use illegal downloads via peer to peer networks, which can be accessed easily using readily available desktop applications. Given the mount music companies claim they lose in this way, one might wonder why they are so slow to make downloads available for payment. Presumably a large part of this is working out agreements in all countries with regard to different companies having the distribution rights for the same recordings. I have no experience in dealing with tis, but I find it hard to believe that the relevant parties could not have reached agreement much sooner. Given how much music companies complain about supposed loss of revenue to illegal downloads and demand tough laws in this area, I have difficulty in finding much respect for them when they are so slow to make legal downloads available.

Since I got into downloading music instead of buying CDs, I have been relying on music.com. I also ripped all of my CDs onto a hard drive, storing them in my iTunes library (iTunes is Apple software for downloading, ripping, storing and playing back audio  and video files, available to users of Mac and Windows computers), and after a few years threw all the CDs out.  I was relying purely on music.com for music downloads, which I was not very pleased about. There have been problems in the past with dud files, adapting to Mac OS X software updates, and the music.com download application freezing at least a couple of times in every monthly download session. Monthly sessions because an music.com account involves a monthly payment after which you can download however many files your monthly payment covers. There is a large amount of popular music genre material on the music.com site, but not the better known albums, and I use it almost entirely for classical music. The fixed payments mean that after downloading several albums there is still some spare credit, which I use fiddling about looking for classic blues, soul and jazz tracks on compilations, or occasionally a whole jazz album since there are some good recordings by current artists available very cheaply.  In general I felt I was getting a second best service compared to iTunes and that I would cancel my music.con subscription as soon as iTunes became available for music in Turkey. The store was already providing free podcasts and Mac applications in all territories.

Once iTunes music store was available to me in Istanbul, I checked through the store and realised that the selection of classical music was much more limited than on emusic.com, while the popular genres were much better represented, most obviously with regard to the more famous acts and recordings. What really brought this home was a look for material by Jonathan Harvey, the English classical (in a very modernist contemporary kind of way) after his death on the 4th December last year, which was very soon after the iTunes music store became available in Turkey. Nothing on iTunes, several recordings on emusic.com. I am particularly interested in Harvey because he had an institutional affiliation with the University of Sussex, where I wrote my doctorate.

The first time I used emusic.com after the iTunes news, I found it greatly improved. There is a new downloader app which does not freeze, which is very quick and smooth, and allows automatic saving of files in preferred music library software (iTunes in my case, of course). There have not been any problem with malfunctioning files for a long time either. So a good experience from emusic.com on Mac, presumably on Windows as well since they must have more experience dealing with Windows as there are a lot more Windows computers. The downloading is not as integrated and satisfying as downloading from the iTunes store in my iTunes library using the iTunes desktop application, but is certainly efficient and pleasant enough. I guess the improvement comes form the competitive pressure applied in territories where iTunes music store was not available until recently. There must be many others like me who used emusic.com primarily because iTunes was not available for downloading music in large parts of the world. In the end, I am happy to be using emusic.com for classical music. Anyone with interests in classical music should use emusic.com, anyone with interests in popular genres should use iTunes.

Of course the popular/classical distinction is not a clear and stable one. I like Medieval chansons/troubadour music, which was obviously a popular form in origin (though also linked with aristocratic and court culture), but is more available on emusic.com than on iTunes, so can be treated as something that has become ‘classical’. On the ‘popular’ side,  iTunes will enable me to build up my rock, blues, soul and jazz collection, with I expect the biggest emphasis on jazz. My first iTunes download was jazz, an album I had only previously owned on cassette, Charles Mingus, Ah Um. iTunes has several versions available, for my first download I chose the original album version. It was a great moment, downloading an favourite of an album  and listening to it for the first time in quite some years. New technology can undermine some connections with the past, as in cassettes becoming obsolete, but can then reconnect us with those musical experiences and inner memories. It was a great  feeling to start my iTunes acquisitions in that way.

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