Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

MP3tunes.com: consumer-friendly music

Jerry Stratton, February 11, 2005

This is what I (and I suspect Apple) were hoping for when the iTunes Music Store introduced, for the time, a relatively restriction-free music download store. Apple’s service was then, and is now, the most consumer-friendly restricted music available, but it is still restricted music.

When Apple introduced the iTMS, other music download stores had to produce more consumer-friendly offerings as well. It always seems to me as if they don’t like having to be consumer friendly. Now there is a new store in town that does want to be consumer-friendly. Where other competitors to the iTMS such as Napster are re-introducing the failed pre-iTMS music rental model, MP3.com founder Michael Robertson is introducing a completely restriction-free music download store.

MP3tunes.com promises, for the consumer, music that can play on any player on any platform, without a monthly fee or the worry that the company is going to go out of business before you buy your next computer.

For artists, it promises an unprecedented $6 per album and 60 cents per track--out of albums that cost $8.88 to download and tracks that cost 88 cents.

The good, the bad, and the missing

Is this a worthwhile site? The answer is yes, no, and maybe. It has good, quality, restriction-free music. That is a major plus.

But the interface is stolen right from Apple’s iTunes Music Store. Except that they only stole Apple’s front page! Most of the browsing pages are just like the front page of the iTMS. But the front page of the iTMS was not designed for browsing all music, it was designed only for seeing new and top music.

On the iTMS, there is a very nice and easy to use browsing tool for viewing artists and their albums in different genres and from different kinds of lists. MP3tunes.com has no way to browse in that respect. You can search, but search is turned off much of the time because, apparently, their search server is not powerful enough, or their database not optimized well enough, to handle all of the search requests they’re getting.

You can currently only browse by “top” artist, ”top” album, or “top” track. If you want to browse for a specific artist, you can do it, but, you need to be web savvy. I only found Jane Jensen by looking at another artist's page, seeing that the artist’s Express URL was http://www.mp3tunes.com/FirstnameLastname, and typed http://www.mp3tunes.com/JaneJensen into the URL bar of my browser.

So, ten out of ten for style, but minus several million for good thinking, okay?

They do have a good selection of indie music, however. The first two artists I looked up, Eytan Mirsky and Jane Jensen, both have at least one album on MP3tunes.com.

Intriguingly, the site has preset Express URLs for many mainstream artists. Alice Cooper, Bob Dylan, Nirvana, Britney Spears, and Foreigner all have pages. There’s nothing on their pages and probably won’t be for a long, long time, but the pages are there.

Buying Jane Jensen

So, after searching the hard way, by typing artist names directly into the URL, I chose to buy Jane Jensen’s Burner. I’ve been a fan of Jensen ever since finding Comic Book Whore hidden in the bargain bin of the local Music Trader. I would have liked to buy one or two more albums from different artists, but without browse or search, it is difficult.

The first time you purchase a track or album, you need to create an account and input your billing information.

  • Bad: After entering your information the first time, it just pops you back to the page of music you wanted to buy--without telling you that you have, in fact, purchased the music.
  • Good: If you try to buy it again, it doesn't let you pay twice for the same album.
  • Annoying as hell: When you buy an album, you need to download each track one at a time. I can see that this would be confusingly easy to skip over a song. You should always count up the number of songs in the album you just downloaded and compare it to the number of files you have.

Even worse: the track names are the artist’s name with a number after it! On Jane Jensen’s Burner, every song is “janejensen-01.mp3”, “janejensen-02.mp3”, etc. This is almost a bad fix for counting up songs--except that of course, if you buy more than one album from the same artist you’ll have more songs by that artist already, and all files will have practically the same name.

Fortunately, iTunes will fix this for you if you tell it to. So, in my opinion, mp3tunes.com does require iTunes. To fix the tracks, I downloaded the music onto a different computer than my main iTunes computer, emptied the music folder, and then, after turning on “Keep iTunes Music Folder Organized” did an “Add to Library”. iTunes then fixed the name of each track’s file so that it was titled the song’s title instead.

As far as ID3 information (title, artist, etc.) the tracks had all of the information filled out correctly except, oddly, for two: track number was filled out, but total tracks on the album was not. And there is some sort of alphanumeric key or code in the “Comments” field.

Download music whenever

This store has two things going for it that the iTunes Music Store does not. First, the music you buy on mp3tunes.com is restriction-free, and not dependent on another company staying in business forever so that you can continue to authorize new computers or continue paying your rental fee.

Second, it keeps track of the music you buy, allowing you to re-download it if you lose it. Of course, the latter does require that mp3tunes.com stay in business, so you don’t want to count on it. Keep backups!

In summary, I hope that MP3tunes.com can fix its problems. I would really like to see restriction-free music downloads turned into a viable business model; especially one that claims to reward the artists as much as MP3tunes.com does.

By the way, if you’re looking for a good album to test this site with, I recommend Jane Jensen’s Burner. Her cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Miss You” is awesome, and of course her own music is great as well.

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