Fast Company

Five Ways to Buy Music Online

The skinny on top music sites.

One day, the MP3 revolution may make listening to CDs seem as archaic as grooving to eight-track tapes. But that day isn't here just yet. Right now, when it comes to finding music you love, the real power of the Web is in the ability browse and buy CDs. It offers the widest selection of titles, ways to listen before you buy, and opportunities to design the exact CD you want to own. Here's Fast Company's guide to shopping for music online -- whether you're looking for the latest from Erykah Badu, or an ancient Aretha Franklin. You decide which online music source is playing your song.

Site Amazon.com's Music Store
www.amazon.com/music
CDNow
www.cdnow.com
Rock.com
www.rock.com
CustomDisc
www.customdisc.com
The Global Electronic Music Marketplace
www.gemm.com
Collection The Web retailing giant's huge selection of all things musical includes hundreds of thousands of CDs in every imaginable genre, plus used records, tapes, and even sheet music. A massive warehouse of a site with more than 500,000 music-related items ranging from the latest Red Hot Chili Peppers CD to carrying cases for your tunes. This site is like a neighborhood record store with more than 300,000 CDs. It brings the personality and 'tude of a local music shop to the Web and covers local music scenes around the country. You create your own compilation CD, from a selection of more than 200,000 tunes. Choose up to 70 minutes of music per CD, add cover art, name, and buy your own album - all in about 15 minutes. A music clearinghouse, the site lists some 5.8 million individual new and used CDs, tapes, imports, and LPs. It's the eBay of music - the place to start if you need to add an obscure title to your collection.
Greatest Hits The site's recommended "essentials" are grouped by artist, style of music, or year. Check out the top 100 Amazon "bestsellers," and see what's been bought by others who share your taste. The "fast-forward rewards" system works like frequent-flier miles, earning you points with purchases. The "Wish List" lets friends and family know what you want. Personal service. Can't remember the title of a song? Send questions here. And just try to stump columnists Brett Milano, the rock expert, and Milo Miles, the jazz and classical-music expert. Select from Billboard Top Hits from 1955 to 1989 to make a fun retro CD. And if the result isn't music to your ears there's a 100% six-month, money-back guarantee. Selection. This isn't a store, it's really a global marketplace. It's like being able to comb the inventories of more than 2,000 music stores around the world simultaneously.
Playlist Free, legal tunes here! Beyond just listening to clips before you buy, you can also download entire songs in MP3 from some 20 artists, including Pavement, Public Enemy, and Lyle Lovett. There are 500,000 song clips to listen to here in 30-second bites, which you can try out before you buy. Solid. There are typically five sound-clips to test-drive for every CD the site sells. The whole store. You can hear a 30-second clip of any song this site sells before you add it to your CD. None. You can't listen before you buy here.
Static The experience is a little like buying drugs from an investment banker. The service is flawless, but it's too squeaky clean for its own good. These are, after all, funky grooves we're talking about. Ears beware! When you download the sound clips, they play at wildly different volumes, so you may inadvertently end up blasting yourself. Technical difficulties. Unfortunately, the cool indie atmosphere brings with it indie-like technical problems - like the entire site being temporarily unavailable. Bruce Springsteen? Who's he? There are lots of songs here, but the selection of big- name artists is still quite limited. You can really run up shipping costs if you make multiple purchases, since your items will likely come from many different sources.

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