Digital Rights Management: These three little words send chills down every music lover's spine--because one of the biggest complaints about music purchased from online behemoths like iTunes and Rhapsody is that those stores (largely) encumber tracks with digital rights management (DRM) software that restricts how and where you play the music you purchase.
So what's a music lover to do if they want to acquire tunes digitally? Though iTunes has begun selling DRM-free music and is rumored to be dropping DRM completely, most of its selections still remain protected. Other music stores are starting to go DRM-free, a sign that the music industry is finally listening to customers.
But you don't have to wait for the big stores to join the DRM-free revolution. PC World editors have compiled a list of our ten favorite online music stores that offer huge selections of DRM-free music at reasonable prices. Even better, these songs are sold in formats compatible with iPods, Zunes, and most portable audio devices. Slacking on holiday gift shopping? Many of these stores offer gift certificates as well.
Of these, my favorite site is Amie Street, because of its innovative pricing system and its ease of use. Now the list, in no particular order.
eMusic: Looking to do your music and audio books shopping in one place? This subscription-based music store offers a broad selection of indie music and audio books in MP3 format. In fact, it is the world's largest retailer of independent music and the world's second-largest digital music retailer overall offering over 3.5 million tracks and more than 2000 audio book titles. You can also access editorials by eMusic's team of music experts, recommendations, and member playlists. eMusic's subscription program allows you to download a certain number of MP3s per month for a flat rate. For example, 30 downloads per month costs $11.99 per month, and 50 songs is $14.99 per month. Hate the service? Cancel anytime and the music is still yours to keep.
Amazon: The online retail giant was the first music store to sell DRM-free MP3s from the Big Four--EMI, Universal, Warner Music, and Sony BMG. Browsing through Amazon's selection can be annoying--the interface is at times unwieldy and obtuse--but Amazon has some fantastic deals. For example, every Friday, Amazon's editors feature five albums for $5. And these aren't bargain-barrel items: Editors pick musicians as diverse as The Minutemen, Motorhead, and the Saturday Night Fever sound track. Individual songs vary from $0.79 to $0.99, while whole albums range from $1.99-$8.99.
Jamendo: This community-based site differs from others on our list because the music is absolutely free. That's right: No subscriptions, no per-track cost, no album download fee. And no limitations. The catch? You probably haven't heard of most of artists on the site. Top 40 this isn't, but that's why Jamendo is so fun. You can find everything from Chilean folk pop to Italian metal to the next big indie hip-hop star. Listen online to any song and download it either directly from the site (in MP3 format) or through BitTorrent servers (where you can find MP3 and OGG formats). This site is completely legal because its artists use Creative Commons licenses, the same licenses used by Flickr, Deviantart, and other content-sharing sites.