10 Best (and DRM-free) Online Music Stores

Amie Street: In this independent online music store, community members collectively determine the price of a song. Amie Street uses an algorithm to calculate prices based on demand: All songs start free and rise in price up to $0.98 depending on how frequently they are downloaded. You can earn credits by RECing (the site's term for recommending) songs you think will be a hit. Whenever a song you've RECed goes up in price, you earn free credit. Amie Street offers MP3s from a dizzying number of genres and artists, from lesser-known figures such as Dennis Driscoll to big-name bands like Pavement and of Montreal.

Napster: Oh Napster, I have such fond memories of staying up all night with you and illegally downloading hundreds of emo-band albums my freshman year of college. But then that grouchy drummer from Metallica and the RIIA had to go and ruin all the fun. Well, it's nice to see that Napster is back--and now in its third incarnation, with the launch of a DRM-free MP3 store, it's serving up some major competition to Amazon and Apple. Napster now has over 6 million DRM-free WMA-encoded files available for purchase, a giant step over Amazon's 5 million and Apple's measly 2 million. You can sign up for a 7-day trial. When it expires, you can choose one of Napster's subscription programs, ranging from $12.95 to $14.95 per month. Artists range from major-label superstars, such as Britney Spears and Akon, to indie artists like Mary Timony and The Gaslight Anthem.

Audio Lunchbox: This easy-to-explore site offers a vast selection of indie-label albums from a variety of genres. Audio Lunchbox has everything from virtually unknown acts to bigger name artists such as Tom Waits and The Game, all in iPod-compatible MP3 format. You can either sign up for one of its month-to-month subscription plans or buy tracks a la carte (about $1 per track). At this writing, Audio Lunchbox currently offers 50 free downloads when you sign up for a subscription plan. Other bonuses include weekly editors' picks and top ten lists.

LiveDownloads: Sometimes a live version of a song is way better than the studio version. LiveDownloads recognizes this and gives users the opportunity to listen to recordings from current and older live shows from artists such as the Smashing Pumpkins, The Black Crowes, and Broken Social Scene. Though geared more toward the "jam band" genre fan base, LiveDownloads also offers some indie, metal, and jazz selections. They also carry a few studio albums. Single tracks are generally $1 each; albums and whole-show prices are determined by format and length. One gem I found was a selection of jazz and Americana selections from the Savannah Music Festival. You can download full albums in MP3 or FLAC format; the latter is higher audio quality and therefore slightly more expensive.

Bleep: Specializing in electronic and indie music, Bleep offers top-flight LAME-codec MP3s. At $1.35 apiece, individual songs are priced a little higher than other sites we've listed, but whole albums are a reasonable $10. You can preview entire songs, rather than 30-second clips as on most sites. Bleep also has some cool exclusive content. One artist, for instance, included a comic book with his album that you can view on your device as you listen.

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