When I started DJing, my online music library was fairly pathetic. I'd ripped a bunch of stuff from our CD collection, but I needed a lot more, especially new material. And I'm frugal. OK, maybe cheap. I didn't have iTunes. I looked for alternatives. Besides, I needed cool new stuff, not just commercial stuff I knew already.
I can't remember how I found eMusic.com, but it fit the bill. eMusic often doesn't have the rights to the most popular music. Instead, they get a lot of indie stuff, as well as music from artists who are cool enough to use eMusic as an outlet. You pay a monthly fee, and eMusic lets you download a certain number of tracks per month.
This "use it or lose it" setup kept me on my toes. I had to keep finding things to download each month. And I did. eMusic expanded my musical knowledge in a big way. Sometimes one artist would lead to another via a recommendation. Sometimes, I would check out recommendations from last.fm. Without eMusic, I might never have discovered The Muffs, Cocktail Slippers, Del Cielo, The Grip Weeds, The Len Price 3, The Raveonettes, and many others. I might not have a complete Sleater-Kinney collection. I might not have been the Metric fanatic I am now.
Snaps as well to Little Steven (Steve Van Zandt, who plays with Bruce Springsteen). His The Coolest songs in the World collections are available on eMusic, and they opened up several new bands to me.
Every year, eMusic users get polled on their favourite downloads of albums released during the year. Here more or less what I uploaded:
- Land of Talk, Cloak and Cipher. No contest here for my #1 pick. I've been waiting for a new Land of Talk album since their last one, Some Are Lakes. Land of Talk is basically Elizabeth Powell, a songwriter and guitarist from Montreal. I don't know any other band that sounds like this. Liz weaves her way into my brain.
- Kristin Hersh, Crooked. This was released last summer, but I only just discovered it. Hersh takes singer-songwriter into harsh, personal, painful territory, and makes beautiful music while doing it. I'm currently reading her book, Rat Girl, a memoir based on the year when she found out she had bipolar disorder.
- Arcade Fire, The Suburbs. There was such hype surrounding this album that I was prepared for a letdown. I'd enjoyed some tracks from Arcade Fire in the past, but could this album really be that good? Well, yes. It's the best thing they've done. So I guess the hype was deserved.
- Dum Dum Girls, I Will Be. Somehow I was never into the Jesus and Mary Chain, but low-fi noisy pop music has always been my thing. I adore The Muffs! Kim Shattuck is my idol. And I went head over heels for The Raveonettes. In and Out of Control was my second favourite album last year after Metric's Fantasies. So I was really happy to discover Dum Dum Girls. Love the songs, love the sound.
- The Pack A.D., We Kill Computers. A Vancouver-based duo with a huge punk blues sound. They played at Girls Rock Camp last year during lunchtime, and the older campers especially were blown away. I love how they are making their own music, not following any trends.
- The Black Angels, Phosphene Dream. The return of psychedelia. I'm into throwback sounds if they're done well, and I really like this album.
- The New Pornographers, Together. I always anticipate a New Pornographers album. This one would probably have been higher on the list if not for two things—I really don't like Dan Bejar's songs (never have really), and I don't think Carl Newman gave us his best material this time. There are really good songs on this album, but for me it's just not up to the level of Challengers or the earlier albums. And there's not enough Neko Case here! Ironically, the band sounds better than ever, more like a band than like backup for individual songs. I just wish the material had been better.
- Stars, The Five Ghosts. I can't always distinguish Stars from the other Toronto bands that tend to play in each others shows and all end up in Broken Social Scene, but this album has grown on me.
- The Young Veins, Take a Vacation! Another wonderful throwback, this time to 1960s pop music. Just plain enjoyable!
And when asked for "most overrated," I said Broken Social Scene. There something about Forgiveness Rock Record that's oddly annoying.
eMusic recently changed the pricing scheme from X number of songs per month to a monetary equivalent ($0.49 per song). They say this will let them negotiate for more music. Sadly, at least in the short term, there is less music available. The Matador label recently pulled out, and that means no Sonic Youth, among other great bands. I hope eMusic succeeds in getting back on track.