Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Call Me a Shameless Shill

Wishful Thinking - Josh Bales (mp3)
Arcade Precinct - 1990s (mp3)

Remember Columbia House? Remember BMG? Columbia House no longer deals in CDs. BMG is dead. But for at least a decade of my life, I had something of a Sunday afternoon ritual. I would grab the Parade magazine out of the fat wad that was the Sunday paper and rifle through to somewhere near the middle, whereupon I would find the coveted Columbia House stickers sheet. I would then carefully rip their mailer off at the perforated edges, and stare at the 12 beautiful empty dotted-line boxes. The sticker sheet was a collection of rectangles that included the square CD/album cover along with the name of the artist, name of the album, and the Columbia House "magic order number."

The next hour, sometimes longer, would be spent working through a stage of consistent processes:
  1. Rip all stickers of albums you might kinda sorta like to have;
  2. Separate the Kinda Sortas into two piles: the Not So Muches and the Maybe Yeahs;
  3. Put the Not So Muches aside, but don't throw them away;
  4. Count the Maybe Yeahs, and if I had more than 12, then repeat steps 2 & 3 until you arrive at 12 or fewer finalists;
  5. If you arrive at fewer than 12, go back and repeat steps 2 & 3 with remaining rejects until you arrive back at 12.
Glorious times, truly. And even for those who sorta thought Columbia House and its ilk were rip-offs, the amount of free entertainment provided from separating the CD sticker wheat from the CD sticker chaff more than made up that financial gap.

Once I became a liberated adult, freed from the bonds of my overlording parents, I even joined these clubs a few times.

The story from there is nothing but cliche. I was too lazy to send back those damn postcards. They sent me shit like Celine Dion and Spyro Gyra (no offense to Ms. Dion or Gyra, but they ain't my bag, baby). I was too lazy to return them. I paid excessive amounts for them. But only after numerous overdue collection notices and repeated hate mail from the company. I canceled my membership as quickly as possible. I went six or eight months without thinking about them. I stumbled across those sticker sheets in Paradeor another magazine. And the cycle would start all over again.

With that story as background, it should be no surprise that I recently joined eMusic.com.

I stumbled across this site because I was desperately looking for a way to get my hands, legally, on a 1986 album by Flesh for Lulu called Long Live the New Flesh. I loved this album as a teen and listened to it with ridiculous regularity, but finding it -- anywhere, in any non-vinyl format -- is next to impossible. But eMusic had it!

The catch was, I could get it if I joined with a monthly subscription. You pay X amount of dollars, and you get X number of downloads every month. You're only paying less than $0.50 each song or less but you're not getting to choose from current releases, and not from your big-time Billboard chart-toppers. It is the alternative music scene's online version of Columbia House.

So I joined. And the minute I did... the bastards at eMusic showed me that the Flesh for Lulu album wasn't available to their US customers. And I cursed. Openly and loudly and repeatedly. But, whilst cursing, I also surfed around their site to see how I could best make use of that one month's worth of subscription before I would most certainly cancel and never set my eyes on their miserable site again.

Two hours later, I was still gleefully hunting around their site for albums that I've had on my radar screen or that were worth putting on my radar screen. I was engaged in an online version of the sticker-hunting and gathering I had done 15 years earlier. Drive-by Truckers albums. Buffalo Tom, Hoodoo Gurus, Tift Merritt, 1990s, Ladytron, the Weepies, 500 Miles to Memphis, Juliana Hatfield. Granted, eMusic doesn't have these artists' entire CVs. They usually only have 2-5 of most artists' albums. But so what? I had enough albums saved up that it's worth holding on to my membership for at least six or seven months!

Nine days into my first month's subscription -- a month that came with 50 additional free song downloads for a total of 80 -- I was down to my last 16 selections. I ran through those this weekend. Now I must sit idly by until the counter resets on January 28. I've still got a healthy 26 albums on my TO GET list. Ninja Gun, Ladyhawke, the Kinks, Smoking Popes, the Mountain Goats, Spoon, Lemuria. All of these and then some. (If you haven't heard of any of these artists other than the Kinks... well, no time like the present!)

If you like playing by the rules but paying perfectly reasonable amounts to get your hands on some off-brand musical brilliance, I highly recommend you give yourself a tour around that site. For $12/month, you get 30 downloads (plus the 50 bonus ones you get for signing up). That's basically 2 1/2 albums' worth of material for $12. And you don't have to promise anything more than a single month. No year-long commitments or anything.

In the new economy, that's not a bad deal if you like off-brand musical brilliance.

Both songs were obtained through eMusic subscription but are also available at iTunes and Amazon.com's mp3 site.


Algerine said...

I've been on eMusic for just under two years now. Love it. Have you explored the friends and neighbors feature yet? I've found some pretty good albums checking out people with whom I share some common tastes.

The Big Nichols said...

I have friends who really love eMusic. I did the trial, got the new Okkervil River and the last Avett Bros. and quit, but I'd consider doing it full time. Their library is constantly expanding.

troutking said...

I did the trial too and got some good stuff, but mainly I just wanted to say that the Kinks RULE!!!

Bob said...

Our web blocker does not like eMusic.

biscuit sr. said...

My son's favorite band is the
mountain goats!

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