If there's one thing music lovers enjoy, it's discovering new favorite artists, and there are now a wealth of online services that offer this. I was first exposed to digital music subscriptions in 1999 when They Might Be Giants released "Long Tall Weekend" via eMusic. It was one of the first Internet-only releases, and while listening to those files now shows the limitations of MP3 at the time, eMusic rebooted a concept that had fallen into disaffection: the "record club."
The first major record club began in 1955 by Columbia Records and was a way to sell music directly to the customer often with a "record of the month" suggestion. While the service and the others like it have faded from popularity, digital music sellers are now trying something similar.
Drip.fm, and the forthcoming Distro.fm, are an attempt to continue the work of both eMusic and record clubs, by uncovering new artists and old favorites at a fair price. The emphasis is on downloads with the best sound quality and the services are a great way of supporting the artist. In comparison, Spotify reportedly gives a fraction of a cent per play, and the music isn't yours to keep.
Drip.fm offers a subscription model of between $10-$15 a month per label and offers a choice of both independent and dance offerings. The biggest labels here are Domino (Hot Chip, Arctic Monkeys) and Jagjaguwar (Bon Iver, Dinosaur Jr.) and users get a minimum of two label-curated, full-length albums each month with their subscription. Unfortunately, you don't get to pick your albums, but usually the picks are the best new releases or old catalog items. Some of the other 13 labels involved are David Byrne's "world music" imprint Luaka Bop and Polyvinyl (Japandroids).
While eMusic has only recently moved to 320Kbps downloads, Drip.fm is going one step further and offering uncompressed WAV files, which are essentially identical to the CD copy. However, if you still want 320K you can download those too.
If you're into experimental pop I can recommend the $10 Domino "Drip." I have been a member for the past few months and have since received nine recordings including the excellent Animal Collective's "Centipede Hz" as well as the surprisinglygood-despite-the-awfully-titled John Cale "Shifty Adventures In Nookie Wood." As a fan of Okkervil River, I am also eyeing the Jagjaguwar monthly offerings with interest. As an interesting aside, Domino is one of the groups that pulled out of eMusic in 2010 when eMusic changed its policy from a 90-downloads for $20 package to a higher charge-per-song model with no redownloads.
While Drip is based on the output of record labels, Distro is designed to let you subscribe to individual artists. Once you subscribe, the idea is that you automatically receive new music from that band for a year, which can be streamed or downloaded. Artists such as Deer Tick and Dry the River have given their support for the initiative, according to Evolver.
In creating Distro.fm, New York-based lawyer and musician Karl Marler wanted to build a non-profit iTunes competitor, and submitted his idea on Kickstarter earlier this year. While the submission was unable to reach its goal, Marler has persevered and is now taking contributions directly via the site. I have contacted the company in order to get a fix on the live date and pricing and will update the article when I get a response.
Two big competitors to these services are the ever-present Spotify and Bandcamp. Spotify is arguably the biggest of many subscription-based services that offer a la carte music listening, but with the important distinction that it's only yours while you pay the monthly fee. Bandcamp, meanwhile, is similar to Distro in that it's run by the artists, but you pay for what you want with most titles around $10. Under Distro though, there is the potential that if an artist doesn't produce any music in the year you subscribe -- which in the modern two-to-three year release cycle is very likely -- that you could have wasted your money.
If you're a fan of any of the above-mentioned labels, then Drip.fm is definitely worthwhile and cheaper than buying even two lossless albums by themselves on a music site (about $20). The labels also give you plenty of warning about which artist will be featured next month, and so a little mix and matching can be done.