Since my co-blogger has seen it fit to write about the move that many of us classical fans are making to digital, going on at length about the convenience and versatility of the iPod and its associated management software, iTunes, I thought it might be a worthy companion piece to talk about sites that would be worth your time. In fact, the move to the digital realm is making news all over the world as music companies, especially the titan of music companies, Universal Music Group, devourer of Decca, Deutsche Grammaphon, and Philips, finally is making an online shop. There is much for the classical music connoisseur to enjoy in online stores, especially as the CD store disappears from the planet.
Of course, the first stop is iTunes Store. It works best when you download iTunes onto your computer. Essentially, every album that has been converted for digital download from every music label on the planet has been put on iTunes. If you are willing to pay $.99 or more per track on a new cd, or pay one lump sum, usually much less than the price of actually buying the cd, then this site is for you. It works if you want to have access to the catalogs of the Universal Music Group, having albums from Decca, DG and Philips. It also has all the smaller, independent labels as well, like Harmonia Mundi or Ondine. Of course now that DG has opened its own web store, those discs just might disappear from iTunes. The downside is that it caters more to non-classical music, so its navigation and search features are less than exemplary.
Naxos has put forth a more tailor-made experience with its effort, ClassicsOnline. It has an impressive array of independent labels to offer, with no downloading restrictions. It even allows you the opportunity to download the booklets if you so choose. It is as close as you are going to get to having everything that a physical disc offers you. You can pay for tracks individually, usually around $.99, or buy the entire cd, which is more than likely a much better deal. The problem is with these sites and others that are similar is that they charge prices for each track that are dependent on its length. If the track is short, they might charge 99 cents. If it is longer, they will charge you a proportionate amount more. And if it is a track of a single-movement work of some length, the site might not let you download it at all, except when you purchase the whole disc. Here is an example from ClassicsOnlilne and a disc by Feliksas Bajoras.
That is why my favorite site, and one mentioned in passing in my co-blogger's post, is Emusic, a music site for those who walk outside the mainstream. They offer music in a variety of genres, but not a single one are of pop or alternative. In the classical field, which is by its nature outside the mainstream nowadays, the website offers literally thousands of discs to browse through and download. The second best thing about this site is that it does not make any adjustments to its pricing based on length of track. But by a wide margin, the best thing about this site is that each track on average costs you about $.30 or less! You read it right. I have been a member of the site for a while, so my tracks are even less than that. At those prices, almost everyone has the financial ability to take some risks on composers you don't know, performers you have never heard of, or for that matter, types of music you wouldn't ever dream of buying at CD prices. They have a decent search function for classical music and its genre page is complete with recommendations and articles. The site also has a vibrant message board where regulars come and "talk" about what's on the site. It also allows subscribers to create lists that are shared with others. So if you have found that disc of C.P.E Bach symphonies you were looking for and were wondering where to go from there, on the right side will be several lists by other subscribers who have recommendations that you might be interested in. It is a well-conceived and spectacular online store. I myself have downloaded hundreds of pieces of music to add to my 2000+ cd collection. And that is part of the beauty - I can fill in gaps in my collection with specific pieces or assimilate wholesale the works of a composer that I haven't gotten around to. I recently purchased practically everything recorded on Naxos, Ondine and Bis of Einojuhani Rautavaara for about $25. The only drawback, if you count it as one, is that it does not include albums from the Universal Music Group. They haven't allowed their discs to be distributed by Emusic yet. Once that's done, nothing will rival this site for its expansive catalogue and price.
Now that you know where to go, have no fear of buying that iTouch and filling it with all the music you are willing to stomach (Emusic has a subscription for 300 tracks a month!). Now the debate over fidelity versus convenience will rage on for a while longer, but the trend can't be denied. Besides, my major issue with the whole thing is whether jogging or commuting to work are the best places to have an epiphany listening to Bach's Mass in B minor, but that's a whole different story.