Critical Section


MusicNet Review

Wednesday,  02/26/03  08:35 AM

<review>

So, in the interest of seeking knowledge, I decided to try MusicNet, an online music service from EMI, Bertelsmann, and TimeWarner [aka AOL].  AOL recently announced they were offering MusicNet.)

MusicNet signup - WebFirst I visit the MusicNet website.  A pop-up window opens.  My choices are 1) demo and 2) sign-up.  I watch the demo, a slick Flash animation that explains that you can stream music, download it to your computer, transfer it to your music player, and burn it to a CD.  Hey, that sounds cool!  Okay, I'm ready.  I go to sign up.  See the picture at right.  There is only one distribution partner, RealONE, and they "do not offer CD burning, permanent downloading, or transfer to portable devices".  In other words, all you can do with MusicNet is stream music.  Was the demo created by the same people who created the signup page?  Yeah, like I'm really going to pay $10/month to stream music, when there are thousands of free stations on live365.  Really lame.  Looks like the web version of MusicNet is a non-starter.

MusicNet signup - AOLNext I long on to AOL, something I hardly ever do anymore.  I'm thinking perhaps AOL has a different way to access MusicNet which is better.  { Note: I'd forgotten how slow AOL is...  that's what happens with one centralized server bank.  It is really s l o w ... }  See the picture at right for the signup options.  This seems amazingly expensive to me, you can stream or download songs for $.50 each, but if you want to burn them to a CD they cost $1.80 each.  Note that transfers to a music player are not supported here, either (of course, once you've burned a track to CD, you can do anything you want with it, including transferring it to an MP3 player.)  During the signup process a client application is downloaded and installed on your computer - intrusive, but this is how they enforce the limits.  You can only listen to music through the MusicNet client application.

The MusicNet client app requires that you be signed on to AOL, and appears to use AOL's network transport; it, too, is very slow.  It takes a long time to search, or to initiate an online "listen" or "download".  Downloading itself appears fast (limited by bandwidth).  The user interface is nice and easy to use.  I imagine a non-techie would be able to use it easily.  If you download more than one track at a time (e.g. select all the tracks from an album), they download in parallel.  Nice.  The music sound quality is excellent - as good in my uneducated opinion as 192K MP3s.

Now on to the $64,000 question: content.  I looked for each of the artists I have on my iPod.  Please see the table below for details.  (Your mileage will vary, of course, along with your musical taste...)  Overall I'd say this is as good as any of the pay online services I've tried.  They have a lot, but I do have three observations:

  1. When they have an artist, they don't necessarily have their whole catalog.  This seems weird to me - seems like they'd either have rights to the catalog, or not.  This is unfortunately one of the ways Kazaa distinguishes itself, they have everything...
  2. They did not have some big names, including the very three which I'd regard as the biggest:
    • Led Zeppelin.
    • Madonna.
    • Rolling Stones.
  3. When they have a track, they tend to have only one recording of it.  Again, this is what distinguishes Kazaa, you find live versions, bootlegs, alternate mixes, all kinds of stuff.  I actually have thirteen versions of Deep Purple's Smoke on the Water (don't ask).

So I'd give then a "good but not great" in this category.  Actually with the content they do have unlimited downloads would be a good deal, except that it costs $18/month, and you can only play them through their client application.

MusicNet upgrade - AOLNext I tried burning tracks to CD, which is the only way to make them "portable".  Clicking on the upgrade link in the application gives you the message shown at right.  You choices for upgrading this "online" service are 1) phone customer support [and sit on hold], 2) send snail mail, or 3) send a fax.  Huh?  This cannot be done online nor with email.  Sigh.  I called customer support and found that during the free trial period there is no way to upgrade.  Furthermore, everyone is forced into the free trial period initially, regardless of the choice made during signup.  I explained that I was reviewing the product and offered to pay my $18 for the first month up front, but they have no way to do this.  The product manager for this must have been a genius.

So - initial reaction is "not good".  A feeble effort, actually, which explains why Kazaa and other free file sharing services continue to be so popular.  People will pay for great, but they will not pay for good when better is free.

P.S. I'll let you know how CD burning goes - in 30 days...

</review>

<data>

Artist Tracks Music
AC/DC
0 Not found
Aerosmith
62 About half their catalog.
Acoustic Alchemy
115 What looks to be 3/4 of their catalog
Antonio Vivaldi 63 Good selection, not exhaustive
Bananorama
0 Not found
Billy Idol 48 About 1/3 of his catalog
Black Sabbath 43 About 1/4 their output
Bob Dylan 50 About 1/4 his catalog
Bryan Ferry 83 Pretty much everything
Buffalo Springfield 12 Only one album
Celine Dion 91 Everything
Cirque du Soleil 0 Not found
Concrete Blonde 71 Everything
Creedence Clearwater 242 Everything!
David Bowie 161 A lot - maybe all
Deep Purple 44 Only four albums - and not the best ones
Def Leppard 57 Everything
Depeche Mode 174 Everything
Dire Straits 40 Four albums
Don Henley 27 Three albums
Duran Duran 188 Everything
ELO 51 Just three albums
Eminem 77 Everything?
Eric Clapton 222 Everything
Eurythmics 0 Not found
Fine Young Cannibals 0 Not found
Fleetwood Mac 241 Everything
Foreigner 113 Anthologies, pretty complete
George Harrison 0 Not found
Glenn Frey 0 Not found
Golden Earring 0 Not found
Great White 0 Four albums, pretty complete
Guns N' Roses 10 Hardly anything
INXS 96 Good but not complete
Jethro Tull 178 About 1/2 their catalog
Joe Satriani 42 About 1/3 of his catalog
Led Zeppelin 0 Not found!
Linkin Park 28 Everything
Lita Ford 28 Everything
Lynryd Skynyrd 181 Everything
Madonna 5 Hardly anything
Midnight Oil 0 Not found
Missing Persons 14 Only best of…
Nazareth 0 Not found
Neil Young 210 Everything?
Nirvana 70 Almost everything
Pablo Casals 29 Only two albums
Pat Benatar 148 Everything
Pet Shop Boys 201 Everything
Peter Frampton 58 All the good stuff, not complete
Phil Collins 121 Everything?
Procol Harum 0 Not found
Queen 0 Not found!
Queensryche 137 Everything
REM 154 Everything
Robin Trower 40 Three albums
Rolling Stones 0 Not found!
Rush 151 Everything
Sade 55 Everything?
Santana 185 A lot - but not all
Scorpions 96 Everything
Soundgarden 0 Not found!
Stevie Nicks 14 One album
Stevie Ray Vaughan 99 Everything
Sting 149 Everything
Styx 75 Everything
Supertramp 21 Two albums
Talking Heads 125 About 1/2 their catalog
Ted Nugent 66 Everything
The B-52s 67 Everything
The Fixx 21 Two albums
The Police 104 Everything
The Who 150 Almost everything
Tom Petty 29 Only two albums
Tracy Chapman 0 Not found!
U2 130 Everything
UB40 161 Everything
Van Halen 94 Everything
Whitesnake 6 Hardly anything
Yes 149 About 1/2 their catalog
Yo-Yo Ma 0 Not found
ZZ Top 216 Everything

</data>

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