They offer memberships: subscriptions to their site. There are two levels: Streaming, and Download. You don't have to be a member to purchase music from them, but members get a few interesting perks. Anyone can go to MagnaTune and listen to their entire catalogue streaming: but a membership buys you the same streams commercial-free. You also get site features like playlists. The download membership goes a little further: you can then download any album on the site, free of charge. There are three "rules" of membership:
- they ask you don't give away more than a single album a month,
- you must manually download the tunes: no crawlers or spiders, not LWP or wget, and
- membership is not shareable/transferrable;
Memberships used to have a minimum 3-month term, but now they offer them for as little as one month. Like everything at MagnaTune, you set the price: a streaming membership starts at $5/month, downloads at $10/month; but you may pay more.
I've been intrigued by this idea, so when the minimum term dropped to a month, I decided to try it out. I purchased a month's download membership last night. So for one month, I am free to stream or download MagnaTune's entire catalog, if I so choose. And it cost me about what I'd expect to pay for a CD from Amazon or Borders (I didn't cheap out and pay the $10 minimum).
What I download is DRM-free, it's mine to keep, whether I maintain my membership or not. And I'm perfectly free to burn it to disk, put it on my iPod, or whatever. I can even give an album away to a friend every month. And I can download the music in WAV files: they're CD-quality copies.
And best of all, it's 100% legal. MagnaTune is essentially a record label, rather than a reseller: they have full rights to distribute their music.
The only real downside is, the music is necessarily all indie. If you like indie music, that's no problem. If you like to purchase what's on the radio, it might be a difficult fit. Although interestingly, some of MagnaTune's artists are now showing up for purchase at iTunes. So more mainstream people are discovering them.
So how do I like it? I found about a dozen albums right away that I listed as favourites and have been listening to as streams. My two favourites of the bunch I downloaded as WAV files, and will burn to CD this weekend: Acoustic Abstracts and Horizons, both by guitar duet Heavy Mellow, from Tennessee. (You can, of course, go and listen to both those albums in their entirety, with or without paying for a membership. Why are you still here? Go listen!) Very relaxed and relaxing guitar music. I've also got some very good cello and viola music in my playlist, as well as some more folksy stuff.
I haven't had to look too hard to find good stuff there, and I've already gotten my money's worth in about 16 hours.
Will I renew at the end of my month-long experiment? I don't know. I'll have to see how the month goes. But based on my two purchases at MagnaTune (Goode Christemas Musicke and this membership), I'm really rather impressed.
If they can stay alive (they've been going for 5+ years already), I anticipate I may well turn into a very loyal customer.