Y! Music Unlimited
Yahoo’s Music Unlimited is quite frankly the reason to consider YME, period. It is a subscription system much like that launch by Napster, but with one key difference. It’s cheap, really cheap, at $6.99 US a month or $49.99 a year which includes the ability to wonder around this bright blue ball completely untethered for those with a supported music player. Napster charges $14.95 for that privilege and Steve over at Apple still claims it is a dumb idea.
Ok, this is liberating
Want to grab a hundred and thirteen Bob Dylan songs? Go for it. Always had a dark desire to own an extensive 80’s collection but scared other people might find out you invested two grand in a decade best forgotten? They might still question your taste, but at least you won’t have to sleep on the coach for blowing the kid’s college fund. It is great; I have so much new music to listen to. In a year as an avid iTunes fan I might have downloaded two hundred tracks, with YME I’ve grabbed 1933 (oh wait, I just queue up another 7 albums worth) in a week. Good thing I just added another hard drive!
On a little more serious note, this is a very cool service for music fans. It lets you explore a fairly large (doesn’t seem to be as extensive as iTunes at the moment, but at over a million tracks it is a good start) music library. I’ve found a ton of great music (along with a pile of bad to mediocre) that I probably never would have using a per song service like iTunes or by buying CDs.
The subscription service works pretty simply. You give Yahoo your pertinent information and download the software. Just install the app and log in, now you are free to search through the available music. Find something you like and whack the My Music button and it will be added to your music collection. Once your tracks download you are free to listen to them in the YME, Windows Media Player or transfer them to a compatible music player. Another cool thing about having an Unlimited subscription is that you can listen to the whole track before you download it.
If you want to burn your music to a CD or to permanently add it to your collections (aka it would survive the cancellation of you account) you are going to have to pay $0.79 a song or about 8 bucks a disc. You can use the store with out a Music Unlimited subscription, but I really cannot imagine why anyone would. In this case you pay a little more, $0.99 a song, basically Apple’s rates here in the US.
Audiophiles and people who like bigger numbers (groups with a lot of overlap) will no doubt be happy to know that Yahoo encodes their music at 160kps rather than the 128kps that most other stores use. And boy-o-boy, does it sound good. Course with my plebian ears I cannot tell the difference between it and iTunes, even with the aid of decent home theater or my Sennheisers.
But is it too good to be true?
Welcome to the wide world of renting music. Low-low prices mean compromises. Chiefly, and I think everyone understands this by now, you only have access to your music as long as you keep pumping Yahoo’s bottom line with dough. If, for instance, they decide to raise their rates (I cannot imagine them making any money at the moment) then you get to either pay it or loose everything. You also are limited to using your music on 3 computers (compared to 5 for Apple). You cannot be downloading music on more that one system at a time either. This gets on my nerves a bit, but probably won’t affect the majority of users. Definitely an issue if you plan to share among the family though.
Unlike Apple’s selection of canned radio stations, the radio system that Yahoo provides is actually worth checking out. It essential creates commercial-free stations using the million plus tracks in the YME library. The default stations are based on conventional genres and what Yahoo calls themes. You also get your own station (based on how you rate songs & artists) and the ability to create stations. These are all great ways of finding new music. If you hear a song you like just click on the album name and download the whole thing. Just want the song? You could just grab one track, but when the price is the same why not explore the whole disc?
Create similar song playlist
This is another easy way to find new music. If you right click on a track you get a menu with a few choices. One of which is “Create a similar song playlist.” This will bring up a playlist based on the original track and is actually pretty handy. It doesn’t work for every track yet though, sometimes you’ll get a error that claims more information is need to build a playlist or other times you may only get a couple of tracks. Yahoo apparently creates these playlists with user data (warning for privacy aficionados, they know what you listen to) so this should sort itself out in time.