Saturday, June 27, 2009

Notes on the Zune Pass

Yesterday I was talking with a friend of mine about the Zune Pass. In defending it, I actually talked myself into subscribing. Ok, I haven't subscribed yet, but I did just initiate their 14-day trial. It hasn't even been 24 hours yet and I'm already sold.

First, let me explain what it is. It's a subscription service for music. For $15 a month you get access to most of what's available on the Zune marketplace. Music downloaded with the Zune Pass can be played on up to 3 computers, and also your Zune (of course). You can switch out one of said 3 computers with a different one once every 30 days.

The first question I asked myself after reading about this was, "What songs are available?" The first thing I did after I signed up was go through a short list of bands. Certain artists aren't available at all, and many others have a few songs here and there that you can't download (I'm assuming due to guest producers, certain artists not consenting, etc).

For instance, I didn't see any actual Beatles albums available, to buy or to download. George Harrison's 'Cloud Nine' was available for purchase but not to download (not to download 'free' though the Zune Pass, to clarify). The Living End's last few albums were available, but not the first half of 'Roll On' and not their self titled album either. My roommate had me check the Black Eyed Peas--their last three albums are available, but with 3 or 4 songs missing off Elephunk. They're not for sale with one version of Elephunk, for sale with another, but not downloadable (for 'free') with either.

Some albums have the bonus tracks included, some don't. I think they can only carry the version last produced by whoever has the rights. Take, for example, Elvis Costello's "My Aim Is True." An early demo of "Stranger in the House" is available, which is on both the Rhino reissue (second to last re-release of this album) and the Hip-O "Deluxe Edition" (most recent re-release). "Wave a White Flag," which is only on the Rhino version, has a spot on the Zune Marketplace, but isn't attached to any albums (that I can see) and is listed as "Not Available".

A quick glance seems to indicate that all the Bee Gees albums are available in their entirety, even the four reissues, with full bonus discs. I'll note here that it's better to expand all the search results instead of just clicking on the first version of that album that comes up, because sometimes the earliest version of a CD is shown, and all of it's tracks are unavailable. Go back and find a more recent issuing of the album, and usually they're completely available.

Another bonus is a lot of EPs are online and available. A lot of things I missed or that I don't really care enough about to buy are there. A lot of old rock bands are on there too, so you can get full albums for a lot of bands that you can only find the greatest hits of in most stores.

The worst part of this is, I couldn't see a way to tell what was and wasn't available without actually signing up for the Zune Pass. Not that big of a deal, because you can get a free trial. You could even use the contact form on the left sidebar there and I'll gladly look a band up for you, until I get fed up with too many requests (not likely). Electric Light Orchestra seems to be there in it's entirety, Eleni Mandell is only missing the last album (not even available to buy). No 'A Camp'. 'The Cardigans'' albums seem to be missing tracks for sale here and there. There are names next to their unavailable tracks, maybe because those parties worked on the song and don't consent to online sales? Very scattershot sometimes yet still very satisfying. I've legally downloaded at least 10 full albums so far today, and I'm not even close to being finished.

Oh, I nearly forgot the best part. I tag my music differently than the Zune Marketplace does. It would have been a breaking point for me if I couldn't re-tag the music I downloaded with the Zune Pass. Guess what? You can. You can completely re-tag the music you downloaded via the Zune Pass.

One more thing, for every month you subscribe to the Zune Pass, you also get 10 DRM-free songs to keep permanently, even if you ever decide to cancel your subscription. So for $15 a month you get access to a huge library and 10 free songs a month that you get to keep forever. I'm shocked I'm so pleased with it.

In fact, worse than the missing spots in the library, to me, is the interface of the Zune software itself (and the interface of the Zune mp3 player as well), which I may devote a full article to in the future.

Till then,


P.S. forgot to add, all songs I've downloaded are in wma format, 192 kbps, and sound as good as all the music I've ripped myself.

No comments:

Post a Comment