I Want My MP3

Digital music just gets better. See ya later, major labels.

Downside: Browsing is a little difficult, which is frustrating only because Other Music features well-written recommendations. I wish it were a little better organized.

Fina Music

Who: An online shop started last year by the owners of Thrill Jockey Records, home to Tortoise, Trans Am, the Sea and Cake, Howe Gelb and OOIOO, among dozens of others.

What: A solid-but-small of collection of labels including German experimental electronic gem Rune Grammofon, Detroit intelli-lectro label Ersatz Audio and Chicago indie-rock mainstay Carrot Top. Thrill Jockey offers high-quality variable-bit-rate MP3s (a thrifty way to compress files to achieve maximum fidelity from littler files) at $10 per release.

Interactivity: Very efficient, with few bells and whistles. There's a funny page that pops up after you order something (I'd suggest Trans Am's Sex Change). It's a picture of a guy in a shipping room; a thought-bubble says, "Hang on while I pack your order!" And then, bingo, it's ready for you to download. The ease of use stands to reason: Thrill Jockey was an early adapter of restriction-free files. The label sells its files on most major online stores, including iTunes, eMusic and Rhapsody (and deals with Other Music and Bleep as well).

Thrill Jockey head Bettina Richards says that the landscape has exploded in the past six months. "Prior to that I would say it was probably a steady 20 to 30 percent of sales of a record," she says. "But I've had records in the last six months where it's been close to 50 percent. Just a couple — so they're still slight aberrations — but once a band gets a certain kind of profile, it just skyrockets." Richards confirms another boom in the music business: Vinyl sales are way up.

Downside: Fina doesn't sell individual tracks, and the selection is limited. That's set to change, says Richards, as the shop adds music from 30 more labels in coming months.

Kompakt Records MP3

Who: German techno master Kompakt Records' online store. It's the most beautiful online store I've ever seen. I swear I saw God at that store.

What: Efficient Teutonic design commands your attention with its simplicity. Kompakt selection is deep if you're into German minimalism. A man could get lost in here: early jacked-out jams on Profan from Mike Ink and Thomas Brinkmann; crazy, dubby tech-house from Poker Flat Records; and a huge pile of epic stompers from Ricardo Villalobos. And about a billion other songs. Cost: 1.39 Euros per song, or 11.99 for an album in decent-quality 224 kbps MP3 format.

Interactivity: This is where I found religion: When sampling the songs, you can click your cursor anywhere on the player to hit a different part of the song. The player moves with the chrome-like precision of a Modernist track. It's like dropping a needle on a record. You can find the breaks; you can skip the sappy introductions. I spent three hours nodding along to Bpitch Control's 2005 output — and hurt my neck pretty badly in the process.

Downside: It's pricey because you're paying in Euros and the dollar is crap right now. I bought a DJ Koze mix, All People Is My Friends, along with a great dancefloor stomper by Simon Baker called "The Fly," and it cost me $18.39. But hey, spiritual experiences are supposed to be expensive, and unlimited access to Kompakt's collection is priceless.

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