After my recent mention of the mutterings about Apple’s possible future music services, I was reminded to have a look at eMusic, another online music store, with a somewhat different business model.

With eMusic, you pay a monthly fee which allows you to download a fixed number of tracks each month. The difference is that the tracks are DRM-free, high quality MP3 files, which you are free to burn to CD, transfer to any music player and indeed keep forever. Yes, your music doesn’t go away if you stop paying for it. There is a catch, of sorts: eMusic deals exclusively with independent record labels. This means that there’s an awful lot of music that eMusic don’t have. Most major acts are conspicuous by their absence. But what they do have is a quite large archive of independent music, some of which is familiar, and much more that may well be worth exploring.

You can download short samples of any track – not the usual scratchy streaming thingies, but full-quality samples that might just help you decide if the track is something you actually want. You have the choice of taking single tracks, or whole albums. No fancy software is actually needed – you can download straight from the webpage, but this does restrict you to taking one track at a time. If you want the convenience of grabbing albums in one go, you will need to install their downloader. On the Mac, at least, this seems to be a well-behaved little thing, and download speeds are acceptably fast.

Packages start at £8.99[1], which allows you to take 30 tracks per month, going all the way up to £59.99 for 300 tracks per month. And there are lots of options in between those. Payment is by credit or debit card only, and you can cancel at any time. I got 50 free tracks for my first month, which made it well worth a try.

So far, I’ve got the best of the Go-Betweens, an album by Propaganda that I had on tape many years ago, and haven’t heard in years, and something by Dashboard Confessional, who are one of those bands I’ve never managed to get into, but who make a pleasant sound.

I’ve no idea if I’ll keep using it for long, but I’ll be getting my money’s worth for one month at least. If you’re in the least bit interested in exploring new music, it’s worth a try. And for roughly the price of one CD, you’re not going to lose much if you decide it’s not for you.

[1] In the traditional manner, the US price is apparently around $9. Mutter, exchange rate, mutter