The DRM-Free Music Directory
The majority of online music stores use some form of digital rights management to control the files they sell. These typically limit file copying, limit the portable devices that files can be played on, and limit the burning tracks to CD.
Not everyone wants to be subjected to such limitations. For those people, there are DRM-free music services.
The sites listed below sell (legal) music without any form of DRM. This is not a complete, exhaustive list, but it is intended to represent the major services and also some services that have unique niches or features.
All prices are for users in the United States, and will often vary in other countries. Some links will refuse to open in browsers they don't like (when in doubt, try Internet Explorer).
Completely DRM-free catalogs
Amazon MP3 offers MP3 (VBR, average bitrate 256 kbps, sometimes CBR 256 kbps) versions of its 2.9 million track catalog of primarily mainstream artists. $0.89 to $0.99/track, $6 to $10/album. Amazon's MP3 Downloader is required to download whole albums; individual tracks can be downloaded with any web browser. Do note that the same track may be a different price based on which album you buy it from. If you would like to help 10stripe a bit, go there using this link instead.
Amie Street offers MP3 (at whatever bitrate artist provides) versions of its mostly-independent catalog (with some albums from a few mainstream artists). Variable pricing: tracks start at $0.00 and rise up to $0.98 as more users purchase the track. Typical track price is around $0.25 to $0.50. Typical album price is around $8. The site has a recommendation system built in that lets users potentially earn free credits. Credits must be purchased in fixed whole-dollar increments.
Audio Lunchbox offers MP3 (VBR, average bitrate 192 kbps) and reportedly OGG versions of its 2 million track catalog of primarily independent artists. $0.99/track, $10/album or monthly pricing based on "credits" that works out to starting at $10/month for up to 40 songs/month.
Beatport offers MP3 (LAME-encoded 320 kbps), MP4 (VBR, average bitrate 192 kbps), and WAV versions of its catalog of dance music. Typically $1.50 to $2.50/track. Note that downloading the same track in a different file format is considered a separate purchase.
Dancetracks Digital offers MP3 (320 kbps) versions of its catalog of dance music. $1.90/track, about $10/album.
djdownload offers MP3 (192 or 320 kbps) versions of its catalog of dance music. $1.91 to 2.50/track for 320 kbps.
eMusic (the second-largest music download service, behind iTunes) offers MP3 (LAME-encoded VBR, average bitrate 192 kbps) versions of its 2.8 million track catalog of primarily independent artists (with a smattering of more mainstream artists). Pricing is monthly, starting at $10/month for up to 30 songs per month. A 2-week, 25-song free trial is available.
iTunes now offers AAC (256 kbps) versions of everything in its catalog of mostly-mainstream artists with no DRM. If you previously bought a track from iTunes and it is DRM-protected, you can upgrade to a DRM-free (and higher-bitrate) version for a fee. $0.69 to 1.29/track , typically $9.99/album. Some content is no longer available since the transition to all-DRM-free, although this may change in the future. Please be aware that Apple embeds your personal information (including name and email address) in all files sold through iTunes. The iTunes player is required to browse their catalog.
Jamendo (based in Luxembourg; a lot of the content is French) offers MP3 (about 200 kbps) and Ogg Vorbis (about 300 kbps) versions of its all-independent catalog. All music is covered by some form of Creative Commons license and is downloaded via BitTorrent or eMule (whole albums only). All music is free, but facilities are provided to make donations to artists (of which Jamendo gets a $0.50 cut).
Live Downloads offers MP3 (128 kbps) and FLAC versions of music from its 150ish-artist catalog. It provides primarily live performances. Individual tracks (MP3) are usually available for $0.99/track, entire shows are typically about $10 (MP3) or $15 (FLAC).
Magnatune (Slogan: "We are not evil") offers MP3, WAV, OGG, FLAC and AAC versions of its catalog of about 250 independent artists. You pick the price, $5 to $18/album ($8 is recommended). Have a CD mailed to you instead for $14.97. Most music can also be licensed (royalty-free, but not free).
Napster has converted away from PlasForSure DRM to ordinary MP3s (most 256 kbps, some 128 kbps) for its download service. $0.99/track or $10/album. Note that their all-you-can-eat subscription service is still DRM-protected. Opera users can't view album or artist listings, for some reason.
Some DRM-free offerings
gBox offers MP3 versions of tracks from label Universal. $0.99/track, $10/album (same pricing as protected music). Other music available as "Plays for Sure" WMA; the site also claims all tracks available as WMA are available as Fairplay-protected AAC, though there is no obvious way to download AAC tracks. Albums with explicit lyrics are available in both "explicit" and "edited" versions (and marked as such).
Passalong offers MP3 (192 kbps) versions of a handful of tracks (from artists like the Barenaked Ladies) and is supposed to start selling much of Universal's catalog DRM-free. $0.33 to $0.99/track, about $10/album (varies) (same or cheaper pricing as protected music). They provide a list of artists available DRM-free. Other music available as 128 kbps "Plays for Sure" WMA, which works in Windows Media Player and in "Plays For Sure"-certified portable players only. . Amusingly, f.y.e.'s service (which is based on Passalong's StoreBlocks platform) looks better and works in more browsers (without complaint) than Passalong's own store.
Puretracks (based in Canada) offers MP3 (192 kbps) versions of at least 50,000 tracks, now including tracks from label Universal. $0.99/track, $9.99/album (same pricing as protected music). Browse their MP3 section to see only music available in MP3 format. Other music available as "Plays for Sure" WMA.
Rhapsody offers MP3 (256 kbps) versions of tracks from the four major labels and a number of independents. $0.99/track, $9.99/album (same pricing as protected music). Other music available in 192 kbps "Helix"-protected RAX or 192 kbps "Plays for Sure"-protected WMA. The Rhapsody player is no longer required to browse their catalog. Rhapsody allows users to preview the entire track (not just a clip), up to 25 tracks per month (for non-subscribers).
Wal-Mart offers MP3 (256 kbps) versions of tracks from labels EMI and Universal. $0.94/track, album pricing varies (versus $0.88/track for protected music). Other music available as 128 kbps "Plays for Sure" WMA. Browsers other than Internet Explorer may need the old version of the site.There is no easy way to view only tracks available in MP3 format (look for "Also available in MP3" links). Tracks with lyrics that Wal-Mart doesn't like will be censored and marked "(edited)".
Some of these stores require their own proprietary software to permit browsing of available tracks, and some require proprietary downloading tools. As a result, compatiblity with different operating systems is uneven.
This directory is not comprehensive, but we feel it does include enough services (and a broad enough variety of services) to be useful. Inclusion in this directory is not an endorsement. If you know of a service that should be added to this directory, please contact us.