We’ve reviewed iTunes Store alternatives on MacCast before, so I thought I’d take a look at a new and innovative music service that incentivizes indy music discovery while compensating artists—all without DRM.
Last Monday, all the world was aflutter about AMIE Street. It’s an online music service that does not wrap its music in DRM and employes a unique monetization model that encourages its users to find discover and recommend otherwise unknown music. The big deal on Monday was that AMIE Street signed a deal with “Canada’s leading privately owned record label and artist management company,” Nettwerk Music Group. One of the big name acts under Nettwerk’s label is (are?) the Barenaked Ladies. The big-name group instantly added credibility to the new site and traffic swarms ensued; AMIE Street quickly buckled under the server load, but recovered by the end of the day.
What’s so Special about AMIE Street?
So, what sets AMIE Street apart from iTunes or a service like eMusic, which also provides DRM-free indy-artist music? The community atmosphere and REC incentive system. Here’s the rundown of how things work…
Artists/Labels upload their songs to AMIE Street and receive 70% of the sales proceeds. AMIE Street just sells the songs, without taking exclusive rights from the creators/owners.
All songs start at a cost of $0 (free! I know, kinda weird, but stay with me). As more people buy the song, the value of the song increases, to a maximum of $0.98 (once cent less than an iTunes song). The idea is that initially, songs uploaded to the site will be promotional. As more users buy, there’s more demand and this drives up the value of each track. There’s a calculator here for artists or users who want to try to understand this better.
Users can sign up and add pre-set amounts of credit to the account (credit is set in “cents” making it feel more like actual money as compared to the point systems of other music stores). Along with this credit, comes a limited number of “RECs” which is a “unit of recommendation” that the user can assign to a particular song she likes and has purchased. The system uses RECs as a method of promotion in an interesting way: not only can others see what songs each other RECs, but the AMIE Street system incentivizes users to seek out songs that they believe will be popular by giving them a cut of the song’s success. If a user RECs a song when its cost is free, and the song becomes so popular that it eventually maxes out at $0.98, AMIE Street will credit the user’s account with $0.98. Otherwise, AMIE Street will give the recommender 1/2 the difference between the value of the song when a user REC’d it and the songs highest value. So if I REC a song at $0.10, and it eventually earns $0.60, then AMIE Street credits me with $0.20, and I can “cash-out” that credit at any time during the increasing price.
A definite sense of community, in a combination of Digg and MySpace sort of way. The MySpace aspect comes from adding friends, chatting with them via a little Meebo embedded widget; the Digg side comes from promoting and getting others to promote songs to the top. The difference is that the incentives are a little more tangible than either of the others.
AMIE Street is all web-based. Users can browse artists songs on their own, other songs users have bought, other songs users have REC’d, etc. Users can listen to samples of songs in a pop-up audio-player browser window, which can also be used as a streaming-radio-type player, that you can listen to personal presets of songs you bought, recommended, and that friends have recommended. You can also listen to the newest songs that have been uploaded to AMIE Street, as well as genre-based stations. The genre-based channels are however only song samples, not the full versions of the songs (but the lengths of those samples, from my experience, have typically been longer than the iTunes 30 second standard). Users can buy songs directly from the pop-up window, just by clicking the buy button next to the song’s name. The pop-up audio-player window can also be embedded into your own website or blog, to give others something to listen to while they browse your own site, I suppose (see below).
When users buy songs they show up in the “My Purchased Songs” menu, and songs can then be downloaded by track (as an mp3) or multiple tracks (as a zip file of mp3s). The mp3s are formatted various bit rates—one I bought was at 160 kbps and another was at 192 kbps. Depending upon the track you by, the ID3 tag may be a little lacking. That’s Cool by Adam and the Couch Potatoes, for example, didn’t have album art, date, album artist, or composer listed, but tracks from the Barenaked Ladies had more info provided, so it may be up to the artist as to whether that info is filled in on a track-by-track basis. Once you download the songs, drag them to your favorite music app, mine is iTunes, and they they’re imported just like any other mp3 file.
I really liked this new experience of an incentivized community model provided by AMIE Street. In my day job, we’re often talking about how the music industry has to compete with free downloads. I think the pricing structure (providing a quality product at a reasonable price) and the REC system really speaks to this in a new way. What they’re doing is incentivizing early adopters, when typically, early adopters are used to paying more. And like Digg, it also allows users to be rain-makers as they gain more “street cred,” by promoting artists that gain value. This is interesting because it speaks to the usefulness of the traditional role of the record labels—which beyond distribution is promotion and hype of an artist. I think this system shows that users can be promoters, and that both the artist and the promoter can be compensated for it. It also shows that all songs don’t have to be over-priced, can even be free, and prices don’t have to stay the same all the time.
AMIE Street is aimed at the indy artist, but would this system work for a label-recorded artist? Sure. Assuming it’s a popular artist, like the Barenaked Ladies, their music is going to sky rocket to $0.98 immediately. Those users that get their RECs in when the big artists are still listed at 0 are going to earn credit to buy more music down the road. Its a system that invests in itself, which I think is really interesting too.
If there’s one thing I would complain about, besides the obvious server growing pains the site is currently having (which they seem to quickly be sorting out), is that it’s a web-only service. It may be fine for me or you, but that extra step of having to load music downloads into an iTunes like app may be too complicated for some. Whether or not it’s easy enough for the users, to me AIME Street is screaming for an iTunes like all-in-one app, where you can browse the store, listen and organize your library, and chat with friends, all in one easy to use application. Maybe that’s down the road for AMIE Street, and since they’re just using unprotected mp3s, there’s no reason that app couldn’t sync with everyone’s favorite mp3 player, the iPod.
Regardless, AMIE Street is a site you can get lost in for days and discover new music. You should definitely check it out.