Amazon vs. ShockHound: Where to Buy Your Long-Playing DRM-Free MP3s And Why

Amazon vs. ShockHound: Where to Buy Your Long-Playing DRM-Free MP3s And Why

amahoundA brief look at the current prices of some of the longest DRM-free music mp3s on the marketplace at two major vendors, and why you should or should not buy them from either vendor based strictly on price.

Today we compare some of the longest DRM-free offerings of Amazon and ShockHound, in an attempt to completely fill an iPod nano with as few songs as possible. (You guys remember ShockHound, right? Hot Topic Inc’s scrappy DRM-free MP3 site that launched last fall, we hosted that party at the Troubadour with Titus Andronicus and No Age, yours truly was mumbling belligerently onstage briefly…ringing any bells? No?) Time will tell if I should have added a “paid content” clause and a few $s to that good ol’ ShockHound ad contract, for I’m giving them mad publicity today.

I was shopping around for Miles Davis mp3s out of curiosity yesterday morning, and I discovered that one can in essence buy a $20 album for less than two bucks, once you figure out who’s got what tagged “Album Only”. (N/B: You are an absolute fool not to download both tracks off Pangaea below for a whopping $1.98, but I’ll save the speech as tastes differ in these waters.) Many commercial digital offerings on the market will throw one or two songs into the dreaded “Album Only” category, rendering your digi-album or playlist incomplete unless you kowtow to the ugly ploy which forces you to buy a full album at a higher price just for one song (how very 20th century). Well, fuck that. As you’ll soon see, the labels don’t even properly manage “Album Only” tracks on a vendor-by-vendor basis.

Why the long songs?
After I’d finished with Miles, I stuck with very lengthy selections for this exercise in order to see who was pricing on a weighted scale based on song length (Amazon, albeit sporadically), and who was foolishly giving away 45-minute 80mb files for 99cents (both, to my surprise). Unfortunately you still can’t buy something like the hour-long opus Sex by The Necks anywhere digitally (and jesus! I’m holding onto that CD, because the fucker is apparently selling for $36 retail, go figure); nonetheless, I feel I’ve managed to amass a somewhat well-rounded cross-section of ridiculously long mp3s below. Note that every so often I threw a curve ball just to gauge the libraries of both vendors. (To further complicate the price-by-length irregularities, a friend has pointed out that a 15-second track by Melt Banana is going for $0.99 on both sites, but that’s a separate chart for a separate day. Takers?)

Regarding MP3 Quality
Amazon claims to have 256kbps mp3s; Shockhound claims 192kbps minimum. So both of these options already beat the pants off of iTunes (128kb with DRM) and iTunes Plus (256kb DRM-free – but AAC, not mp3, not exactly universal out of the box and often pricier to boot).


Artist Album Song Length Amazon Shockhound
Miles Davis Pangaea Zimbabwe 41:49 $0.99 $18.99 (Album Only)
Miles Davis Pangaea Gondwana 46:51 $0.99 $18.99 (Album Only)
Frank Zappa Disconnected Synapses King Kong 31:38 $0.99 NZ (No Zappa!)
Metallica Ride The Lightning The Call of Ktulu 8:53 $0.99 $9.99 (Album Only)
Tortoise TNT Everglade 8:45 $0.99 NT (Seriously No Tortoise?!)
Jaco Pastorius Word of Mouth Three Views of a Secret 5:55 $0.99 $9.99 (Album Only)
Bugge Wesseltoft Moving Moving 12:58 $0.99 NM (No Moving)
Sigur Ros Svefn – g – Englar Svefn – g – Englar 9:19 $0.89 (10-cent discount) NS (No Svefn)
Can Tago Mago Halleluwah 18:28 $2.90 NC (No Can! weak)
Artist Album Song Length Amazon Shockhound
John Coltrane Ascension Edition II 40:56 $7.99 (Album Only) $0.99
John Coltrane Ascension Edition I 38:30 $7.99 (Album Only) $0.99
Brian Eno Ambient 1/Music For Airports 1/1 17:21 $2.90 $0.99
Jethro Tull Thick as a Brick Part 1 22:40 $3.87 $0.99
Jethro Tull Thick as a Brick Part 2 21:09 $3.87 $0.99
Rush 2112 2112 20:32 $7.97 (Album Only) $0.99
Charles Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus I X Love 7:41 $7.99 (Album Only) $0.99
The Who Tommy Underture 10:09 $10.97 (Album Only) $0.99
The Who Tommy (Deluxe) Underture 10:03 $14.19 (Album Only) $0.99
The Jimi Hendrix Experience Electric Ladyland Voodoo Chile 14:59 $9.49 (Album Only) $0.99
The Jimi Hendrix Experience Electric Ladyland 1983… (A Merman I Should Turn To Be) 13:39 $9.49 (Album Only) $0.99
Pat Metheny Works Every Day (I Thank You) 13:17 $9.49 (Album Only) $0.99
Sonny Rollins & Thelonious Monk Prestige Profiles: Sonny Rollins More Than You Know 10:48 $11.98 (Album Only) $0.99
Sonny Rollins Prestige Profiles: Sonny Rollins Tenor Madness 12:18 $11.98 (Album Only) $0.99
Sonny Rollins Prestige Profiles: Sonny Rollins Moritat 10:04 $11.98 (Album Only) $0.99
Fela Kuti Sorrow, Tears & Blood Sorrow, Tears & Blood 10:16 $9.49 (Album Only) $0.99
Sun Ra Space Is the Place Space Is the Place 21:14 $9.49 (Album Only) $0.99
Pharoah Sanders Karma The Creator Has A Master Plan 32:47 $9.49 (Album Only) $0.99
Pink Floyd Animals Dogs 17:08 $2.90 $0.99
Artist Album Song Length Amazon Shockhound
Miles Davis Agharta Interlude 26:22 $0.99 $0.99
Miles Davis A Tribute to Jack Johnson Right Off 26:55 $0.99 $0.99
Miles Davis Bitches Brew Pharaoh’s Dance 20:06 $0.99 $0.99
Miles Davis In a Silent Way Shhh/Peaceful 18:16 $0.99 $0.99
Yes Relayer To Be Over 9:05 $0.99 $0.99
Phish Junta The Divided Sky 11:56 $0.99 $0.99
Serge Gainsbourg L’Histoire De Melody Nelson Cargo Culte 7:38 $0.99 $0.99
Artist Album Song Length Amazon Shockhound
Black Renaissance (Harry Whitaker) Black Renaissance: Body, Mind and Spirit Black Renaissance 23:40 NBR (No…) NBR (Ditto.)
Ornette Coleman Free Jazz Free Jazz 37:04 $11.49 (Album Only) $13.99 (Album Only)
Fela Kuti Roforofo Fight / The Fela Singles Go Slow 17:22 $9.49 (Album Only) NA (unfathomably weak Fela library)
Jaco Pastorius Word of Mouth Liberty City 11:57 $9.99 (Album Only) $9.99 (Album Only)
Bill Cosby Wonderfulness Tonsils 15:07 NA $9.99 (Album Only)
R Kelly Trapped in the Closet Chapters 1-5 16:34 $7.92 (Album Only) $7.99 (Album Only)
Yes Relayer The Gates Of Delerium 21:50 $9.99 (Album Only) $9.99 (Album Only)
Yes The Yes Album Perpetual Change (Note: Way too fucking confusing, this one, with the multiple releases and wavering published running time between 8-14 minutes. Suffice say discrepancies exist.)
The Grateful Dead Note: All Dead files appear synced across the board, generally priced at $0.99 with the occasional “Album Only” thrown in. I found the pointed absence of a digitized One From The Vault at both e-tailers surprising, but this is all moot: You’re supposed to trade live boots for dank weed, or didn’t you know anything about Deadheads.

So there you have it. Those prices are valid as of January 27, 2009, and big labels are clearly still shooting themselves in the foot. By not forcing the same tracks to be “album only” across the board, the policy becomes a laughable joke. Granted, most or all of the above is back catalog, but still: Who’s managing what out there!? And now please excuse me, for I’m off to cherry-pick some more of that sweet, sweet fruit before one or more of our label contacts reads this, flips out and yanks the goods.