In other news, I’m a little underwhelmed by Passionato (whose launch over the weekend was so widely heralded that the site apparently crashed). It advertises itself as the “world’s largest catalogue of high-quality DRM-free classical music downloads”, which would be an impressive if it weren’t for all those qualifiers. Looking through the list of labels currently sold through Passionato (we’re told that more will be added), it’s dominated by a few large names, at least two of whom – Naxos and EMI – have been widely available DRM-free for some time. (Naxos for a very long time.) There are lots of places I can already download this music, and if I can’t necessarily do so at FLAC quality, I can certainly do it more cheaply. (And, as this article points out, you can sometimes even buy the hard copy CD for less.)
The search and browse facilities, depressingly, are truly awful – searching for contemporary music gives me the option of browsing through a seemingly random (although it claims to be alphabetised) list of 790 albums. Several pages in and only a tiny proportion remotely appeal. I can narrow this down by country if I want, although those looking for exclusively American music will have to search six seperate lists headed “U.S.A”, “U.S.A.”, “U.S.A.,”, “United States of America”, “US” and good ole “USA”.
But these are problems of a sort that seemingly all new classical MP3 stores run up against – poor organisation and limited label take-up. There are now several online stores like Passionato, and they’re starting to look very familiar as the same small pool of major labels propagate their catalogues (wonky ID tags and all) across each new outlet. If you were starting an MP3 store of your own, what would really make it stand out right now would be the depth and range of your collection. And that has to come from conversations with the labels themselves: more of the smaller, independent and boutique labels should be getting on board with these stores, utilising the website’s structure to pull users through little search wormholes into areas of music they barely knew existed. As it is, many independent labels still only seem to be available through emusic (and some of those are dropping out – what happened to col legno?). This is the case to such an extent that 33 months into my emusic subscription I still don’t feel I have a handle on everything that’s available to me there. 20 minutes on Passionato and I knew I’d seen all of it before.