Brick-and-mortar and DRM-free: NYC’s Other Music, soon to be online for those of you not near the 6 train, as endorsed by Ben Chang for “On the Inside Info.”

It’s great news that EMI has decided to drop DRM from its music and video catalogs offered on iTunes. Those tracks will instantly be compatible with other players that support AAC (including, oddly enough, Microsoft’s Zune), and there’s even talk (via Microsoft statement) that Zune itself will go the same direction. With one label leading the way, other labels and other stores may follow.

But “news”? Not really to the readers of CDM. DRM-free digital downloads are nothing new, once you get away from iTunes and the big Windows stores. In fact, many “alternative” digital download services offer richer content within their niche (as with the electronic-focused stores), while still providing big-name artists (eMusic, despite its reputation, carries the likes of Johnny Cash and Ray Charles, among many others).

Here’s a quick list of some of the stores I’ve enjoyed using, listed, in fairness, in alphabetical order. And, yep, I’ve bought from all of them:

  1. Beatport: I’m not a fan of its green, Flash-driven interface or clunky downloading, but Beatport does have a rich electronic music catalog, and it’s a must-visit for dance music fans. There’s an embeddable player for sharing your favorite playlists on your site, as well.
  2. Bleep: Indie and electronica, strong IDM focus, embeddable player, small selection but deep and with high-quality downloads. Worth it for their Warp Records catalog alone. (Just beware: I’m betting some of our more experimental electronica CDMers could drop a lot of money here!
  3. Dance Tracks Digital: DTD is one of the few online stores that feels curated the way an offline store does — it’s no coincidence it grew out of Manhattan’s legendary Dance Tracks. And despite the name, there’s quite a mix of genres here, likely of interest to the CDMer. An elegant downloader makes bulk-purchasing dangerously easy. It’s one of the first places I stop, other than Bleep for the weirder stuff they lack. They also offer tracks pre-warped for Ableton Live. (Disclosure: on behalf of CDM, I’m contributing to their new blog.)
  4. eMusic: Far improved upon its initial offering, eMusic now offers a huge catalog (2 million songs from 13,000 labels) at bargain-basement prices (30 tracks for a $10/mo a subscription). Well worth a try alongside other services. We were trying to figure out how eMusic managed to stay this cheap. Answer: screwing over labels and artists? Hmmm… details below.
  5. Other Music, Coming Soon: My favorite Manhattan record store will now have an electronic outlet, coming later this month. If you’ve never been to Other — like, say, you’re not in New York — these guys cover absolutely everything, from rock to experimental Classical. (I’ll be sure to cover their launch here, in the final blow that will destroy our wallets.)

Interestingly, many of these outlets can be cost-efficient, particularly if you fill out your collection on eMusic. And what you get is DRM-free, high-quality music that can fill up players on every platform (Mac, Windows, Linux) and every portable player, without any of the pains of buying music from iTunes. Stream, share, burn, mix, whatever. Ultimately, why bother with the philosophical arguments about DRM-free music when the practical benefits are so clear?

Where do you purchase your music? Let us know in comments. And favorite brick-and-mortar record stores count, too, as CDs and vinyl remain great, high-quality, DRM-free formats. For a nice lineup of these in the US, see Stylus Magazine’s roundup.

What about eMusic? A couple of you have raised issue with eMusic. Lower music prices mean lower revenues for labels and artists, so the industry is balking. One thing about legal services: labels can simply leave, and sometimes rightfully so. Victory Records is pulling out of eMusic as it drives costs down to 25 cents a track. Note that this is not the case with the others here, many of which are expanding sales for smaller labels who otherwise get lost trying to reach their niches on big stores like iTunes.