Legal Music Downloads (1) - Amplifier

from the December 2005 Newsletter
by Rob Zorn

This month, and over the coming months, I thought I'd do a series of short reviews on what's available to New Zealanders who want to download music legally from the Internet. It's easy enough to get copyrighted music via peer-to-peer sources (P2P), but in most cases this is illegal and deprives the artist of any income as a result of their work. P2P connections have also often been associated with viruses and spy-ware.

What better place to start than with Amplifier?

0512amplifier.jpg (8473 bytes)Amplifier (www.amplifier.co.nz) has been around since 1999 making it one of the oldest download services running anywhere in the world. It currently has 75,000 subscribers (almost half of which log in from overseas), and grows by around 2000 members a month.

Amplifier unashamedly restricts itself to New Zealand performers and music. You won’t find any overseas performer there, no matter how popular they are. They offer over 7000 tracks for download, as well as more than 1200 CDs that can also be purchased for delivery over the site. Altogether over 1300 New Zealand performers are represented.

All Amplifier staff are active in the NZ music industry as performers, producers, managers and DJ’s. Together they see their role as supporting and promoting New Zealand music as well as running a business.

Anyone at all with recorded music can set their own page up on Amplifier and get assistance selling their music and promoting themselves, so there's a wide variety of music there. 

Songs generally cost $1.99 each, and are downloaded in 256Kbps mp3 format. This means they are easily played in any player, including your iPod. This is a significant advantage over other online music providers such as Coketunes or Digirama which provide the downloads in WMA format. Most software players will handle WMA okay, but your iPod certainly won't.

Whole CDs can be downloaded from Amplifier and some can also be physically ordered online. They are delivered within a few days, provided they are in stock. CD prices seem a little lower than in retail stores, but a $4.00 postal charge needs to be factored in.

Their catalogue is extensive, however, and it’s a lot easier to peruse and listen to audio samples online that it is in a retail music shop. It’s a great place to find the latest NZ music as well as stuff by those great bands you used to listen to back in your university days in the 80s whose albums aren’t so easy to find in the retail stores.

The site is intuitive to use. Browse by artist, title or genre, listen to streamed samples (lo-fi) and if you like the song or album, simply click to add it to your shopping cart. When you’re ready you can click on purchase and then either download the songs, or use the form to send in an order for a CD delivery.

I particularly liked the chart stream feature. This is found to the left of the home page. Click this to begin playing through the list of popular downloads while you get on with other things on your computer. If you hear something you particularly like, you can search for and stream more stuff by that artist.

Other enhancements to free membership include: free video-streaming and weekly newsletters, weekly competitions, and NZ music news.

Coming up, Coketunes, Digirama, and maybe even iTunes if they get their act together in New Zealand in time.