If you want a one-URL “major” vs. “indie” battleground — what defines and/or divides them, which lifestyle brand the discerning-legal-downloader demographic really prefers — you could do far worse than eMusic, the excellent monthly-subscription MP3 service (which employs several of our colleagues and friends) that’s both continually growing and continually enduring growing pains. The latter today, mostly: This week the site is adding 250,000 tracks (including the entire Universal Music Group catalog) but losing the mega-indie labels — Matador, Merge, Domino — that continually top its download charts.
As for the losses, there’s plenty of terse, polite statements to choose from, from eMusic’s (“Rest assured, we’re still the place you go to find the records that hover under the radar”) to Matador’s (“As eMusic has brought more major labels into the fold, they have changed the terms on which they deal with labels, some of which we have found impossible to accept, in our own interests, those of our artists, and ultimately those of their fans”) to Merge’s (“Unfortunately, eMusic’s unilateral changes in an effort to bring on the major labels has created a situation where it would be harmful to the interests of Merge and our artists to continue our partnership at this time”). Add the pricing changes coming with the switch (using one-track “credits” instead of, you know, dollars made the whole thing feel very different, psychologically, somehow, but now it’s back to dollars) and you’ve got a fascinating sociological experiment here. Will Def Jam soothe the pain of losing Matador? Are the two so different now that a major site can’t find a way to sell them both? “This is as heartbreaking to us as it is to you,” eMusic notes, hoping that it won’t be heartbreaking for long.