Main | Thursday, September 20, 2007

Review: Spiral Frog Mostly Sucky

Last night I tinkered around with Spiral Frog, the just-launched and super-hyped "free" music and video download service lauded on some sites as the music industry's savior from illegal downloading. The site is supported by advertising (banners and sidebars, but mercifully - no rolling stock) and the ad revenue is shared with their music company partners. So far the only major label to sign up is Universal, although many small and indie labels are on board. According to Spiral Frog, their inventory currently stands at 800,000 songs and 3500 videos, with "more added daily."

After registration (very simple), I trolled around their new releases column and immediately picked up a new Gary Numan track, Dominion Day (Extended Mix). The track downloaded in about 90 seconds, but the download manager wouldn't let me assign the track to my external drive, forcing me to park it on my busting-at-the-seams C-drive. Boo. Playing the track pops up a Windows Media player (with an embedded ad, natch) with no slide-bar for advancing the track. Boo. But the Numan track was pretty good, so yay.

The "Top Downloads" section seems to have lots of the current hit artists - Fergie, Gwen Stefani, Maroon 5, Rihanna -but that stuff doesn't interest me much so I hit their "Artists" archive section where I found no search function, just an alphabetical listing that forces you to scroll through hundreds of acts under each letter. Boo. [Update: there IS a search box. Just didn't see it. D'oh!] On the other hand, such scrolling can reveal an artist you'd forgotten or didn't know about, which is how I found two albums by Alexandra Billings, the excellent trans cabaret singer who occasionally comments on JMG. So, yay. But on the other other hand, solo artists are filed by first name and all bands that start with "The" are filed under "T", bucking several decades of record store protocol. Boo.

Does iTunes files their acts like that? I can't remember and I CAN'T CHECK because loading Spiral Frog has completely trashed my iTunes. Won't open. DEATH BOO. Other icky stuff: If you don't login at least once a month, their DRM vaporizes everything you've downloaded. (Weren't you "paying" for the tracks by viewing the ads?) Also, the tracks cannot be transferred to your iPod (only Windows-approved Plays For Sure devices), and you can't burn tracks to CD.

You won't find Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode, Bob Mould, Erasure or many other acts popular with teh gays on Spiral Frog, for now anyway. But I did find complete discographies from Donna Summer and Diana Ross, plus a smattering of albums from Bjork, Madonna, Morrissey (no Smiths), and other gay-interest acts. For now, Spiral Frog might be best for discovering new or indie acts. IF, that is, you are willing to endure the crapola listed in the previous paragraph. I'm not.

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