Magnatune: Open Source Record Label

Mark Sabbatini By

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Browsing other genres is recommended, since everything from instrumental hard rock to unusual blends of ethnic styles and instruments can be found.
Imagine wrecking your new Ferrari, but meeting your future spouse while walking to the repair shop.

Sometimes pleasant surprises are possible even during complete disaster such as, hypothetically, a digital music fanatic whose entire collection is threatened by a hard drive crash. It possible that person takes a deep breath and, trying to stay calm with an astronomical time and cost commitment possibly ahead, spends a minute perusing free public domain music sources at the Internet Archive for something soothing.

It's possible Magnatune will be spotted.

It's possible their slogan of "We're a record label. But we're not evil" will be enough to distract a troubled mind to examine the collection of 326 albums at their website , including a few dozen jazz, New Age and World music collections.

Perhaps their shareware-minded concept of "download our albums and then pay if you like them," along with a quick and incredibly easy to navigate site, will turn up enticing possibilities.

And the process of rebuilding begins.

Of course, this is pure conjecture. Luckily, this is also a noteworthy discovery for people in their right minds as well, especially if they're supportive of and interested in encouraging further participation of the honor system. It tends to be long on New Age, ethnic and classically influenced instrumentals than hardcore jazz, but that makes it a nice change of pace from the usual collection of avant-garde and techno that often dominates Net labels.

With no disrespect intended, browsing the various shareware prices is rather entertaining. Nonprofit users can license albums free, a casual listener asked to pay perhaps $5 to $10 and a corporation hit for several thousand dollars - to license a single song. There's also pricing for things such as muzak- on-hold telephone fodder, computer games and wedding videos.

Most albums contain a large number of songs a few minutes in length each. There's little over-the-edge experimentation likely to send new listeners fleeing for their acoustic safety, but the tradeoff is a lack of top-end rewards.

Thursday Group gets reasonably accurate billing as progressive jazz, although the albums are basically complex-beat contemporary fusion - think Spyro Gyra with more grit and less gloss. Guitarist John Williams does folksy New Age soloing more consistent with Michael Hedges than Bill Frisell on two albums. A more interesting low-key solo collection is Jeff Wahl's electric blues plucking on Guitarscapes , which also branches a bit into self-descriptive ethnic such as "India" and "Spanish Ballad." Continuing the upswing is Jag with three albums of considerably more gritty acoustic blues guitar, although the recording quality - especially some vocals - isn't always what it should be. Also worthwhile is experimental organ funk from the Drop Trio, featured in a previous download review.

Browsing other genres is recommended, since everything from instrumental hard rock to unusual blends of ethnic styles and instruments can be found. Magnatune also provides various compilations and "play all" streaming options, and those with fast connections might simply opt for this and pause at those capturing their interest.

One annoyance with the download process is the lack of an "all-at-once" album download, since some of them feature more than 20 songs and require a lot of work by the user as a result.

Fans of traditional jazz may find little at Magnatune worth downloading, but it is one of the better public domain sources for those into contemporary genres. The musicians generally seem more dedicated to playing than the lowest common commercial denominator and there's a good amount of diversity within the limited fields covered. For one stressful afternoon it provided some much-needed crisis soothing (oops - that is to say it would have served ideally if such a situation existed) and that's more than many trips to the cash register with so-called quality smooth discs have offered.

Visit Magnatune on the web.


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