CNET también está disponible en español.

Ir a español

Don't show this again

Christmas Gift Guide
MP3 Players

Etopia Music: Paul Young's DRM-free store for unsigned bands

A new music site co-founded by musician Paul Young launches today. It offers DRM-free downloads and a do-it-yourself system for unsigned bands to sell their music for a profit

For unsigned bands anywhere in the world wanting to escape the clutches of obscurity, some good news breaks. Etopia Music, a new music download site co-founded by musician Paul Young, launches today. The service allows unsigned bands to sell their music on the site and keep 80 per cent of each download's revenue. Downloads can cost as little as 50p, and bands are free to charge any amount greater than this.

7digital's 'indiestore' has been letting bands sell their music for a while, but Etopia offers a couple of key differences. Firstly, Etopia charges bands a yearly fee based on how many songs they wish to sell. Prices start at £4.50 a year with 15MB of space for songs -- about enough room for three MP3 tracks. Yearly plans are available up to £49.50 per year, with 350MB of storage, which equates to about 75 MP3 tracks.

The second interesting difference is that Etopia will promote unsigned artists alongside established acts. That said, the homepage -- featuring a combination of roughly 50 links to suggested or highly rated bands, albums and songs -- is populated mostly by famous troubadours such as Bjork, Elvis Presley, Bloc Party, Paul Weller, Frank Sinatra and the Sex Pistols. But obviously this is very early days for the site.

Bands are also free to upload photos, biographies, videos and contact details, making the site something like a financially profitable MySpace profile -- but without hordes of angry teenagers obsessed with taking photos of themselves and whining about who's got the best emo fringe (a contest we naturally win anyway).

Although most music from signed artists are delivered DRM-free in 320Kbps MP3 format, some will be 192Kbps and some will be available as WAV files (w00t!). Not only that, but bands can upload music at various standard bit rates and, most interestingly, in a variety of formats, including MP3, AAC, FLAC and WAV. Lossless downloads? Sign us up!

Unlike most other music stores, Etopia doesn't have any major label support. Its catalogue is populated by 30,000 artists from independent labels, contributing 250,000 tracks. A few hundred unsigned bands are available to download at launch. Etopia told us it expects major label support soon and, oddly, that it expects Sony BMG to be first. We'll see.

From the perspective of an unsigned band looking for exposure, Etopia should be exciting. The yearly fees are unfeasibly small and the potential return is huge. In the early stages of bandhood, exposure is more important than money, so despite the opportunity to rake in profits from downloads, the most attractive outcome is introduction to the masses -- without the barrier of DRM to put people off trying out your music.

But there will be a couple of issues, the most important being that as the site is saturated by new artists and people looking to make quick money, discovering true talent will become more difficult. This could be addressed by the promotion of artists the site deems worthy to more noticeable areas, however, something Paul Young himself will be routinely doing.

Questions remain, however. Young says, "Acts from anywhere on the planet can upload their music and have it for sale within minutes," suggesting no initial screening takes place. Could naughty folk upload copyrighted content and make a quick profit? Could bands performing cover versions without a licence profit from illegal performances? Apparently not. Etopia claims to constantly screen uploads and immediately takes down any inappropriate content. Users can also alert staff if they see questionable material.

Managing director Ricky Simmonds told us that experience with a similar Web site -- Audiojelly (a company that owns Etopia) --  told him that people who pay for accounts tend not to abuse the system.

This will be an interesting one to follow, and one that stands a fighting chance of success. You can check out the site at etopiamusic.com. -Nate Lanxon