eMusic users awoke Friday to a redesign of the subscription-based download site, which specializes in music from independent artists. The main feature is a recommendation engine provided by MediaUnbound, which uses a combination of computer algorithms and real live music fans to duplicate the services of that one friend of yours who always seems to know about the new bands first. MediaUnbound CEO Michael Papish had this funny exchange with TechCrunch in which he explained why his company's technology is better than Pandora and other recommendation engines, although the TechCrunch reviewer remained unconvinced.
It sounds intriguing, and I'm sure that eMusic's 400,000-plus users will enjoy playing with it. But every time I think to check the service out, I'm stymied by its sign-up process. The front page is useless, offering almost no insight into what eMusic offers. It's very hard to browse or search to see what songs are on the service, much less sample them--the only way I could get to the store was by clicking on the "Audiobooks" link at the bottom of the page, then selecting the "Browse" tab. You can't test the new recommendation engine. This page listing reasons to join just doesn't do the trick. Neither does this page listing a handful of free samples, seemingly chosen at random.
This aggressive approach to getting sign-ups may have been OK when free music was hard to come by and when iTunes and other music stores trafficked only in DRM-encrusted files. But with sites like Imeem offering free streaming of entire songs, and Amazon.com letting you search among millions of MP3 tracks from major labels as well as indies, the redirects to the sign-up screen are a real turn-off. I don't understand why eMusic doesn't just make the sample version of the store the front page, then guide users to the sign-up page when they try to download something--just like Amazon or any other Web-based music store.