Ask LH: What Are My Best Options For Buying Music Downloads In Australia?

Ask LH: What Are My Best Options For Buying Music Downloads In Australia?

Dear Lifehacker, As a person of the technology age, I find it hard to believe that digital music is an unknown to many Australians. The only options I’m aware of in Australia are iTunes and BigPond. I don’t use iTunes (nor do I want to), and Bigpond is. . . well, horrible. Here are some examples of why:

  • the albums are more expensive than a printed disc from JB HiFi (normal albums are between $12 and $46);
  • the singles are expensive at $2 each;
  • they don’t have some popular albums (e.g. Gotye’s ‘Like Drawing Blood’);
  • you have to install the BigPond Media Downloader just to obtain the tracks;
  • they are owned by an evil behemoth of an organisation and I don’t want to give them my money

Amazon MP3 looks perfect, but isn’t available in Australia. Searching the web for ‘digital music download stores’ returns nothing useful. Could you make some suggestions for your devoted Lifehacker readers?

Thanks, Out-Of-Tune

Picture by Michael Coghlan

Dear OOT,

The annoying reality of buying music online is that rights agreements which were created when music was entirely physical, meaning manufacturing records or CDs locally and shipping them through different labels in each country was a sensible strategy, remain in place even when digital distribution now accounts for the majority of sales. That means that options like Amazon MP3 and Google’s music services remain blocked, unless you want to do a lot of stuffing around to get a US account. It also means that the services that are available often have a different range to what you’d get overseas (an issue we’ve covered when outlining how to get a US iTunes account). So the situation is probably never going to be ideal, but there are options out there.

Before kicking off, I do have to take mild issue with a couple of your arguments against BigPond. I’ve discussed before how people complaining about the cost of music often fail to recognise that music got cheaper even before digital distribution came along, so I won’t revisit that other than to point out that I could pay the same range of prices in JB Hi-Fi . Also, $2 a track is actually cheaper than iTunes’ new release price.

But if you do want to buy music outside those two big corporate behemoths, there are some obvious other options, including both mainstream sites . I’m concentrating here on sites that sell music, rather than streaming:

Many of these sites offer music from outside the traditional “big label” market, and thus are happy to sell worldwide. I don’t claim anything like expertise across the full range of musical genres, so if readers want to recommend their own favourites in the comments, we are (ahem) all ears.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • For what it’s worth, I’m still a fan of buying physical media with my music on it. Why? A variety of reasons.

    CDs still remain the top of class for audio quality, where as the majority of digital music downloads are offered in a lossy format at a lower bit rate. I have no issues with listening to mp3, but my preference is for me to have control over that, and have an original recording to return to if my preference change.

    CDs are generally easy to shift to pretty much any format. While mp3 is obviously predominant, and almost universal; it’s not particularly hard to transcode to FLAC, ogg vorbis, or any other obscure format that might be needed.

    CDs are universally available. A good record store will stock 99% of the music I want to buy. iTunes has a pretty good selection of the market; but it doesn’t have everything, and hey it’s iTunes, I don’t want to use their software. Other digital music stores have different agreements with different labels – so that fragments what is available between sources.

    I store my CDs in my own library. I’ve lost music due to failed HDDs, data corruption, and even accidental deletion. Pretty much the only things that can destroy my CD library is fire and theft. So far, neither have happened – and both remain unlikely.

    I like cover art. Call me nostalgic, but I enjoy reading through sleeve notes. A 250×250 jpg as a cover just can’t compare.

    • One thing I just realised that I should really point out – that previous post was written for a point of view of “Buying CDs as a means to creating digital music files/mp3″… I’d be naive to cart CDs everywhere where I go.

    • In general I agree with you, but I’d like to address two of your points there:

      CDs are easy to transcode into any format, but it’s even easier to rip them to a lossless master copy (flac, etc). After that transcoding entire libraries to any other format becomes very easy and doesn’t involve swapping CDs in and out all the time.

      Secondly, backups would seriously help your ‘data loss’ issue. A 2-3tb external drive and an automated backup program would make your digital music as hardy as your CD collection.

      Other than that, you’re pretty much spot on. Buying physical CDs is a good way to avoid DRM and give you control over the quality of your audio. I also count the second-hand CD market as a big plus, you just can’t do that with digital downloads.

      • “..CDs are easy to transcode into any format, but it’s even easier to rip them to a lossless master copy (flac, etc). After that transcoding entire libraries to any other format becomes very easy and doesn’t involve swapping CDs in and out all the time…”

        Fair point, though with the speed of ripping and encoding a CD these days, I personally would rather re-rip my CDs when required to the new format, than to duplicate my whole music collection in both FLAC and mp3

        “…Secondly, backups would seriously help your ‘data loss’ issue. A 2-3tb external drive and an automated backup program would make your digital music as hardy as your CD collection…”

        Also a good point I didn’t consider. While the amount of storage I have available has significantly grown over the last 12 years, my library of music has remained at a relatively static 35-45GB. Back in 2002, I wouldn’t have considered it economical to backup a library of that size, where as these days it’s far less of an issue.

        • Why *not* have duplicate libraries? Right now I’ve just finished ripping my whole collection of CDs to FLAC, adjusting their metadata to a consistent scheme and ensuring each file has high quality cover art. Storage and processing power is so cheap nowadays the only real bottleneck is the physical limit of how fast a CD can spin! :–P

          The main advantage to having a lossless digital “master” is metadata. Metadata is important because that’s what you really end up using to find the music in your collection (through a tool like Winamp, iTunes or WMP). With FLAC, I only have to be anal about the metadata of my files once – the art, artists, album etc. is all carried over to whatever lossy format I choose, exactly the way I like it.

    • I’m with you on all of the above. I buy the CD and rip it to mp3 so I can listen to it in the car etc (Burning CD’s is just so 90’s). You can upload to the cloud and store it there in case of fire etc.


    It’s great, a real competitor to iTunes. One of the very few services that actually opened in Australia & New Zealand for a trial first before the rest of the world.

    All tracks are high quality mp3. DRM Free.
    Music videos are also DRM Free.

    You can sample the whole song in most instances before buying. This is also true for any music videos.

    There are also various streaming and subscription plans available.

    For a project that has Sony at the backend, the service is actually very well supported and there is heaps of content available.

    Highly recommended.

  • I have had success with (just use a UK or US post code and you can sign in and purchase music fine), and purchasing second hand CDs from

    7digital downloads in 320kbps MP3 (DRM free), or AAC, and some are even in FLAC. The 7digital android app streams the music from your 7digital library, and will add in music from your device to the playlist too. Your music is always available for download from the locker on 7digital, as many times as you like. All in pure mp3. is awesome for cheap second-hand CDs. I just rummage through their $2-$4 range stuff and pickup everything I want when its on sale. Obviously thats for older music, but they have newer stuff too at a higher price (typically closer to $10) though still well below even digital downloads. Postage to Australia is $6.99USD, so I usually buy $50USD worth at a time. They regularly have 20% off sales which is a big bonus too.

    • By the way, heres some pro tips:

      Get on board the Google Music bandwagon, and install the Google Music uploader onto your main PC (or home server if you run one). Set it to monitor your MP3 directory and make sure you download all your new music into that directory.

      Now you can listen to your entire collection, no matter where you bought it from, from Google Music (which means streaming from any browser, or Android app).

      I find this incredibly useful because I download my DRM-free music from whoever has it cheapest. I rip all my CDs into the same directory structure. RSS feeds of free music from places like Triple J all go in there too. Google Music snatches the lot and hosts it for me. When I’m at work, I just bust open a browser window and stream all my own music without having to install a single app. When I’m out roaming around, I just use the audio output jack of my phone to enjoy the same music on the run. … Invite yourself, and wait for the golden ticket in your email. Just keep in mind you’ll need a US hostname (further pro tips: proxies!) to accept the invitation, but once you’ve accepted you can login from anywhere just fine.

  • for alternative and classical music, have a look at magnatune.
    they are one of the longest existing digital music downloading sources.
    drm free, in the format of your choice (mp3, ogg, wav, etc)

  • You can use MP3 downloads with a service like hideipvpn – works out much cheaper than itunes.
    Also if you buy CDs from Amazon, don’t forget the order will be cheaper than advertised because no 20% VAT (like GST but bigger) and free postage over £25-

  • @TSH I just tried guvera – it seems buggy to me, doesn’t work in Opera and song often don’t play in IE. Moreover the 3 free songs you get just doesn’t seem worth jumping through all the targeted advertising hoops. The interface seems similar to grooveshark but more awkward and unresponsive. While the option to purchase songs for $1.99 each seems uncompetitive. I don’t recommend the site.

  • BigPond Music isn’t as bad as you make out. It’s cheaper than itunes and like all the other services it’s difficult to obtain the digital rights for them. Hence, why they probably don’t have Gotye’s older albums. It’s the music studios you need to complain about!

  • Personally I like to buy direct from the band or the label, have a great site, well, if you like Drum and Bass! The issue with almost all online downloads is the price discrimination. Seeing the discussion about Gotye, I looked on Album is AUD17. In the NZ store it’s NZD16.90. That’s AUD 13.20.

  • One of the nice things about Bigpond music is that when an album only has a couple of tracks (like some 70s concept and electronica), they’re very cheap. Picked up a lot of tangerine dream this way.

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