Ask LH: Does It Matter Where I Buy My Music?

Dear Lifehacker, I’m tired of Spotify and I want to move back to buying music. iTunes has a great selection, but will I still be able to play those songs if I switch away from Apple products? Would another service or physical CDs be better? And do artists make more money at one store than another? Help! Thanks, Tricky Tunes

Title image remixed from vasabii (Shutterstock)

Dear Tricky,

You’re in luck: while buying music may seem complicated, it’s actually a lot simpler than it used to be. Here’s what you need to know.

Everything Works Everywhere (Mostly)

When iTunes was first introduced, the music it sold had Digital Rights Management (DRM) embedded into it, which prevented you from playing it anywhere other than through Apple software and products, and also stopped you sharing it with your friends. In 2009, Apple switched to a DRM-free format. As a result. if you buy music from iTunes today, you’ll be able to play it on any device or operating system without a problem. The same goes for music purchased through BigPond Music or any other online store.

Note that this only applies to music. Movies, TV shows and ebooks still have DRM on them, so don’t buy those from iTunes unless you want to get locked into the Apple ecosystem (or you want to go through the somewhat annoying process of removing DRM).

Quality Is Generally High

The quality of music from legal sources is generally high. iTunes uses 256 kbps AAC (for more on what this means, see our guide to bitrates in music).

The main exception: If you buy an album on CD and rip it yourself, you can store your music in higher-quality lossless format. This probably won’t give you a better listening experience day-to-day, but it is handy if you want to ever convert that music to a different format.

Artist Reimbursement Is Similar

If you want to support your favourite artists, the best tactic is to buy directly from their own online store. If that isn’t an option, however, don’t fret too much: major artists will make roughly the same amount of money through iTunes and other digital services as they do if you buy their album on CD. For independent artists in particular, buying their self-pressed CDs will definitely give them more money. If you’re unsure, check the artist’s web site (or ask them on Twitter or Facebook).

Enjoy the music!


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