Reading up on Queen Samantha’s remark on using ex-p2p (peer-to-peer for you people with lives) giant Napster made me think of the number of mp3 sites that I use for my fix. No, not the p2p stuff!
Believe it or not, there are a few fairly well-established mp3 distribution sites out there with plenty of variety for the discerning music fan. While they lack the variety of some of the major studio-endorsed artists people can find on iTunes and Napster, they make up for it with diversity, like a specialist shop a la High Fidelity. Unlike those shops, though, this one does not have snooty music snobs mocking you for liking mainstream stuff. If that does not seem good enough, they tend to also use different policies to download and cost much less as a result, so you can’t lose either way.
I am an avid fan of emusic, which runs on a monthly subscription. Most of the more independent labels frequent it and their selection is pretty good if you’re looking for some of the more obscure stuff or something that sounds like what you’re looking for or even the titles for groups you haven’t heard from in awhile. Black Flag? Check. They Might Be Giants? Check. Even if they lack some of the albums to groups that you might love, the completionists out there can usually find an older forgotten album or two from your favorite band to immerse into.
You would think that a subscription would get tiring, but the interesting way this philosophy works is that it encourages you to keep looking into new bands and emusic is designed to always offer you a recommendation or two to look into, which can run 50/50 hit or miss, but it does a great job making you feel encouraged to keep looking around and discovering new groups along the way. At 50 cents a song, even the smallest subscription can get you one album and a handful of songs in between.
Others I know rely on allofmp3, which also boasts a decent collection and is actually based in Russia. It becomes a bit of a battle of loopholes here, and subscribing off of a credit card charge to Russia is going to raise a black flag with your card companies, but that aside is still worth looking into if you are looking for soundtracks, which they boast to have many of, including a few OSTs for video games that are practically impossible to find physical copies of (trust me, I lurk eBay so I know). The last time I used it, the price range was still a fifth of the 2 dollar per song charge, although required a money deposit