Since the destruction of Napster by the Recording Industry of America, both consumers and the record companies have struggled to invent business models that will allow for the most amount of control for music enthusiasts and the highest rate of compensation for the rights holders and music producers. Of course they’ve failed time and time again, however over the last couple of years it seems they have come to terms with the fact that people want what they want for as little hassle as possible. Ask anyone who covers technology and they;ll be the first ones to tell you voer time that dynamic has been responsible for the creation of the biggest tool used to pirate nearly anything digital: BitTorrent. Less talked about however is that it’s spawned something else. Something totally legal, subscription music.
Most Zune users we’re first attracted to the platform by ZunePass and therefore already know nearly everything there is to know about the service however for those of you who are new or never bothered to get the lowdown here’s how it works. Each month Microsoft bills you $14.95 for access to nearly unlimited music for as long as you keep your payments current, or you cancel your subscription. If you’re into new music or love checking out what the kids are listening to these days, it provides an excellent alternative to paying $12.99 for one album.

The Good
One of the best parts about ZunePass is that ease at which you can grow your music collection. For example, what if I wanted to get some Beyonce tracks? Simply open the PC software, or Zune.net type in Beyonce and download no muss, no fuss. Then there are the alternatives. If you are near a wireless connection you can download straight to the device from it’s mobile marketplace. If you like music you can use your ZuneHD to download tracks using Zune Pass as you listen. The device will then download these tracks either when it’s synced, or when you next connect to wireless internet. Music discovery doesn’t stop there either. Using Channels will allow you to have entire playlists made by music experts to be synced and listened to at home or on the go, and Picks recommends songs you might like based on what you’ve listened to already. Found a song you want to keep and sync more to then just a Zune? Use your 10 free song tracks to get non-DRMed MP3s!

The Bad
Now all of this does come at a price, too hefty a price for some. Although the service is billed as allowing you to download “unlimited” music the truth is that some tracks just aren’t available using the ZunePass. You can still use your 10 free credits to purchase these songs, but still it’s a drawback none the less. Also don’t be fooled into thinking your music may still work if you decide to cut ties. No matter how long you wait to connect to the internet or attempt to cheat the system the end result is the same. ZunePass tracks are wrapped in a DRM that needs to sync to the internet service on timely intervals in order to playback on your computer or any Zune device. You wan’t free music stay with pirating. Also a new problem new has started to rear it’s ugly head as of late, delayed release. For some reason there are a small number of records that are held from release to the subscription service until a certain window. I emailed to Microsoft about this a few weeks ago when Jay-Z’s new album debuted, however it has yet to be returned. When we’ve heard more on this from Zune I’ll update this article. Also the 10 free tracks included every month with ZunePass do not roll over. The software will remind you when they are close to expiring but they still expire and that’s all there is to it. Use them or lose them.

The Best
So let’s be clear. The ZunePass is not only your best choice for subscription music, it’s THE CHOICE. Other subscription services, don’t offer device playback, and the few that do, require clunky apps and online services. Zune Pass allows you to stream your music from a web browser, or the software marketplace, listen portably via a device, suggests music for you, and best of all gives you 10 free tracks a month. There’s no competition here at all and until Apple offers subscription music there won’t be a good alternative. Honestly they had me and nearly unlimited music on a portable device, but there’s nothing wrong with more icing on the cake, is there?