Apollo unveils first digital music store

The Internet portal Apollo has unveiled the first online digital music store in Latvia. Apollo’s Fonotēka (Sound Library) service gives access to songs for 50 santīms each.

But before you click over to Apollo expecting to find a Latvian version of something like Apple Computer’s wonderful iTunes Music Store, take heed that the Fonotēka is not a download service—at least not yet.

That’s what I was hoping to find when I first visited the site in an attempt to get a legal copy of a currently popular song, Detlefs’ “Četras sienas.” Then I saw the fine print: the 50 santīms gives you just seven days of access to listen online, not to download the song. According to a press release from Microphone Records (MICREC), which operates the Fonotēka with Apollo, music downloads are expected to become available come May 1. For now, however, only being able to listen to the music online is a disincentive for me. I want to be able to download the song and burn it to a compact disc or load it on my iPod.

Purchasing access, at least for first-time customers, is a bit involved. You have to register with Apollo and then figure out how you want to pay. Apollo presents four options, including paying online through Hansabanka’s Hanza.net, via SMS (Short Messaging Service, otherwise known as text messaging) on your LMT or Tele2 mobile phone, or by dialing a 900 series pay-per-call telephone number—all methods that should work well if you’re in Latvia. Although credit card culture is not yet widespread in Latvia, it would make sense to offer payments using VISA or MasterCard as another option. Apollo and MICREC might get more customers that way, especially from outside of Latvia.

For the time being, the Fonotēka only offers a limited number of albums released by MICREC. The recording house says negotiations are underway to add music from foreign record labels. If other Latvian labels such as Baltic Records Group, Platforma Records and UPE Recording Co. were added, the Fonotēka could be a worthwhile endeavor.

This isn’t MICREC’s first foray into online distribution of digital music. In 2000, MICREC offered Braithouse’s dance music recording In Da Mix, but response from customers was far from even lukewarm.

“If I recall correctly, five copies were sold that way,” Guntars Račs, MICREC’s A&R director, told me.

Perhaps the Fonotēka will strike the right chord.

Nonmainstream downloads

If you’re looking for legal music to download for free, and you are interested in nonmainstream genres as presented by Latvian artists, consider the various offerings from the music association TORNIS or download a “do-it-yourself” compilation album of Latvian hard core, punk and ska music from HC.LV. Electronica fans might find the long-standing Andrews.lv a good place to gather a collection of MP3s. And if you want to complement your library of folk music with songs performed by some lesser-known ensembles, visit Ansis Ataols Bērziņš’ folklora.lv Web site.

Latvian music from the iTunes store

Speaking of the iTunes Music Store, the popularity and range of recordings offered by Apple Computer keeps growing and now even includes some Latvian music to download. Want a copy of the national anthem, “Dievs, svētī Latviju!”, but without the words? It’s yours for 99 cents, recorded by the New Japan Philharmonic Orchestra. (Estonia’s and Lithuania’s anthems also are available.)

Gunta Plostniece’s Latvian Sacred Song, an 18-track album of inspirational songs released in 1999, is available, too.

Fans of classical music might also be interested in several albums that include performances by Latvia-born violinist Gidon Kremer (but none with his Kremerata Baltica) or in two featuring Latvian conductor Mariss Jansons.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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