For those of us that have been using the Internet Archive, SonicSquirrel, Jamendo, Band Camp, and other sites to find our musical fixes, there is a new site that shows a lot of promise for those that want a cleaner style with a more consistent and easy to use navigation structure: CCTrax.
This site is appealing from the start. The first thing most people will notice is the grid of recent releases that takes up most of the main portion of the page. A nice layout with the cover art, artist, title, rating, release year and label all easily readable. Above the recent releases there are two things: first, below the CCTrax header is a navigation menu for various genres. Below the navigation menu is a filter selection to all you to search for titles / artists, select a genre, or a netlabel. These are some of the nicest features of any of the aggregator sites I have seen in a while. The site doesn’t force you to search for things using some obscure form, or mess around with some inconsistent or quirky navigation system. If this were all CCTrax brought to the table, it would be a win, but there is a lot, lot more.
Below the new release grid there is a statement: “All showcased music is bound to one of the six Creative Commons licenses. They authorize free music download and enable artists to promote their music while protecting their rights.” This is followed by a link that takes you to a page that describes the six major CreativeCommons licenses. I cannot applaud the author of this site loudly enough for this inclusion. Instead of making it difficult to find this information, it is prominently displayed, and the license description page is clear and easy to understand. The only criticism I can think of is that the license information isn’t displayed in the recent release grid.
To the right of the releases grid is a couple of columns of information. The first column is stats for viewed releases, users online, and some top rated releases that are about to be archived. To the right of that is a column of the labels that the site is currently carrying. Here’s to the hope that someday that list will be long enough that it will need it’s own page.
When you go into a release you are presented with a screen that gives you a larger picture of the cover art, and below it a player and track list. Between the player and the track list is a download link for the whole release. Next to each track is a pair of buttons for playing a specific track, and downloading individual tracks.
To the right of album art is grey box that displays the release date, bitrate, genre, label, catalog number and the CC License of the release. Below that is a description of the release (if there is any), which is followed by a Disqus comment area. A couple of things to note on this page: if you click on the genre, you will be taken a page of other releases in the same genre. If there is more than one release by an artist a box will appear at the bottom of the page to allow you to navigate to other releases:
Similarly, if you click on the artist link above the album art, you are taken to a page that provides two tabs: Albums and Trax.
Simply put, this provides a way to check out as many of the releases are available from an artist that are on the CCTrax website. Really useful if you find a release that you like, and want to see if the artist has other releases, and allows you to quickly sample or download tracks from any of the releases that are available. And, with a click on the album title, you can go to the full release page for additional information if needed.
And that’s the kind of organization and structure that sets CCTrax apart from many other sites, like the Internet Archive. There organizer of the site seems to have put a fair amount of thought not only into making the site clean, and visually appealing but there is functionality that is easily discovered, and highly usable. And, if you didn’t notice, I didn’t even have to discuss the navigation menus that are present on all pages on the site. Their function is so intuitive, easily discovered and well organized that they don’t need discussion. You will likely use them the same as any other feature of the site, without even realizing that there was quite a bit of thought put into making them so easy to use.
There is, however, one small item that I have noticed is oddly missing — or maybe it’s not really missing. That is: there’s no links to original release pages. Sometimes it’s useful to go to a labels own website to look at what else they offer (such as CD’s or merchandise). But, maybe that’s not really an oversight on behalf of CCTrax. After all, one of the things that any good site wants you to do is spend time on it, and not be tempted away by other sites. Certainly, you might exit to one of the labels by clicking on their banner on the main page, but you are more likely to start exploring releases, and once you do that you will be convinced that the experience of using CCTrax is excellent.
So, CCTrax is a welcome addition to the family of Creative Commons / Netlabel aggregation websites. It certainly won’t replace Jamendo, Internet Archive, or Sonic Squirrel, however it does have it’s own special place for exploring new releases. If you are like me, you will find that it has a fairly distinguished place in that family.