Timed for the start of the holiday rush, Microsoft is now offering an incredible collection of free digital music and very low-priced digital box sets. And these aren't throw-aways: Virtually anyone should be able to start a well-rounded music collection with just the free offerings. But music lovers will want to spend time examining everything on offer here.
Sadly, Microsoft's communication of these offers is incomplete and unclear. It's possible that the offers may be available in the United States only—Microsoft doesn't say—or that some offers are available only in certain places. Some have told me that you need an Xbox Music Pass subscription to qualify, but many others have said you do not. (I have one, so it has obviously just worked for me.) Indeed, the Microsoft post about these offers doesn't even include the word "Xbox" let alone "Xbox Music," even though that's where the music is coming from.
So here's what I know. You may recall that Microsoft launched a Music Deals app for both Windows (8/8.1) and Windows Phone (8/8.1) last month. As its name implies, this app provides information about special music deals, and it does so each week. Generally speaking, you get a single digital album—via Xbox Music—for $1 each week and a range of albums for $2 each.
This week, however, the deals are considerably better:
Free albums. Microsoft is offering over 100 albums for free, and there are some truly great choices in there, from U2 ("The Joshua Tree") to Green Day ("Dookie") to Lady Gaga ("The Fame") and many others, spanning decades and musical genres. You will find these items under the Holiday Freebies heading in the Music Deals app.
$2 box sets. Microsoft is also offering over 50 box sets for just $2, where the normal pricing is $15 to $100 each. Again, a crazy-good selection is available: "The Complete Led Zeppelin," John Lennon's "Signature Box," The Doors' "The Complete Studio Albums," "Frank Sinatra: The Complete Capitol Singles," and many, many more. You will find these items under the Must-Have Box Sets heading in the Music Deals app.
If you've not used Music Deals before, it's simple enough: Just tap the "Get It" button when viewing an album you wish to buy. Music Deals will prompt you to switch apps, and when you OK that, Xbox Music will open and display the album. You can then purchase it (for free in the case of those free albums). It will be added to your Xbox Music cloud collection—which you get for free for having a Microsoft account; no Xbox Music Pass is required—and you can download those songs any time you want. And use them elsewhere for that matter: They're yours to keep. So if you're an iTunes user or whatever, go nuts. This is your music, and it's in 320 Kbps MP3 format so it will work anywhere (and sound great).
Note: If you know an album is part of one of these deals, you should also be able to search for it in Xbox Music directly and get the same deal. I tried this with a few of each type (free albums, cheap box sets) to see whether it worked.