Online Music – The Best and Worst of the Web

Viral widgets allow members to place music players on websites to expand the fan base – Lots of tools to promote your music, build a buzz and track promo efforts – Customized email newsletters for fans – Seamless integration with Facebook, Bebo – Free streaming music

CONS: None

RECOMMENDATION: For musicians, this is an amazing tool. For fans, it’s a great, interactive way to find new music and support independent artists.

iLIKE — ilike.com — 5

Major artists from Tori Amos to Missy Elliott, as well as independent musicians, post their music, videos, photos, shows, etc.

PROS: Free – Seamless integration with Facebook, Bebo, Hi5, MySpace, Orkut, iTunes – iCast feature lets the artist post text, audio or video directly from a cell phone – Sidebar feature lets you play music and videos by your favorite artists free

CONS: None

RECOMMENDATION: Definitely yes — an excellent, inexpensive way to keep in touch with your favorite artists

FACEBOOK — 4

Users who are musicians can create a page to profile their bands. That’s nice, but even better, Facebook integrates seamlessly with iLike (see review above). My only criticism is that Facebook can be confusing to navigate.

GARAGE BAND — 3

Operated by iLike, but focuses on independent artists seeking greater exposure.

PROS: Free – Write your own music reviews – Partnerships with podcast and webcast radio stations

CONS: Less professional than similar sites

RECOMMENDATION: The review feature is fun, but you’ll get more out of ReverbNation and iLike.

MYSPACE — 0

Musicians can post music, videos and the usual, but this pioneering social network site has been gradually sliding downhill. Now that it’s been eclipsed by Facebook, why would you bother?

PROS: Free

CONS: Interminable time waiting for pages to load – Terrible customer service

RECOMMENDATION: Skip it.

MUSIC DOWNLOADS

iTUNES — apple.com/itunes/ — 5

Who doesn’t know about iTunes? Apple dominates the market with this well-designed program, but you’re out of luck if you have an mp3 player other than an iPod.

PROS: Largest selection of titles (8 million) – Video, movies, podcasts and more

CONS: Songs only play on the iTunes software (PC or Mac) or an iPod

RECOMMENDATION: The gold standard (ranked #1 by Top Ten Reviews).

NAPSTER — 4

Napster recently shifted its business model from a subscription-based service to selling mp3s. Earlier problems with certain browsers and platforms have apparently been resolved.

PROS: Compatible with all mp3 players – Vast selection of 6 million titles (but not as many as iTunes)

CONS: Annoying woman pops up saying “Click on me to get started” – Monthly $12.95 subscription fee if you select that option

RECOMMENDATION: Highly recommended by reviewers (ranked #2 by Top Ten Reviews).

RHAPSODY — 3

One of the most popular music download sites, Rhapsody offers subscription and pay-per song options, but it’s not cool that they thumb their noses at Mac users.

PROS: Unlimited streaming of songs – Play and share your own music mixes – Easy drag-and-drop interface

CONS: Monthly $12.99 subscription fee if you select that option – Windows only – Not all of their 4.5 million titles are available for purchase – Non-purchased songs are encrypted and will no longer work if the subscription is canceled

RECOMMENDATION: Rhapsody gets good ratings from many reviewers, but there are better options for streaming music without a fee.

AMAZON MP3 — 2

Amazon is in the process of converting its music catalog to digital downloads. With their ubiquity, they may well surpass iTunes and Napster. They are not very artist-friendly, though, charging musicians high distributor fees and an annual fee.

PROS: Large selection of 5 million titles (but less than iTunes and Napster) – Compatible with all mp3 players – no Digital Rights Management encoding like iTunes – Some tracks priced at only 89ยข

CONS: Greedy

RECOMMENDATION: Convenient for customers, but if you want to support independent musicians, take your business to iTunes or Napster.

INTERNET RADIO

PANDORA — pandora.com — 4

Pandora describes itself as the “music genome project.” As you listen to each song, you tell Pandora if you like it or not. Pandora learns from your responses and finds songs that match the qualities of the songs you like.

PROS: Free – Available on iPhone and other cell phones – Create your own customized music stations and share them with friends – Vast selection of artists

CONS: As a work in progress, the “matching” can be a bit hit or miss – You’re only allowed a limited number of skip options within a given time frame, but hey, it’s free

RECOMMENDATION: Great for streaming free music by artists and genres you select.

LIVE365 — live365.com — 4

Search for genres or for stations playing an artist you like, check out the details, and click “play” to start listening. It’s that easy.

PROS: Informative listings about each station including listener ratings – Easy to use – No plug-in required – Extensive listings at your fingertips

CONS: Advertisements unless you pay a $5.95 monthly subscription fee

RECOMMENDATION: Sure you can invest more time and find listings in other ways (after stumbling through dead links, pay for play stations, etc.), but Live365 is quick and easy. Spring for the cost of two lattes if you really detest the ads.

MUSIC BLOGS

MOG — mog.com — 4

Designed for bloggers who like to write about music, but its appeal is much broader than that. Besides allowing you to listen to millions of songs for free, you can share opinions, keep current with music news you might otherwise miss, and discover recommendations by users who share your musical tastes.

PROS: Free – Lots of interesting tidbits of information – Find people whose opinions you trust

CONS: Weak search function – Anyone can claim to be an expert

RECOMMENDATION: Worthwhile even if you don’t intend to post your own articles.

OTHER

SIX SONGS OF SEPARATION — 3

Load up your own music library playlist (the site imports the list from your music player, e.g., iTunes or Real Player). Once you have your own account up and running you can see music from members with similar musical tastes. Or you can search for songs, artists or albums that you enjoy and find related music based on what other people are listening to.

PROS: Free – A creative way to be exposed to new music that you’re likely to enjoy

CONS: You must click on a link to iTunes or Amazon to listen to a song sample

RECOMMENDATION: I didn’t find the matches especially relevant to my interests, but it’s an intriguing concept that may improve with time.

A Grown-Up’s Guide to Legal Music Downloads

The reason for the title is simple: we all know that a world of music is available for the stealing from any number of sites. But if you want to download music legally – and if you are going to pay for it you might as well get it without any DRM copy protection restrictions — what are your choices?

Before embarking on this project, I asked my kids if they have ever heard of any of these services. Other than iTunes, I got blank stares. Of course, none of them pay for their digital music, and don’t care. Here are the five sites that I spent time with:

eMusic.com offers several different monthly subscription plans for what they claim are from two million DRM-free songs. The cheapest is for 30 song downloads at $12 per month, up to the most expensive at $20 for 75 songs a month. No matter which plan, you get 50 free downloads and you can cancel your subscription at any time. If you want to be really mercenary about the whole deal, you can sign up, take your 50 songs, and cancel within the same day, without spending a dime. You have to sign up before you can browse their store, however.

Rhapsody.com from Real Networks claims more than four million songs, and you can just listen to the full length of up to 25 tracks a month for free, provided you sign up and give them the right to send you unlimited email solicitations. (They are a bix obnoxious in that regard.) If you want to download them, you pay 99 cents per most songs or $10 per most albums. You can only download a song once, and if you use their Windows software, it will automatically add the songs to iTunes (but not Windows Media, they are still a bit huffy after the lawsuits). Mac or Linux users can download a zip file with multiple songs included, and then you have to manually import them into your music library.

Amazon.com has “millions” of songs, but unlike Rhapsody you can only listen to a 30 second sample and not the entire song. They have optional downloading software for Windows, Linux and Mac that will add them automatically to iTunes (or Windows Media) and makes buying multiple tracks simple. If you don’t use the downloader, you have to download one track at a time. Each song is 89 or 99 cents, albums range from $6 to $10. The ones I purchased had fairly high encoding rates of 256 kbps. You can only download them once like Rhapsody.

iTunes Music Store (who claims a catalog of five million songs) is beginning to experiment with DRM-free music from some of its publishers. The songs are 256 kbps encoded and cost the same as the copy protected songs. If you have bought a DRM’ed version previously you can upgrade for an additional 30 cents a track or a third of the price of the original album purchase. To do this (not that you want to give Apple any more dough), you go to the iTunes Store within the latest version of the software, click on the link for “iTunes Plus,” and then click on the upgrade button. It will show you which of your tracks can be upgraded and what it will cost. Unlike the other services, you are buying an AAC file rather than an MP3, but most portable and PC-based players will be okay with this format.

Finally, there is SpiralFrog.com, an interesting site run by a friend of mine that doesn’t charge for its downloads, but only gives you music that contains DRM. They claim 800,000 tracks and have a large music video selection as well. You need to be running a recent version of Windows, Windows Media Player and dot Net Framework. Unlike eMusic, you don’t need to register and Install their download manager to browse the site, so you can get an Idea of what they have to offer. But once you install their software, you can download whatever you desire. And one other limitation: you can’t copy their tracks to more than two portable players, and you can’t play them of course on iPods. You also can’t play them on Zunes, which shows you how messed up Microsoft’s DRM Is.

So there you have it. There are some choices, other than stealing your music. If you want to do a lot of downloads, I would go with eMusic, especially if you go beyond 15 or so songs a month, but it is a subscription service and right now you might feel as I do that you are paying enough between monthly charges for premium cable, premium DSL, and premium unleaded gas.

If you are the occasional downloader, as I am, then Amazon makes the most sense, especially as I have my music on my Mac and it has a nice client for that OS. You can turn on the one-click ordering and it is effortless. I don’t like Rhapsody’s corporate culture, and if you use the iTunes player the imports into your library is cumbersome. And while the iTunes Plus Music Store is trying to get more DRM-free tunes, most of its music is still copy-protected, so best to steer clear until that changes. Finally, SpiralFrog has an Interesting twist on the music download, but since I am Mac and iPod-based it Isn’t for me.

Free – And Legal – Music Download Sites

While the Internet is not the free music Wild West it was a decade ago, there are still plenty of music download sites where you can download music for free, and do so with a good conscience. Especially when it comes to independent musicians, we should make every effort to find only free music authorized by the artists themselves. Here are some excellent music download sites that will allow you to do it:

bandcamp.com

Bandcamp is an especially good place to discover independent music, as opposed to Top 40, major label fare. This is one of the largest online music platforms, and one highly valued by musicians themselves. Not only does Bandcamp allow musicians to make more money per download (starting at 85% vs. iTunes’ 70%), but it gives them the ability to offer free album and single downloads, and even sell physical merchandise. If you’re ever feeling adventurous or curious, just go to Bandcamp’s home page and click “discover” to see new arrivals, best-sellers, and artists’ recommendations. And Bandcamp has recently made it possible for music fans to create their own pages, to show off their “collection” of music found on the site. Fans can then follow each other, say people with similar or intriguing tastes, to help them discover even more free music.

While not everything you see will on Bandcamp be free, a large percentage of artists offer some kind of free download as a way of introduction. Your only cost will be your email address, so expect some emails down the road. But you can always unsubscribe; a small price to pay to discover some great music.

noisetrade.com

While heavy on pop and indie rock, Noisetrade is another excellent place to discover and download new music. Everything here is free – this time an email address and postal code is your only cost – and artists often offer entire albums, multi-album samplers, and live records on the site. And, as with Bandcamp, you can stream the music before deciding to download.

freegalmusic.com

While Bandcamp & Noisetrade are music download sites with large catalogs of very good independent artists, Freegal Music provides millions of songs from 10,000 record labels, including Sony Music. You can download free mp3s, but there are a couple of catches. The first big one is that you must have a library card number from a public library that subscribes to the service. If you’ve got that (check with your library), you’re in, and you can start downloading Adele, The Shins, Kelly Clarkson, Mumford & Sons, Train, the list goes on and on. The other catch is you have a maximum number of free downloads each week – this depends on the library, my own account having a maximum of 5 free downloads per week.

Straight to the horse’s mouth

That is, go straight to an artist’s website that you’re interested in downloading free music from. Whether it’s an indie warrior or a major label stalwart, odds are they’ve got at least one song to download as a thank-you for stopping by, and it’s usually easy to find on the very first page.

iTunes 2 Free Download – iTunes 2 – More Excellent Than Its Predecessor

It is undeniable. Besides being a phenomenon, iTunes is the grandest gizmo in the entertainment world today. iTunes, the sidekick of iPod is also expanding its greatness. You could know how to download free iTunes just by visiting http://www.apple.com

iTunes 2 has a 10-band equalizer with more than 20 presets, so you could customize you own settings like if you want to shift from jazz to rock or to hip hop to classical music. It has a cross fader, and it brings fascinating transitions into your music world. There is also a new sound enhancer that gives depth and richness of good sound quality.

iTunes is being used by more than 6 million music lovers worldwide. The integration of iTunes 2 with iPod is flawless. In the first connection of your iPod to your Mac computer, all the songs and the playlists in your computer are downloaded automatically to your iPod. And it is updated whenever your iPod is plugged back into your Macintosh.

Enhanced Performance of iTunes

The burning of your favourite songs is much faster now. iTunes 2 do recognize MP3 CDs. The standard audio CD is just limited to 74 minutes of music, while MP3 files can hold up to 10 hours of music on just a single disc. MP3 CDs can be played on other Macs and PCs.

System Requirements

  • Hardware. iTunes is suitable with all Apple systems that has USB ports. If you have an iPod, your Macintosh computer must be equipped with a Firewire. For you to burn your favourite music, your personal computer should have a CD-RW drive. iTunes work with all Apple CD-RW drive.
  • System software. The Macintosh platform X v10.1 and later versions requires Mac OS X. While Mac OS 9 version requires Mac OS 9.2.1, Mac operating system 9.0.4 or its other later versions. To burn audio CD in Mac OS 9, you should have a Mac OS 9.1 or its other later versions.

Additional benefits from iTunes

You can download your favorite music, videos from concerts to music television (MTV), from photographs from friends and images that you find interesting and make a slide show and upload it again to the internet and share it with friends.

iTunes gives you the power to enjoy music at its summit. You could make a personalized digital music library for you to organize and play all your favorite high-grade MP3s with the simple drag-and-drop function. You could also rate songs, so you could pick what suits your mood at certain situations.

And additional benefits

  • You could quickly browse the whole music library by artist, genre or album;
  • You could encode up to 320 kbps for the finest MP3 sound quality;
  • You could burn CDs with just a click and get perfect results every time;
  • You could also pick any songs within seconds with the help of a real-time search engine;
  • You could also listen online to hundreds of internet radio stations and;
  • Create custom playlist with easy to use drag-and drop interface.

Visit internet forums or talk to your friends about the new wonders of iTunes. Downloading iTunes 2 is free, so don’t let it wait.