Free Music Throughout Your Home With Spotify

For those of you who haven’t come across Spotify before you may well be asking what the hype is all about? Well Spotify is a free music internet streaming service that lets you play unlimited tracks with the addition of the occasional advert. The adverts are fairly unobtrusive, but for a monthly subscription ( £10 In the UK) you get unlimited tracks with no adverts. The great thing about Spotify is you can create and edit your own play lists just like you can on iTunes but without having to buy the actual music. Spotify have also introduced a new feature which allows you to save your tracks to your computer so you can play them without internet access. The new Spotify iPhone app will even let you stream and save free music directly to your iPhone!

Sure, Spotify is great on your laptop or pc, but what if you want to play that music through your home audio system? To integrate Spotify into a home audio system you need a stand alone solution that can access Spotify without your pc. Fortunately,Spotify released their own api package that allows software developers to write their own custom Spotify software. What does this mean? well the api will let you create custom software applications to interface with the Spotify client. Many great applications have already been created, most are based around sharing playlists between users but you can go further. For example, there’s an app that lets you stream Spotify to your hifi via Apple’s Airport and Airtunes adapter.

This will let you play Spotify music on your hifi, but you’ll still need your laptop/PC and it lacks the convenience of a larger integrated whole house system. What is possible, is to combine Spotify with a server application that integrates with any number of remote controls, keypads or touch-panels in the home. One solution is to build a stand alone box that acts as both a Spotify client and a tcp server that can be controlled from any number of ethernet devices throughout the home. The unit can be tucked away in a cupboard or even rack mounted in an existing AV hub. The box can be connected directly to a TV or hifi, but it can also be connected into a whole house AV system, whereby the Spotify music stream can be switched to any room in the house.

Many of the cool Spotify features can be easily incorporated into convenient hand held controls. Examples of what’s possible include: a Spotify search feature that lets you search by track,album and artist. Also you can create a seamless menu system that lets you search between these categories. You’ll also be able to create and edit play list from your searches and even incorporate other people’s play lists. Like the Spotify internet browser, cover art, album and artist information and even a list of recommended artists based upon your current music choices are all possible!

You can see an example of Spotify whole-house integration here.

How to Get Free Legal Music Downloads – Really!

Many people want to know how to get free legal music downloads online. The good news is that it is possible, if you know where to look.

Many people search the Internet looking for alternatives to pay legal sites. But when searching online for Rhapsody, iTunes and Napster sites, you’ll get millions of results which can become frustrating. Furthermore, when searching online for music download sites, it can be very hard to tell the difference between legal music sites and file sharing sites.

P2P file sharing sites are confusing for many people because they make clear that they provide a legal service – which is true. But although P2P file sharing networks are still considered legal, it’s how these P2P file sharing networks work that have gotten some people in serious trouble with the RIAA and MPAA.

Basically, anyone who is caught downloading or sharing copyrighted material could be sued by the RIAA or MPAA. And in more recent news, P2P file sharing companies, and individuals that encourage illegal downloads of music and movies, are now also being sued.

Few people fully understand the hidden dangers and security risks of getting free MP3 downloads using P2P file sharing networks. These risks includes; adware, spyware, viruses, hackers and online privacy risks.

So how do you get free legal music downloads online? There are a variety of legal music sites that give you free mp3 downloads of cutting edge music, Indie music and up and coming new music stars.

Free Legal Music Download Sites:

1) Epitonic.com – Epitonic works mostly with small, independent record labels. Epitonic provides high-quality music downloads and a searchable database of “Cutting Edge Music” in a variety of genres including; Rock, Folk/Acoustic, Hip Hop, Pop and Jazz.

2) Garageband.com – GarageBand.com is a top independent music distributor and they feature popular free indie music. The site has thousands of Independent songs in their database that you can listen to, download and review. GarageBand’s top songs are promoted by 1,000 radio partners and they featured music from Bo Bice (an American Idol finalist) before he was a big star.

3) eMusic.com – Although the subscription service is not free, with eMusic you can download music legally for free when you sign-up for the free eMusic download trial. Emusic features over 600,000 tracks and hi quality digital music fidelity. Emusic provides the best legal music download trial online by giving you 25 legal MP3 downloads for free.

4) Amazon.com – Although not a large selection, at Amazon you can download music legally from a few top musicians. To find the free music downloads section, just click on Amazon’s “Free Downloads” tab where you can browse some free music selections.

Because new music downloads are usually always copyrighted, the sites above will most likely not have the latest new song downloads. However these sites provide a huge variety of free legal music downloads for you to choose from.

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 89¢

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.