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.

8 Ways To Buy Cheap (Or Free) Music

Let’s face it, we are in a recession that probably won’t be over for another two years. We have to find ways to get music from our favorite bands without stealing it. Although, some labels will probably be pissed at me for making this list because some of the ways could be considered “stealing” in their eyes. Again, we’re in a freakin’ recession!

Here are 8 Ways to Buy Cheap Music (or get it for FREE):

1. Download MP3’s instead of buying CDs. Most online retailers sell music for less if you just buy the download and not the actual CD. After all, the labels aren’t paying for the manufacturing and shipping of the actual music in this way. It’s only fair that you get the discount.

Amazon’s MP3 Page has daily, weekly and monthly specials with full albums going for $5 (including new releases). This is a must site for checking daily deals.

Shop at the iTunes Music Store. This is a no-brainer but make sure you check out the front page to see what deals are going on. Also, don’t forget to make the home page genre-specific to the music you like. It will help you find deals of bands you actually like.

2. Use Ebates.com. Chances are that you’re already buying music off Amazon and iTunes. With Ebates, you get money back for going through their site to buy from Amazon, iTunes or any other online retailer. Not only would you get that new release off of Amazon for $5, you will get cash back for going through Ebates. It’s FREE to register too! (I got a $36 check from Ebates last week for my purchases.)

3. Go to the library – What? Are you serious? Damn straight I am. You can go to your local library, get a free library card and checkout up to 10 CDs a day (at least here in Phoenix). Whatever you allegedly do with those CDs (burn them) is not my business. New releases come out every week. I have personally checked out CDs from A Day To Remember, All Time Low, Norma Jean, Tori Amos, Smashing Pumpkins, Jimmy Eat World, The Format and countless others. Yes, your local library does have “cool” music too.

4. Buy from independent record stores then sell them back. This is my favorite. Not only can you get lower priced new CDs (usually used CD stores carry new releases for less than other stores) at your local indie record store (find one near you here) but you can sell them right back to them when you’re done with them. And if you’re smart, you’ll opt for the store credit instead of taking cash because you’ll get a lot more back. The biggest store in the Phoenix, Tucson and Las Vegas areas are the Zia Records stores (pictured above).

You can also buy really cheap used CDs from Goodwill or Salvation Army stores. Yes, you can find brand new CDs for.50 cents to $2. Oftentimes, you can sell them to your local indie store for more than you paid for them (did I say that?).

5. Use eBay.com Most CDs that weren’t released during the current year can be bought for $3.01. Why $3.01? Most eBay sellers charge $3 to ship CDs (don’t buy from anyone that charges more) and you can win the auction for under.99 cents most of the time or even a penny. DO NOT BID ON THE ITEM YOURSELF. Use a sniper program called Gixen.com. It’s 100% free to use and it will place your bid on any item within seconds of the closing time. This keeps you and others from outbidding each other and paying more than you should. I’ve won soooo many auctions with this program and I walked away with the CD for under.25 cents. Yes, you might lose sometimes but who cares. That same CD is somewhere else on eBay for you to bid on.

Another great benefit of eBay is that people sell their iTunes, Amazon, Best Buy and Target gift cards. You can bid on those gift cards for a lot less than face value and save a lot of money on buying music. Again, I would use Gixen.com.

You can also search Craigslist.com for people trying to sell their gift cards for cash. I’ve seen some on there as well.

6. Buy music at the band’s concert. This is probably the most beneficial to all parties. You can buy a cheaper priced CD, help the band, help the label and do it all legally. Everyone wins! Hell, if you play your cards right, you can flirt your way to a free CD.

7. Start your own music blog. That’s right. Start a legitimate music blog and email labels to get on their press list. Before you know it, you’ll have a desk overflowing with free CDs and other materials from labels. The record label will do their research to see if you have a legit site but you actually don’t have to have many visitors. I’ve seen sites with less than 200 visitors a month get promo CDs. Why? The labels don’t really pay for all those free promo CDs – the bands do. It’s a part of most band’s contracts (even if they don’t know it).

But one thing I DO NOT suggest you do is sell those promo CDs online or to independent record stores. Even though it is legal to do so, you will burn bridges and it won’t look good. Keep your promo CDs for yourself and never sell them anywhere. Also, some of those promo CDs are watermarked which means that CD can be traced back to you! If it gets all over the internet because you loaned it out or sold it, you’re in trouble with the law.

8. Buy CDs directly off the band’s website. This is another way to benefit everyone involved and buy lower priced CDs. The only thing you have to worry about is shipping so buy the MP3 download off the band’s website.

There you have it. I’ve used all the methods above and continue to. Enjoy!