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Free Music Download, Radio stations, Free MP3s

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Enjoy free music, a complete list of sites to download legal MP3s, listen to radio stations, download mp3 and itunes.

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You don't need to worry about getting sued by the Recording Industry Assocation of America or arrested by the FBI if you download legal music. Many independent and unsigned musicians offer downloads of their music in hopes of attracting more fans.

If everyone started downloading legal music instead of violating copyright with the file sharing programs, we would make short work of the RIAA, because people would start buying CDs directly from the artists and seeing their shows instead of enriching the major labels by buying CDs from the bands the labels have chosen for us to listen to. The RIAA would also have no cause to complain - these music downloads do not infringe copyright because the artists give you permission to download them.

Why You Should Download Legal Music Instead

The money one paid to purchase Kazaa went to compensate the artists whose music was downloaded.

I figure that most peer-to-peer file traders, while probably aware they are violating copyrights. While I have your attention I feel I should also explain some of the legal and historical issues around copyright, and suggest steps you can take to make file sharing legal.

If you don't think that violating copyright by downloading music with filesharing programs like Kazaa, Grokster, Morpheus, Madster, eDonkey, Direct Connect, OpenNap, iMesh, or Gnutella could get you in serious trouble, then you need to read RIAA Obtains Subpoenas Against File Swappers and House Bill to Make File-Sharing an Automatic Felony.

The RIAA is using the Digital Millenium Copyright Act to force internet service providers to turn over the names of file traders. They can determine your internet protocol address by connecting with your peer-to-peer client over the Internet. Using your IP address and the time you were connected, the ISP can determine your name. If the RIAA finds you this way, they will sue you.

When you are the defendant in a civil lawsuit, you don't have the protection against self-incrimination that the U.S. Constitution grants criminal defendants. You will be required to give a deposition, in which the party suing you will be able to ask you anything they want, while you will be required to give truthful answers under oath. In addition, your friends may be subpoenaed and compelled to testify as witnesses against you.

The RIAA has had limited success at suing the publishers of file sharing software. Some systems, like Gnutella, are so decentralized that there is little hope of finding anyone to sue. So now they are coming after the individual file traders - meaning you. The article above says the RIAA has already obtained subpoenas against 871 file traders, and will likely have obtained many more by the time you read this. They are asking for $150,000 in damages from each file trader for each song whose copyright they have violated. What will they use the money for? Suing more file traders, of course.

If you lose one of these lawsuits, the only recourse you will have will be to declare bankruptcy. If you're a juvenile, your parents will have to declare bankruptcy.

While simple copyright infringement is a civil offense where the copyright holder's only recourse is to sue you, especially egregious offenses are already criminal violations for which the law enforcement authorities will arrest, prosecute and imprison you. Remember the FBI warning you always see at the beginning of movie videos? It is common for large-scale software pirates to be arrested. File traders are next in line.

You can avoid all of these problems by enjoying music from the tens of thousands of talented musicians who offer legal downloads of their music. And you can tell the RIAA to kiss your ass.

How Will Artists Earn Money?

You may ask how musicians are able to earn money if they offer free music downloads. The simple answer is that they will make money as they always have, by selling recordings, playing live concerts, and selling such merchandise as T-shirts.

While one might be satisfied by listening to downloaded music, many people report that they often purchase a band's CD after hearing their downloads. I can easily tell that compact disc recordings sound better than most MP3 files, and it's nice to have a labeled CD, package and liner notes.

There are some who advocate that all music ought to be freely available and sharable, and suggest that musicians be supported through tips. Only a small fraction of those who download a given song need to contribute for most artists to make a comfortable living. The Street Performer Protocol is one method proposed for paying for many kinds of works, not just music. The non-profit organization musiclink collects tips from fans and distributes it to musicians with very little overhead.

The Problem of Finding the Best Music

It's difficult to find music that's actually worth listening to. Although many bands offer music on their websites, there's no real way to tell if it's any good without actually downloading it. The labels do serve the (somewhat) legitimate purpose of picking out the good from the bad. But we can do that ourselves with legal downloads by using collaborative filtering, for example by downloading our music with iRATE radio, which you'll find at http://irate.sourceforge.net/

iRATE radio is a collaborative filtering client/server mp3 player/downloader. The iRATE server has a large database of music. You rate the tracks and it uses your ratings and other peoples to guess what you'll like. The tracks are downloaded from Web sites which allow free downloads of their music.

As of July 2003, the iRATE server has 46,000 tracks registered.

The way iRATE works is that it downloads a few tracks at random at first. It downloads them directly from the artists' Web sites after finding them in its database. (The author of iRATE is careful to register only legal downloads.) After you listen to and rate the tracks, your ratings are sent back to the server where it uses statistical analysis to correllate your ratings with the ratings given by other users. If you like the same kind of music I do, then iRATE will send you all the same music I like. Conversely, if you hate my music, iRATE won't send you the music I like.

One nice thing about iRATE is that you can set it to download continuously while playing, so you always have fresh music without having to go hunt for it. You just have to click a button from time to time to rate new songs.

iRATE radio is a cross-platform program, with natively compiled clients presently available for Windows and Linux. There is a Java WebStart client that works on Mac OS X and likely on other platforms that support Java.

The music iRATE downloads to your hard drive will sound better and better the longer you use it. iRATE's statistical analysis is more effective when more people use it, so be sure to tell all your friends.

iRATE radio is a young project which welcomes contributions from java developers. Anyone at all can help out significantly by testing the development snapshots and reporting bugs. Graphically talented people may enjoy submitting mockups for iRATE's upcoming user interface redesign.

Online Music Download Reviews

Another way to find music downloads worth listening to is to let others do the work by reading the music reviews several web sites offer. One such site is Fingertips, which calls itself "An intelligent guide to free and legal music on the web".

Each week Fingertips reviews several free music downloads. Rather than trying to be an exhaustive source of music downloads, Fingertips tries to select a few of the very best.

In the email with which Fingertips author Jeremy Schlosberg introduced me to his site, he said.

At Fingertips, my emphasis is on quality music, and whatever trouble I may have with the record industry at large, I also have a whole lot of trouble with the idea that anyone with an instrument who wants to upload music to the web is worth listening to.

Another music review site is Gods of Music: "Music Reviews for the Independent Music Scene". There are many reviews on the site: their Hall of Fame lists the very best, and their Dungeon lists the worst.

Gods of Music accepts requests from artists who wish to be reviewed. In return, the artist is asked to place Gods of Music banner on their page. The artist must agree to certain terms to get a review. One is that the artist must be willing to live with whatever review is written, even if it is bad. On the other hand, a good review can be good publicity.

There's more at the site than just reviews, so it's well worth your time to check it out.

Here are some other web sites that provide reviews of music downloads

  1. GigaTracks - Free Tracks, Albums and More
  2. The Houston Chronicle - Reviews of local bands with MP3 downloads

Web Sites for Free Music

There are many legal music hosting services that allow one to find a lot of free music all in one place. Be aware that the fact that a website offers free music does not imply the files are licensed for sharing - many sites forbid sharing in their terms of service.

At one time the largest free music repository was MP3.com. Thousands of independent artists hosted their music there for free download. But when Vivendi sold MP3.com to CNet, the largest music library in the history of humanity was taken offline. While it was compared by many to the burning of the ancient Library of Alexandria, most of the work was not lost to civilization. It just became harder to find. MP3.com now offers only paid music downloads, but many free music sites sprang up in its wake.

The Open Directory Project has Bands and Artists and Styles indices. Not all the artists offer downloads, but the site says they list 43,000 artists and I imagine many of them offer free music.

The Narcopop Independent Musicians Directory lists the websites for many artists and provides preview samples for many of them.

You can download free music from many sites. Some of them allow you to buy the band's CD from the same page as the MP3 download. Among them are

If you prefer the higher quality, quicker to download and patent-free Ogg Vorbis files you can find several download sites here. From the Ogg Vorbis General FAQ

Ogg Vorbis is a new audio compression format. It is roughly comparable to other formats used to store and play digital music, such as MP3, VQF, AAC, and other digital audio formats. It is different from these other formats because it is completely free, open, and unpatented.

(The Ogg Vorbis format was created because the owners of the MP3 patent forbid the free creation and distribution of Open Source MP3 encoders.)

Ogg Vorbis players are available for many platforms - WinAmp will play them on Windows. VLC Media Player is a cross-platform player that works on Windows, Linux, BeOS, BSD, QNX, Solaris and Mac OS X. iTunes on Mac OS X supports Ogg now. There are open source Linux ogg players and encoders, even an open source fixed-point decoder called Tremor for embedded applications. Also for embedded applications, there is also an electronic design for a low power Ogg Vorbis decoder chip, so that we are sure to soon have inexpensive portable Ogg Vorbis players.

There are also peer-to-peer applications for distributing legal music. In some cases they use digital signatures to ensure the legitimacy of the files. See Furthur Network and konspire[2b]. Monotonik provides BitTorrent: zip files containing 60 to 100 MP3s apiece, available here. You will need to install the BitTorrent client to download them.

Unfortunately, musicians are often not very good Web site designers, so poor usability is a significant obstacle to getting music directly from artists' Web sites. If you're a musician, and you'd like to know how you can improve your site design so more people will download your music, please read my article If Indie Musicians Wanted Their Music Heard....

Paid Subscription Services

At first I was reluctant to even mention paid music subscription services, not so much because I object to paying for music, but because of the problem of digital rights management, or copy protection. I consider DRM a nuisance best to be avoided, and didn't want to contribute to the problem by urging anyone to take advantage of the services that use DRM.

However, there are paid subscription services that don't use DRM, and there are those for which the DRM is not onerous. The advantage of these services is that one can obtain music from artists who don't offer it for free, so you're likely to find music from more well-known bands than by taking advantage of the completely free downloads.

A reader named Hal C. F. Astell who reviewed my drafts urged me to mention EMusic. The files EMusic provides are standard MP3 files, free of any copy protection. You can copy them to any computer or MP3 player, burn them to any CD and back them up without fear of losing any kind of authorization key.

EMusic also has a very active message board. I understand it is a nice community to be part of.

If you use a subscription service that employs digital rights management, you should choose one that offers you these capabilities at a minimum
  • The ability to play your downloads on your home CD player and in your car
  • The ability to back up your downloads and authorization key to secure secondary storage
  • The ability to play your downloads on a portable player that takes compressed files
  • The ability to play your music on a computer running any operating system you want
  • Continued access to your music in the event the subscription service goes out of business or the vendor decides to stop supporting it

One should have all of these capabilities simultanously; many digital rights management systems transfer the authorization key as one moves the music files from one device to another. For example, one could not play one's music on one's computer and portable player simultaneously.

The only DRM-based subscription service I know of that satisfies a significant number of these criteria is Apple's iTunes Music Store.

While it is presently available only for U.S. residents who use Macintosh computers, it is expected that eventually it will be offerred more widely, and may be available for Windows as well.

The digital rights management that iTunes uses is sometimes referred to as "soft DRM" to indicate that most users don't find it objectionable. One can play the music on up to three computers as well as an Apple iPod portable player, and burn standard audio CDs.

The iTunes Music Store has done well so far. Users praise it, and a large number of downloads have been purchased in the short time since it went online. The AAC audio file format used by iTunes is more compact and sounds better than MP3. The iTunes Music Store is likely to be a long term success.

However, iTunes doesn't solve the problem that artists receive very little of the money from the sale of their music.

Competing services that rely on much stricter copy protection have not been so successful. The launch of BuyMusic was a disaster largely due to the way the DRM prevented anyone from actually being able to listen to their music unimpeded.

While the major record labels have been criticized for failing to take advantage of the potent marketing opportunity presented by the Internet and the MP3 audio format, it is now taking small steps towards selling the music downloads that fans want. The labels should be applauded for doing so.

While the labels are rightly criticized for requiring copy protection of their content, we should take heart from the history of the early personal computer software industry.

At one time the copy protection for many PC programs was quite severe, employing such strategies as floppy disks pierced with laser holes or applications that could only be run from boot disks provided by the publisher. But eventually software copy protection subsided in importance because software purchasers simply purchased competing, non-protected products rather than deal with copy protection. The compromise for many products has been to just require a simple serial number.

The soft DRM employed by the iTunes Music Store is a similar compromise. We can expect the labels to experiment with subscription services that employ a variety of copy protection techniques until one is found that is profitable to the recording industry while being unobjectionable to the purchaser.

Other paid download services include:

Links to Individual Artists



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