Q: Where can I download music files legally? — Vince
A: Since the early days of Napster (version 1), we have heard that digital music delivery systems would someday revolutionize the way we buy and listen to music.
No longer would we have to spend $17 on a CD that may have two or three desirable songs on it, because digital music delivery would allow us to buy only the songs that we wanted, a la carte. Consumers suggested that the music industry should sell songs for 99 cents each and allow them to be downloaded instead of purchased in a store.
Well, the revolution is under way, due mostly to the music industry’s very late reaction to the problem of file sharing and piracy. Many Web sites now offer legal music files for free, on a per-song basis or, in some cases, in an "all you can eat" monthly charge scheme.
One of the problems that always faced any potential music delivery system was the ability to strike a deal with each and every record label so that most popular artists would be available.
While this problem still exists, many of the legal music download sites have managed to gain access to large groups of popular artists, making their offerings more desirable. While no single site offers every artist that you can think of, here is a list of sites that do a pretty good job.
MP3.com is one of the oldest and most established sites that has been offering free MP3 downloads since 1997. What began as a place for unknown artists to electronically publish and distribute their music has become an affiliate of the Vivendi Universal label and includes free downloads by selected top 40 artists as well as all of the unsigned artists it hosts. This site boasts more than 1 million audio files, but most are from unheard-of artists. It’s a great site for discovering totally new artists, but don’t expect much from popular artists.
Other free music downloads sites (with mostly unknown artists) include
If you want the latest pop
artists from the major labels, for the most part you must pay, either per song or by subscription.
Mac users have access to iTunes, which is a music store that is tied to the iTunes software. This was the first real successful venture in a payfor-songs digital downloading site. With more than 200,000 songs available from major artists for 99 cents per song, it set the standard for all other sites when it launched in April.
PressPlay.com boasts one of the larger libraries (300,000 songs) featuring artists from Sony, EMI, and Universal Music Group. It is a subscription service that charges $9.95 per month for unlimited streaming and downloading of its library.
EMusic.com has a similar subscription model but features a large variety of independent labels and artists as well as the back catalogue of the Universal Music Group.
Listen.com offers one of the lowest prices at 79 cents per song and has agreements with the five biggest music companies — BMG, EMI, Sony, Universal and Warner. Not all artists represented by these labels are available for download — like the Beatles, for instance.
Before you join any pay service, be sure the check the list of artists and the songs available from those artists. Most sites offer 30-second samples of songs so you can listen before you buy!
Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the "Computer Corner" radio show at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KTAR (620 AM) and the "Tech No Phobia" television show at 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays on COX9. Readers may send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.