Frugal Music Options Fade
When I was living in the dorms during college, several of my peers received threatening letters from the Dean (via the RIAA) specifically identifying movies they had illegally downloaded and were sharing on the school's network. The Dean then instituted a computer-scan policy where the RA's were responsible for checking resident's computers for software which could be used to share files illegally. Our school thereafter subscribed to Ruckus, a service where the school pays a huge flat-fee to the company, and in turn, students may download unlimited files for free. The only two catches were: (i) no iPod compatibility; and (ii) shallow music catalog.
I've long since subscribed to iTunes service which I find sufficient for my music/podcast/movie purposes, but which often has a very negative effect on my bottom line. It's just so easy to click "Buy Song" that you don't even realize how the $.99 add up.
I was overjoyed to read about new legal peer-to-peer software which had struck deals with all the major record labels, and would offer millions of free songs (in a legal fashion) which would be compatible with iTunes and iPods. Then came the shocking news. Qtrax had prematurely claimed they reached deals with the major record labels, and now the site which promised to change the face of the music industry around the world is crumbling under the weight of all the negative press.
This is especially bad news since I've lately been upset about the lack of depth in my music library. With that in mind, I'm going to offer a decent list of some free (or cheap) and legal (or quasi-legal) options for expanding your music options coupled with some pitfalls to avoid, hoping this will generate an open dialogue on alternative ways of legally expanding your exposure to various forms of music:
- Use ourTunes (At Your Own Risk)
For many people iTunes is the music software of choice because of its ease of use and compatibility with the most popular mp3 players, the iPod. An open source program known as ourTunes which has faded in and out of existence as Apple constantly modifies its iTunes software, allows you to basically rip music from anyone who is sharing their files on your network and burns the songs you select to your music folders. I'm not positive of the legality of this system, and you should only use it at your own risk. I use it because it allows me to "permanently borrow" music the fiancee has downloaded onto her Gateway and increase the iTunes library on my MacBook.
- Lala and other Trading Sites
There is a whole litany of sites like Lala and swapacd, which allow for users to interface with each other and either exchange music online or via snail mail. These systems are usually only as strong as the users who support them, and none of the platforms out there offered the huge library capabilities that Qtrax promised. However, this does provide a secure, generally legal forum for expanding the size of your music library.
- Avoid Sites Purporting to Offer Millions of Legal Downloads Once You Pay A Fee
Misleading tags that attract huge crawls from search engines like "free ipod downloads" "free songs" "free music" lead you to sites that look semi-professional and have names like "ipoddownloads.net" or "ipodmusicdownloads.info". AVOID THESE SITES! Through ambiguous information in the FAQ and information sessions, these sites try to convince you that if you pay an annual fee you will have access to millions of legal downloads which are compatible with your iPod. In reality, what you will pay for is access to about 4 illegal peer-to-peer sites that you could access for free anyways. These sites will always throw in some kind of "converter" software to help you port the mp3's into Apple iTunes format, but ultimately all of these sites are scamming consumers.
- Buy Used, eBay, Amazon, Etc.
There is a great used music store downtown where I live that buys and sells used CDs/DVDs and lets you listen to entire albums by popping the CD into one of their several multi-disc players, accompanied with nice headphones and even a stool so you can relax. If your city doesn't have a great store like this, turn to my personal favorite Amazon or eBay to buy music at ridiculously cheap prices from users looking to unload CDs cluttering their closets. Of course, Amazon also offers downloads for a fee, but who wants that?
These are just a few of the options (and non-options) I've explored to expand my music library. But I want to know: What works for you?