Frugal Music Options Fade

By Anthony Marrone on 29 January 2008 15 comments
Photo: Qtrax

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 "" or "". 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? 

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15 discussions

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Guest's picture

A much better and cheaper alternative is yahoo music or equivalent. I listen to music all the time and I love it. Almost no commercials (15 second one every 5 or 10 songs. I can skip songs rate songs etc and best part is it's all free.

Guest's picture

Let me recommend MP3Sparks (formerly AllofMP3). It's a site that the RIAA really hates: it operates in Russia and is legal by Russian law; the RIAA claims it's not legal...I don't want to get into the whole issue, so let's call it 'quasi-legal'.

I've used their service for a couple years, and I love it. It's not perfect, but it's the cheapest alternative for DRM-free music that's legal (I don't like stealing my music).

Guest's picture

BitTorrent FTW! Sites like are hosted outside the United States and are legal in their home countries. You can download their music, movies and TV shows with a program called BitTorrent (I'm sure there are others, this is simply the one I use). Files are spread out, bit by bit, over many different computers and servers, so that no one user illegally shares any files with anyone. And it's completely free.

Guest's picture

intitle:"index.of" "" (mp3|wav|m4a)

so yeah. type exactly that into your google search bar, and you'll have some luck. use periods between words for best results

Guest's picture

My county library system has tons of Cd's, and an inter-library loan system. So I go online and request a CD I want (the most recent being a Springsteen box-set and Spoon) and have it at my local library within a couple days, play it in iTunes and Voila!

Legally sketchy, but no more than some other options above.

Guest's picture

Pandora is Free and Legal. Granted you can't actually download the music or rewind but, it's tunes.

I leave it going all day at work.

Guest's picture

If you're not looking for big-label stuff, try emusic. It works as a subscription for a certain number of downloaded tracks per month, and no DRM.

Guest's picture

Ruckus! If you have a .edu email address you can sign up for ruckus, it offers free legal music the same way QTrax wants to, but is available now! It might be wrapped in DRM but a quick search of fairuse4wm on piratebay or the like will take care of that problem for you. Just gotta have or be able to get a .edu address...

Guest's picture

Ruckus! If you have a .edu email address you can sign up for ruckus, it offers free legal music the same way QTrax wants to, but is available now! It might be wrapped in DRM but a quick search of fairuse4wm on piratebay or the like will take care of that problem for you. Just gotta have or be able to get a .edu address...

Guest's picture

Alot of people on campus use ruckus and rave about its fantastic features. You can download full albums and even burn them onto CD legally.

Guest's picture

That is the question for me. Some "legal" things might not be moral.

Guest's picture

I've been using emusic for a couple of years, and have grown to really like it. Yes, they don't have the big-name labels. You know what? Mostly, I don't miss them. I'm having a great time mining the fringes, and I'm finding music that speaks to me, that is just as good or better than the stuff on the big labels. I've got to work a little harder at finding it, and sometimes you really can't tell whether you're going to like someone from 30 second samples (which emusic provides for free), but at something like $15 for 80 downloads a month (YMMV, I've got a "legacy" rate), I can afford a few clunkers.

What's been really fun, and which has happened to me several times, is to discover someone on emusic, and then to have them show up on the radio months later. Makes me feel like I'm on the cutting edge!

Guest's picture

I request all of my music from the library. Our library has an amazing music selection and we can even reserve the music online. Better yet, our library even lets you check out iPods to borrow with audio books already loaded for you on them. Fabulous resource for the frugal-minded.

Otherwise, I love Yahoo's Launch music station or Pandora. I just love to have music on in the background at our house all of the time and this is perfect. You can't rewind or anything like that, but it is great to have for dinner music or to play while the children are playing.

Guest's picture

I've been using emusic, and also downloading and donating. The D+D option is good - you give the artist $5 or $10, and download what they offer. A lot of artists are allowing legal downloads these days.

I think the "future" is going to be pay-to-download that's not DRM'd. I don't mind paying $5 for several downloads as an 'album' if I've already sampled a few of the artist's songs and know what I'm getting.

Guest's picture

I ALWAYS go to my local store to get my music. It puts money in the local stores ( better for the economy then buying from a conglomerate ) I am free from DRM, used cd's start at $6 ( i usually buy used anyways ) and best of all they can usually get any cd I ask for. So what if I wait a few days. I can pay 14 for a new cd, and turn in back in a couple of days later for some more cd's.