Times are changing. Digital music is accessible music and the industry is changing fast. Here, you’ll find extraordinary selection of services and sites where you can explore and find interesting sounds (and video) to pep up your iPod. The message is simple: if you’re hungry for music but don’t want to break the law, there are numerous legal alternatives to file sharing.
MySpace has emerged as the leading destination for musicians and fans to meet, with 106 million users worldwide and it’s free to join, all it requires is that you fill in a registration form and create a profile. Once you’ve published your own page on MySpace, you can explore other pages and get connected to people and musicians you like by asking to be added to their collection of friends.
If you come across a band that you like, you just need to hit the ‘Add’ button in the clearly marked ‘Contact’ box, which is generally situated under the main profile description. When you submit a friend request, the other party receives a message telling them you want to get connected, so they can vet and approve you.
You will also receive the same message when others try to befriend you. You can expand your network quickly by leaving comments on your friends’ sites, thanking them for allowing the connection – it’s good MySpace etiquette, and what you write may attract new friends to you. As your network grows, you will find it increasingly easy to find new, talented musicians.
MySpace also integrates ways users can recommend artists they like, for example, any page can host background music chosen by the page owner. When you navigate to a website playing music that you’d like to promote, you can choose to have that track play automatically when others visit your page.
You simply need to use the ‘Add’ button beneath the selected song. You’ll then be asked if you want to add the song to your page – answer ‘Yes’ and the job is done. Personal users can only have one such streamed track on their site, while bands can carry two to four songs. Bands can choose to make their tracks available for free download, or just for streaming.
Around since 1999, this music website hosts pages for independent bands. You can subscribe to fanlists, contact bands, find out about releases and gig dates, and speak with other fans. Site visitors can review music they find – which can help casual browsers find some sounds they may like. Musicians decide whether to make music available only for streaming, or for free download.
With 3 million members and almost 2 million songs, SoundClick is a free community-based site focused on musicians. It offers tracks and information from thousands of unsigned acts, with music split into categories (Metal, Alternative, Pop, and so on). You can listen to streamed music, and some bands offer tracks in MP3 format for download. Bands can also choose to sell songs through this service.
This social-networking site recently introduced its Bebo Bands service. While you can use the site to find new acts, it doesn’t yet offer music for download, but you can add tracks you like to your playlist on your own profile page. These songs only stream when you visit the site.
This streaming service can help you find new artists, but doesn’t offer music downloads. It’s based on the Music Genome Project, which analyses every detail of songs to accurately recommend and play tracks based on a user’s taste. You set up channels – Happy Mondays, for example – and the service will stream tracks it thinks are similar. It’s a nice way to find new acts you may like, which you can then look for elsewhere.
Most bands these days have their own dedicated websites, some personally run by the act. Some offer free music downloads for fans, while others offer their own music stores where fans can buy tracks.
Legal music sales at low prices
Newly launched, the web-based eMusic subscription service offers a catalogue of 1.4 million tracks from indie labels. Songs cost as little as 17p. Unlike other subscription-based services, you can download and keep the music you choose. The site trusts its customers.
Songs are sold in MP3 format (encoded at 192k) and are free of any digital rights management technology. You can use your eMusic purchases on any system or any player (naturally including iPods and iTunes). You are allowed to burn your music to as many CDs as you like, and host your collection on as many machines as you want.
There are three subscription packages: Basic, 40 downloads per month for £8.99 per month; Plus, 65 downloads per month for £11.99 per month; and Premium, 90 downloads per month for £14.99 per month.
eMusic’s site navigation isn’t as slick as iTunes, but it does offer a wealth of information about the music it sells. It also publishes charts based on sales, so you can easily find the hottest new acts. Music is split into genres, such as ‘Alternative’, ‘Jazz’ or ‘Hip Hop’. Each genre is further divided into the sub-genres that exist.
You are encouraged to create your own playlists, which others can take a look at to help you find a band you might enjoy. You can also rate and review tracks.
Downloading tracks isn’t as straightforward as in iTunes as you need to install a software called the ‘eMusic Download Manager’ for both Mac or Windows (www.emusic.com/dlm/download.html).
Once you find a track you want to buy, click on the download link beside it. A file is then downloaded to your desktop. If you’ve set up your browser to automatically open downloaded files in the correct application, the Download Manager will open the file and begin downloading the track(s) to a folder, ‘My eMusic’, which the software creates on your desktop.
Once you have the music you can drag and drop it into your iTunes library (iTunes will import it, and file it just like any other track in its collection), or, in iTunes, select ‘File—Add To Library’ and navigate to the downloaded music in the eMusic folder on your desktop.
Other music services
While eMusic is the cheapest, most smaller music services have begun offering music in MP3 formats. It makes sense for digital services to do this, as Apple’s iPod is by far the most popular player and songs sold in other protected formats won’t work on iPods. Process tends to be about the same or slightly higher than iTunes. The following services may be worth watching checking out.
One of the oldest UK download services, Wippit offers a broad catalogue of music, though only minority of its catalogue will work with an iPod or iTunes. Tracks cost from 29p. The service also sells video, comedy and ring tones.
This service offers limited selection of music in the iPod-friendly AAC format. Songs are encoded at 192k (better than iTunes) and cost 77p. This service also offers video for iPods. The company also runs websites for bands and offers a service that lets unsigned acts sell their tracks.
Most of TuneTribe’s major label catalogue is incompatible with iPods as it’s sold in Windows Media format. Some tracks – mainly from indie artists – are available as MP3’s. Albums cost £7.99, while singles cost 89p. The site also offers articles written by working music journalists.
This service offers a wide catalogue of dance music tracks at varying prices, approximately £1.49 per track. For that you get the music in MP3 format. Because it’s a service for working DJs, songs are encoded at 320k, which is approaching CD quality.
On the Blog
There’s a wealth of clued-up music-focused websites that legally distribute music (usually in MP3 format) for free. These are promotional tracks, which are made available to drum up interest in a band. The following sites are recommended to get you started exploring this alternate online music universe.
Epitonic has been around since 1999. Its mission is to switch music lovers onto new sounds and acts. Site features include a streaming radio station, reviews, features and band profiles. You can search the site for particular artists and navigation is easy. Some bands allow Epitonic to offer songs in MP3 format for free download, others just allow the site to stream songs so users can decide if they like the band.
The site also features a helpful recommendation system, listing similar artists on every individual artist page. Sadly, this service seems to be on its last legs – staffs have revealed no future plans to update content, indicating it may be removed at some point. The site is still worth exploring if you are looking to boost your collection of avant-garde and indie music, and has an audience of dedicated users.
This venerable international magazine focuses on non-mainstream experimental music across multiple genres. Because of its unique place in the hearts of music-makers, over the years it has gathered a substantial collection of free and legal MP3s, many of which it makes available for download. These include tracks from many top-flight musicians. (www.thewire.co.uk/web/mp3.php)
Knobtweakers promotes electronic music. The site offers a regular weekly podcast featuring “the best underground electronic music talent from around the globe”. It also hosts or links to tracks in MP3 format that are being made available legitimately with permission from the artists. Occasionally updated, the site also offers in-depth reviews and features covering emerging artists, so it’s an invaluable resource for fans of the genre. (www.knobtweakers.net)
Dedicated to odd, obscure and out-of-print music, this site offers an extensive index of free and legal music downloads being made available across the internet. It also offers an extensive links section, and information that will be useful to independent musicians seeking outlets. The primary purpose of this site is to connect artists and audiences.
Artist Erik Brown hosts his creations on this website, including photographs of work he has made, links to web projects he has been involved with. For iPod users hungry for new music, Erik also hosts a page of MP3 links, which he describes as a “personal log of MP3 links in various genres”. You’ll find links there to many more sites offering legitimate music downloads. (www.kittyspit.net/erik)
This site is a blogger’s attempt to let readers know about the latest new MP3s as they reach the web. You should be aware that some of the tracks it suggests aren’t being made available legitimately, but many tracks are actually legal to download. The site also offers an extensive list of links to similar blogs, which are available at http://tinyurl.com/ae4ko
This UK-based site acts as a gig listings website for all types of bands (signed and unsigned), DJs and other musical performers. It offers dedicated pages where musicians can tell audiences what they do, and also has a wide selection of free promotional MP3s from a host of independent acts. There’s also a forum where users can discuss the music they hear.
Net labels distribute music exclusively in MP3 format. They are a little like more traditional labels in that they aim to promote albums or projects and build a profile of artists. However, these shoestring operations are managed by enthusiasts attempting to build careers outside the corporate music industry.
Net labels are particularly supportive of the notion of free downloads, and many of their releases are made available under licenses, such as Creative Commons License, that encourage sharing. Copyright remains with the artists, who tend to be electronic and computer music makers. Net label sites tend to link to others, so it’s a nice way to find some avant-garde musical gems.
Net labels releases
This yahoo groups’ site is maintained by net labels themselves. Label owners submit details of new releases as they happen, news updates and newsletters. It’s not a conversational site, but remains an essential stop for anyone looking to explore new music from the scene. (http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/netlabels)
This site is a huge index of the world’s net label sites. You’ll find information on new labels as they appear, the latest releases, and lots of helpful advice for others hoping to start their own online music brand. There are also monthly updated charts detailing the most popular releases.
Another net label portal, Beatpod offers news and information about new releases, and also hosts a forum where music fans can rate and review these new releases. There’s also a built-in music player on the site, as well as the ability to download tracks to your Mac or PC. An extensive links section and links to other net labels completes the offering.
Internet Archive: Audio Archive
Founded in 1996, the Internet Archive is a non-profit organisation that collects and maintains a huge historical archive of digital creative products. It’s well known for holding a huge collection of website images – you can see Apple’s home page in different years, for example.
It also maintains a huge audio collection, in which net labels are well presented. The collection includes alternative news shows, Grateful Dead concerts, old radio shows, book and poetry recordings, and a huge assemblage of original music contributed by users. It’s a tremendous historical collection of sounds. (www.archive.org/details/audio)
More than music
Some iPods will play and store video, and can be used to play back your video collection on some TVs. Apple doesn’t sell TV shows in the UK yet, but does offer short Pixar movies and music videos. But where else can you go to find and download new and free videos for your iPod? YouTube and Google Video are first stops – you’ll find personal movies, bits of TV shows and other delights on these sites.
Google’s video service offers a range of clips, as well as some material for sale (available only in the US). In some ways, tracking down the best clips is challenging, unless you know exactly what you are looking for. If you are searching for something specific, then it’s as effective as any other Google search – if it exists, you’ll find it.
Google has made it easy for viewers to download clips they want to keep. To the right-hand side of movies that can be downloaded is a ‘Download’ button. To the right of that button there’s a drop-down menu where you can decide whether to download it for Mac/Windows, iPod or PSP. Once you have downloaded the clip, you simply need to open iTunes and select ‘File→Add File to Library’ to import the clip to the media browser, after which it will be synced to your video iPod next time you connect it to your Mac.
It’s little more complicated with YouTube. While the site has grown astonishingly popular, eclipsing Google and others in terms of the number of users it interacts, it doesn’t make it easy t download clips. The most straightforward way to download a YouTube clip for your iPod is to use the excellent KeepVid service (http://keepvid.com).
When you come across a YouTube clip you want, just enter the URL into the green box at the top of the KeepVid page, hit submit and a few moments later you’ll be given a download link.
Unfortunately, files are downloaded in the iPod-incompatible Flash video (.flv) format. You need to convert the clip using a conversion utility such as iSquint (www.isquint.org), which is free and extremely easy to use. You just need to drag the file into iSquint, select ‘Optimize for iPod’ and press ‘Start’.
BBC Creative Archives
UK users should take a look at the BBc’s Creative Archives, a collection of video footage that’s free for UK residents to download for use in their own projects, or to rip to a format that’s suitable for iPods and iTunes. The library of available material is frequently updated, and now features clips from the BBC, Channel 4, Open University, British Film Institute and Teachers TV.
Once you’ve downloaded a clip, you can convert it into iTunes/iPod-friendly format using iSquint or directly within iTunes. (http://creativearchive.bbc.co.uk)