Choosing a Legal Music Download Site

Question

Which music download sites are the best for downloading legal music?

-Connie

Answer

This question was answered on May 5, 2005. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

The digital music revolution is in full swing and the rush to acquire Internet download customers is on.

When there are a large number of vendors competing for what is essentially a commodity product, the end result is generally very good for the consumer (99 cents or less per song at most sites).

Because you’re essentially buying the same song from the same artist from every vendor, the points of differentiation can be hard to distinguish, but they can be very significant.

Most of the differences are in the file types and whether it is a pay-per-song service or a subscription service.

In order to get the record labels blessing, all companies must incorporate some form of Digital Rights Management, which essentially makes it difficult for the music to be shared once it is downloaded.

This can be one of the biggest ‘gotchas’ if you don’t understand what the limits are for the music you are purchasing Even though they are all music files, the actual file type can be drastically different and may require a special program in order to play it or burn it to CD Hardly any of the services use a standard MP3 file for downloads, which is where the complications can start.

What I recommend to anyone that is just getting started downloading music is to first determine how the music will be used once downloaded.

For instance, if the music will only be played from the computer that downloaded it or burned to CD, any of the major services will do.

If you plan on using the downloaded music on any kind of portable player, you need to do some additional homework before getting started.

If you own an Apple iPod for instance, your best bet is to stick to the iTunes (www.itunes.com) service to keep it simple and avoid having to incorporate multiple programs to take your music on the go.

If you own a portable MP3 player other than an iPod, you have lots of choices including MSN’s music service (http://music.msn.com), Napster (www.napster.com), eMusic (www.emusic.com), Wal-Mart (http://musicdownloads.walmart.com), Virgin Digital (www.virgindigital.com) and MusicMatch (www.musicmatch.com) amongst a host of others.

Subscription based services that offer ‘all you can eat’ for a fixed price may sound like a great deal, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind For the most part, you are essentially “renting” the song from the service, so when you stop paying them, the music will no longer play from your computer.

Pay-per-song services tend to give you the most flexibility; many sites offer both options.

The bottom line is to make sure that your music player is compatible with the service (they generally post compatibility lists at their sites) and you totally understand what the limitations are for the music once you download it

If you want to ensure that you have total control of any of the downloaded music you buy, burn them to an audio CD then convert them back to a standard MP3 on your computer This can result in a slight loss in sound quality, but it will essentially shake the proprietary file restrictions off!

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Author

Posted by Ken of Data Doctors on May 5, 2005