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Chapter 4. Digital Audio Formats > Free (and Legal) Music on the Web

4.4. Free (and Legal) Music on the Web

MP3 files don't have copy restrictions built into them (as AAC and WMA files often do), which is why MP3 is the format of choice for trading and sharing. Thousands of Web sites offer MP3 files to download, as a quick trip to Google.com will tell you. Some sites offer music posted by bands and musicians who want to make their songs free to anyone who wants to listen. Other sites stockpile copyrighted works and bombard you with pop-up windows for all manner of services (including adult material).

Here are a few sites that offer free and legal MP3 files:

  • Music.download.com. The venerable MP3.com site was bought and sold, but a free download site from its sister company CNET has arrived. The site provides a place for independent artists to share their music freely with once and future fans (http://music.download.com).

  • PasteMusic. For the mere act of signing up for the Paste mailing list, you can download free full-length songs by the site's featured artists. Why are the songs free? The bands hope you'll get hooked enough to purchase the whole CD, which you can also buy here (www.pastemusic.com).

  • FreeSoloPiano. If you think the sound of ivories being tickled is just the thing for your iPod, the free solo piano works available here could be a gold mine (www.freesolopiano.com).

  • Vitaminic. One of Europe's major sites for new music and musicians using the Internet to promote themselves, Vitaminic hosts thousands of free MP3 files that span both the globe and the genre list (www.vitaminic.com).

  • Internet Underground Music Archive. Dedicated to helping new musicians get heard, the IUMA site offers up free tracks of everything from hip hop to New Age (www.iuma.com).

Getting FLAC (and Other Formats)

Hey, there are all these cool free music sites out there that offer stuff to download, but the files are often in formats called FLAC and SHN. What the heck are these, and can I play them on my iPod?

Apple currently supports only the formats mentioned earlier in this chapter for its iPod hardware, but don't rule out future support if other formats prove popular and catch on.

Two types that are becoming more common as a result of legal online sharing of concert recordings are the Shorten format, shortened to SHN, and Free Lossless Audio Codec, which is also known as FLAC.

Both SHN and FLAC are lossless formats, meaning that they do not discard audio data while reducing a file's size, as do so-called lossy compression formats like MP3. Sites like the Live Music Archive (www.archive.org/audio/etree.php, which has thousands of free concerts to snag) often use lossless formats to preserve as much of the original sound as possible.

You can sometimes find a version of the same concer saved in the MP3 format, which the iPod is happy to play. But if FLAC is the only offering and you're not fussy about the sound quality of a file because you just want to play it on your iPod, hit the Web and look for a program to convert FLAC, SHN, and other lesser-known formats to Pod-happy files.

The dbPowerAmp Music Converter for Windows and Linux can convert a number of formats and has a great guide to working with digital audio at www.dbpoweramp.com. You can also find information about using and converting between different audio formats with Windows, Macintosh, and Linux systems at www.etree.org.

  • FreeKidsMusic. MP3 files aren't just for grown-ups anymore. The FreeKidsMusic site hosts scores of MP3 files just for kids and plenty of information about the artists (and albums) who make them available (www.freekidsmusic.com).

  • Peoplesound. With a search engine that can find music with a similar sound to that of established rock stars, Peoplesound's MP3 collection not only includes pop music, but classical, reggae, folk, urban, jazz, and dance (www.peoplesoft.com).

  • Amazon.com. The once humble online bookseller now hawks everything from consumer electronics to the kitchen sink (really!), and has a collection of free MP3 files from popular artists to download. They reportedly still sell books, too (www.amazon.com).


Be careful out there, Windows fans. If you're downloading any type of file from the Internet, including MP3s, make sure your computer's antivirus software is up to date. Worms, viruses, and Trojan horses could get into your computer and wreak havoc if unleashed. A firewall program is also a good idea in these days of rampant malicious code. (No Macintosh virus has ever been found in these files.)

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