The Sounds of Music--A Guide to Free Music Downloads.

The download revolution is in full gear! In 2004, legal song downloads increased tenfold to more than 200 million worldwide. According to some projections, downloads will account for a quarter of record company sales by 2009. There are now over 240 million users trading MP3s, videos, software, and games on legal file-sharing networks. You can, for example, legally download music from over 850 different bands, over 20,000 live concerts as well as have access to multiple software titles and games. File sharing is not illegal so long as you follow all relevant copyright laws. Sharing copyrighted material without permission to do so IS illegal.

As Janis Ian said in a live radio interview, "The Internet and downloading are here to stay. . . Anyone who thinks otherwise should prepare themselves to end up on the slagheap of history." Although strongly opposed by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), downloading has become a way of life for most music lovers. Rather than resist this change, the music industry should be rejoicing at a new technological advance with the ability to "push" their product. Here is a fool-proof method to deliver music to millions of people who might not otherwise purchase a CD in a store. It's instantaneous, the costs are minimal, shipping non-existent--in short, a staggering vehicle for higher earnings and lower costs.

The music industry had exactly the same hysterical reaction to the advent of reel-to-reel home tape recorders, cassettes, minidiscs, VHS, BETA, music videos, MTV, and a host of other technological advances designed to make the consumer's life easier and better. And rather than spend billions of dollars and countless years in courtroom battles over inane copyright laws, the music business should embrace downloading and reap the benefits of free exposure for the artists.

Realistically, why do most people download music? To hear NEW music, or listen to records that have been deleted and are no longer available for purchase. The goal is not to avoid paying $5 at the local used CD store, or taping it off the radio, but to hear music they simply can't find anywhere else. Face it--most people cannot afford to spend $17.95 to experiment on music they may not want.

Who gets hurt by free downloads? Aside from a handful of super-stars like Celine Dion, not many. The artists only benefit. The primary way an artist becomes successful is through exposure. Without exposure, no one comes to concerts, no one buys CDs, no one buys the T-shirts or the posters. Free downloading gives a chance to every do-it-yourselfer and garage band out there.

You don't need to worry about getting sued by RIAA or arrested by the FBI if you download legal music. Many independent and unsigned musicians offer downloads of their music in hopes of attracting more fans. If you don't think violating copyright laws by downloading music with filesharing programs like Kazaa, Grokster, Morpheus, Madster, eDonkey, Direct Connect, OpenNap, iMesh, or Gnutella could get you in serious trouble, then you need to read RIAA Obtains Subpoenas Against File Swappers. You can avoid any such problems (like lawsuits) by enjoying music from the tens of thousands of talented musicians who offer legal downloads of their music.

You might be thinking--how do musicians make any money if they offer free music downloads. The simple answer is that they will make money the way they always have, by selling recordings, playing live concerts and selling merchandise such as T-shirts, hats, beer mugs and posters. While the RIAA sheds crocodile tears over the way file sharing programs rip off the recording artists, the truth is, on average, a musician makes 41 cents for each CD sold. The record stores earn a couple of bucks per CD, and the record companies reap astronomical profits.

That is precisely why a number of top artists have announced their support for file sharing. Offering music downloads is at least as effective at drawing fans to a concert as selling a compact disc, and possibly more so.

With so much free music readily available, it is sometimes difficult to find music that's actually worth listening to. Although many bands and individuals offer music on their websites, there's no real way to tell if it's any good without actually downloading it. But you can help pick out the good from the bad by using collaborative filtering, for example, by downloading music with iRATE radio which can be found at

Another way to find worthwhile music downloads is to let others do the work and then reading the music reviews which several web sites offer. One of the best such sites is Fingertips, which calls itself "An intelligent guide to free and legal music on the web." Other websites that provide reviews of music downloads are Gods of Music and Gigatracks.

By downloading your favorite music tunes, you are no longer constrained by offerings from a single CD. Do some research for quality music download sites, take advantage of any free trials on the pay sites, download the music, burn your own CD filled with your personal favorites, turn up the volume and "let the good times roll."

About the Author

Larry Denton is a retired history teacher having taught 33 years at Hobson High in Hobson, Montana. He is currently V.P. of Elfin Enterprises, Inc., an Internet business providing valuable information on a variety of timely topics. For a music studio full of suggestions, resources and advice about music downloads, visit

Larry Denton