Almost everyone has heard about the massive crack down on Internet music piracy that has been occurring over the past few years. Napster was taken down (although it has now returned as a pay service), other file sharing programs now require users to pay for a license and the RIAA and other similar organizations are doing their best to hunt down copyright offenders and put an end to their crime sprees. The consumers on the other hand argue that their actions hurt nobody, that there is no damage done to anyone by their not buying an album. Furthermore, they claim, MP3s allow them to sample a CD before purchasing it, thus actually helping sales.
I'm not here to argue the pros and cons. Basically it's not worth it, as neither side of the argument will ever see the opposition's point of view. What I'd like to do is take a look at the completely free and legal alternative to 'stealing' music. Those wonderfully talented musicians who are willing to put their creations online to download for free, solely for the joy of spreading their creations to the masses.
Free music is surprisingly easy to come by, even music by famous bands. Sometimes it needs to be 'streamed' from the Internet, meaning that you can only listen to a song while you're online, but with the ever-growing popularity of broadband Internet this is really no longer a problem. Sites such as MP3.com and purevolume.com provide free music by almost any band you can think of, although there is a large amount of it that has to be streamed and not downloaded. A search for 'free legal MP3 downloads' will reveal a huge number of pages to visit.
For something specific, try visiting the artist's website, or the site of their record label. These will often offer a few sample tracks to download for free. It's not quite as convenient as having access to every song that you want, but it's not a bad alternative.
But how about we forget about the mainstream for just a while and move towards the alternative? Towards the hopefuls, the talented bands that have yet to be 'noticed'. There are a huge number of these smaller bands out there that are sticking their stuff online for any and all to listen to, just so that they can be heard. These can be easier to find, because most MP3 sites will be filled with these smaller acts. A great place to start is http://www.garageband.com/ or the aforementioned http://purevolume.com
The great thing about smaller bands is that you can often find bands that come from your local area and then go and see them play live. Being able to see a favourite band live more than once a year (or lifetime) without expending huge amounts of money and time is pretty cool. Many music search engines will let you search for bands of a particular genre in a particular area, which makes it all quite easy.
A fairly major contributor to the online music scene is the remixer. These people take other tunes and redo them, often in a techno style because one person can do this competently. Chief among the tunes selected to be remixed are those old ditties that used to play through the simplest of sound chips on now aging consoles: the video game theme songs. People now go and grab the main tune line from an old favourite and fill it out, making real the work our imaginations used to do for us to turn the single tone melodies into orchestral masterpieces. A few good places to start are http://remix.kwed.org and http://remix.overclocked.org as well as a personal favourite band http://machinaesupremacy.com
I hope this has given you something to think about. It's not hard to come across illegal MP3 rips, in fact it's often hard to avoid them, but if you give the free music scene a look you may find something completely different and new that will really do it for you. With web hosts already being penalized hugely for illegal content being stored on their servers (having an entire server taken down because of one inconsiderate user is damaging and irritating beyond belief) and moves being made to charge ISPs for the content being accessed by their users, it makes more sense than ever to get out there and grab yourself an awesomely original and completely legal music collection.
Daniel Punch is a University student gathering a large music collection to keep himself going during those long nights of 'study' (also known as 'playing video games')