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Free music downloading site reflects industry's problems

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Free downloads in the music industry are back (and legal).
It has finally come to this: Labels are simply giving their music away.

A new Web site named SpiralFrog.com allows visitors -- with label approval -- to download music free of charge. It launched Monday in the United States and Canada after a beta-testing period.

The site features more than 800,000 tracks and 3,500 music videos, and promises hundreds of thousands more soon. It makes money through advertising, rather than by the 99-cent downloads popularized by Apple's iTunes.

The service, founded by Joe Mohen, pays record companies part of its advertising revenue. Thus far, Vivendi SA's Universal Music Group, the world's largest record company, is the only major label to dip its tunes into SpiralFrog's pool.

Songs from several big acts can be found, including Maroon 5, Rihanna, Gwen Stefani, Weezer, Amy Winehouse and Kanye West. All the tracks from many albums are available (from the Who's "Who Sell Out" to Nirvana's "In Utero"), so the content is no small potatoes.

It's been a hard decade for the music industry. Since the debut of Napster, the music business has seen its revenue dwindle as fans continually find music online for free. Though file-sharing sites in the Napster and Kazaa mold were eventually made to cow to copyright laws, sites that utilize BitTorrent technology have persisted in often making music, TV shows and movies easily available.

The end result is that most albums, often ahead of their release date, can be found free online for anyone with the patience for the search.

So now, even though the Recording Industry Association of America has sued thousands of people for illegally downloading music without charge, the labels are experimenting with doing just that: giving away their product.

Perhaps it's overdoing the doom and gloom to suggest SpiralFrog symbolizes the music industry's desperation. After all, giving listeners a free taste of bands is nothing new. Songs have always been broadcast on the radio -- where revenue comes from ads -- and streaming music is common on sites like MySpace.

Television is a medium that has always primarily functioned by making money from commercials, so why can't music?

SpiralFrog also places limits on how users play the music they download. A visitor is required to register before downloading. Songs come with copy protections and cannot be burned to a CD. Music can be transferred to some digital music players, though not Apple's iPod.

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I used Napster frequently when it was no charge. I usually discovered many great artists a song or two at a time. If it wasn't for being able to search categories and download bands I had never heard of, I would have never bought their CD's legally from CD Warehouse.

-- Posted by Mosely on Wed, Sep 19, 2007, at 8:42 AM

I did the same thing pretty much, I thought it was a great way to find out about new bands and then buy their cd's.

-- Posted by semosmitty06 on Wed, Sep 19, 2007, at 11:02 AM

Finally the music industry is slowly starting to catch up with technology. In the next five years, Apple will relive its past and fail because it will not change it's business model of charging per song. The style and popularity of the iPod will take it only so far. Watch for the first mainstream service to offer its customers non copyrighted files for personal use. When the restrictions are taken away and new business models are embraced, this industry will flourish as it never has before. Many, many more people will pay for music services online if they are given ownership of the files, rather than "renting" them as they are now. I'm hoping Napster will be the first major company to adapt to this practice.

Of interest for those of you who are frustrated with "renting" music: http://tunebite.com/en/remove_drm/index....

-- Posted by The Dictionary on Wed, Sep 19, 2007, at 11:05 AM

It will be interesting to see if this works or not. I'm glad to see the music industry working with, rather than against its main consumers.

Mosely/semosmitty: I am in the same boat, grab me an oar, I bought many a CD due to cruising Napster back in the day. Why did I do it? For the cool graphic on the CD and to have an original "master copy" of the CD.

STL_:"renting" music will remain the mainstay, for quite sometime I am sure. The music biz wants to try to salvage some type of dignity, based on sueing a majority of its prime consumers. They, like many politicians, will stick to thier guns until they simply can't anymore. Hopefully this new site will provide them with an outlet to save face...

-- Posted by Cape Tape on Wed, Sep 19, 2007, at 10:31 PM

stl_redhawk: Have you seen Emusic? Noncopyrighted files, 1/3 the price of ITunes, & pretty large library of music to select (2-3 times larger than the site this article is discussing). It's as mainstream as you can get considering the big four: Sony BMG, EMI, Warner Bros & Universal refuse to sell via any non-DRM'd methods. So not much top 40 pop, but virtually everything else under the sun is very well represented.

As for the old Napster lovers you guys should check out Soulseek ( http://www.slsknet.org/ ) most people I know use Soulseek as their preferred program for sampling music. Personally I stick to bittorrent for all my file needs, for those into legally downloading live shows of bands that permitting taping http://bt.etree.org/ is a great resource if you can look past all the Grateful Dead/Phish/jam band stuff to find the real gems.

-- Posted by Nil on Thu, Sep 20, 2007, at 1:07 AM

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