Get Free MP3s, Legally

Susie Ochs's picture

Get Free MP3s, Legally

 

It’s pretty obvious where Apple wants you to get your music: the iTunes Store. And we’re not knocking it—we appreciate the simplicity and convenience of iTunes for buying songs, managing our collections, and loading up our iPods. But only looking for digital music in one place—even iTunes—is like only getting takeout from one restaurant, or only ever accessing the Internet through AOL. There’s just so much more out there if you’re willing to look around.

 

In this case, you’ll find an Internet full of music. And with the homogenization of FM radio and the virtual disappearance of music from MTV and VH1, people are turning to the Net more and more to find new artists and cool albums. The obvious benefit is that the musicians can connect more directly with the listeners, without barriers to entry like a record deal or radio airplay. And fans can turn other people on to new sounds without the barriers to entry like a radio station or a column in a music rag. It’s democratization from both sides.

 

But with the benefits comes a drawback, although it’s kind of a nice problem to have—the Internet is huge. More songs are added every day. How do find the stuff you like, the music that suits you perfectly? In real life, maybe your friends play you whatever they’re into lately and make recommendations. On the Web, that friend is an MP3 blog, a site that posts about music and bands, and includes downloadable tunes for you to check out.

 

Now, if you’re not familiar, MP3 blogs can sound, well, illegal. And technically they are, but the music industry doesn’t seem to mind—no legal action has been taken against an MP3 blog as of this writing. It’s free promotion. These blogs exist to turn their readers on to new music, the idea being that the readers tend to be loyal consumers of music already, making them more likely to buy the album, or attend the concert, of the bands they like. The bands and labels in question often provide their music directly to the MP3 bloggers to share, and in fact, an NYU business school study published in October 2007 found that if an album was blogged about at least 40 times before its release, sales increased 300 percent. And since CD sales keep slipping overall, we don’t anticipate seeing the RIAA going after MP3 blogs anytime soon.

 

But isn’t it a real drag to have to, well, drag file after file down from the each blog yourself, every time there’s a new post? Well, just like an RSS reader grabs articles from all your favorite news sites and collects them in one convenient location for you to peruse all at once, two applications for the Mac can automatically download every song posted on all your favorite MP3 blogs and collect them into playlists, ready and waiting. We’ll show you how—it’s time to tune in to the Internet.

 

Songbird

When you view an MP3 blog page in Songbird, a list of the tracks appears at the bottom for easy previewing and downloading.

 

Songbird is an open-source jukebox-Web browser mashup that can bridge the gap between music on the Web and music on your Mac. If you’ve ever used Winamp, it may seem familiar. In fact, Pioneers of the Inevitable, Songbird’s developer, is home to veterans of the Winamp project and the Yahoo Music Engine. Songbird is cross-platform, running on Mac OS X (it requires version 10.4 or later), Windows, and Linux. The software uses the VideoLAN client (just like VLC Player) to play your media files. And the browser is built on Mozilla’s XULRunner platform, the same as Firefox and Thunderbird, so those parts will probably look familiar too.

 

When you first open Songbird, if you have the iTunes Library Importer add-on installed, the app will ask if you want to add your iTunes library. If you decide to import your library, your music files won’t move from wherever you keep them now. But Songbird will be able to play them, and all your playlists will appear in the source list in Songbird’s sidebar (although any Smart Playlists show up in Songbird as regular old “dumb” playlists). You don’t have to keep the two libraries synced if you don’t want to. If you synced on the first launch, Songbird will check for changes in your iTunes library whenever you launch Songbird (unless you tell it not to) and ask if you want those changes reflected here as well. If you changed a playlist in iTunes, Songbird will offer to use the new iTunes playlist, keep the old Songbird playlist, or keep them both.

 

And Songbird doesn’t just play media you’ve got on your Mac. As the app’s slogan says, it also lets you “play the Web.” When you encounter music on the Internet, you can play it right from the webpage—and Songbird makes it easy to find new stuff through links to dozens of MP3 blogs, the blog aggregator Hype Machine, and a built-in search box that sniffs out tunes from a variety of music-focused search engines.

 

Using Songbird with MP3 blogs is incredibly easy and convenient. When you view one—or any website with songs posted on it—a list pops up on the bottom of the window to show you all the tracks on the page. You can preview them instantly, and download them with click of a button or by dragging and dropping into your library. The app not only lets you bookmark a blog, but also set up a subscription that will automatically scrape every track posted to that blog into a playlist at regular intervals.

 

After you install the iPod Device Support add-on, your iPod will show up in Songbird’s source list, and you can have the app automatically sync its entire library or specific playlists, just like you would in iTunes. You can even subscribe to podcasts via www.odeo.com. Your library can contain tracks you purchased from Amazon, eMusic, the iTunes Store, and other online outlets, right alongside the music you imported from iTunes and the songs recommended by your favorite MP3 bloggers.

 

With the QuickTime Player add-on installed, the app can play the same formats as iTunes too, including MP4 files purchased from the iTunes Store. Even better, Songbird can play FLAC files, which iTunes can’t. FLAC stands for Free Lossless Audio Compression—it’s a popular lossless format that compresses songs to about half their uncompressed size, but without removing any audio information, so there’s no drop in quality. We’ve been waiting (in vain) for years for iTunes to support FLAC. Why? Many of the live concert recordings in the Live Music Archive (www.archive.org/details/etree) are offered in both lossy MP3 format, for those who care more about file size, and FLAC format, for audiophiles who don’t mind the longer download times.

 

Selecting your iPod in the source list brings you to a screen that lets you sync playlists automatically. Songbird is wearing the “iBird” feathers (aka skin) here.

 

Songbird can download FLACs, add them to your library, and play them in the player, but you still won’t be able to play them on your iPod. To do that, you’ll have to find the files on your hard drive and convert them to AIFF or WAV with a utility called xACT (free, www.versiontracker.com). Your iPod can play those AIFF or WAV files, but they’ll be even bigger than the original FLACs you downloaded. If you want smaller files for your iPod, you can use iTunes to compress them to AAC or MP3 first. And yes, that sort of negates the purpose of downloading the higher-quality FLACs in the first place, but our preference is to archive the perfect-sounding FLACs and use the smaller files for day-to-day listening (of course, your mileage may vary). Songbird doesn’t have a built-in file converter, like iTunes does, nor can it rip or burn CDs.

 

Because it’s based on the same technology as Firefox, Songbird also supports add-ons. When you first install the software, it will suggest a selection of basic add-ons (including the three we’ve already mentioned—iTunes Library Importer, iPod Device Support, and QuickTime Playback—plus Songbird Developer Tools), and you can find more at addons.songbirdnest.com. We particularly enjoyed the Wikipedia Extension, which displays the Wikipedia page of whatever artist you’re currently listening to, and the allmusic Search Toolbar, which lets you search the All Music Guide (www.allmusic.com). Another cool add-on is mashTape, which can display a variety of Web content related to the song you’re currently playing, including Flickr photos of the band, their upcoming concert dates, an artist bio, and even the song’s lyrics. And since Songbird is open-source, anyone can write an add-on, opening up vast possibilities.

 

The mashTape add-on can show you lyrics, artists bios, Flickr photos, and upcoming shows for the song you’re listening to. The Now Playing add-on (on the right) lets you queue up an impromptu playlist.

 

Speaking of possibilities, you can also change the look of Songbird with skins, which here are called “feathers” to stick with the avian theme. Unskinned, Songbird resembles a Windows-ish iTunes with a black background, but some more Mac-like feathers are available—try iBird or Goose. Louder and more colorful feathers are also available, and if you don’t like any of the choices you can always make your own. Just go to Tools > Create Feathers to launch the wizard, which recommends you also have a text editor, image editor, and basic understanding of cascading style sheets (CSS).

 

5

Comments

+ Add a Comment
avatar

qiqi

And we also provide fast delivery service, guarantee our listing price is lower than other competitors.replicas watches and professional customer service. We are more than ready to show our unique prowess and fortes to gain our footing.

avatar

lovestar

rwe4h4a شات دردشه شات كويتي دردشه كويتيه ، شات كويت60 شات كازنوفا شات سعودي شاات مصريه شات كويت25fg3ewe@

avatar

benet

Every little chat Salon 1000 ah!replica watchYou are my best's buddy
213fgd

avatar

suaili

Ah louis vuitton handbagsw
By seeing this article, I Louis Vuittonunderstand a lot, learned a lot of knowledge

Read this article, Louis Vuittonsome knowledge to understand, thank you, the author
ell

avatar

stevel

Yup, Songbird is still targeting early adopters and developers... which is why we've labelled it a Developer Preview. We actually just released Songbird 0.5 earlier this week, which includes fixes for some of the quirks you may have noticed -- including Mac accelerator/hotkeys like Cmd-Q.

Log in to Mac|Life directly or log in using Facebook

Forgot your username or password?
Click here for help.

Login with Facebook
Log in using Facebook to share comments and articles easily with your Facebook feed.