Consumers get free music online

Sitting in my local watering hole last week, a spot known for its eclectic and interesting recorded music, I noticed an obscure Sinatra tune filling the air. When I asked the owner which Sinatra album he’d gotten the song from, his answer surprised me: “None. It’s an MP3”.In case you haven’t heard, MP3 technology is rocking the music industry’s world, making virtually any piece of recorded music available free of charge to anyone with a current PC and an Internet connection. MP3 is simply a compressed, digital music file format (short for MPEG-1, Layer 3), but its widespread use over the Internet makes it possible to simply type in a name of a favourite song and watch as your computer downloads an MP3 file. You can listen to that file on your computer, copy it, send it to someone else, or decompress it and “burn” it onto your own CD for use in a home player.

Of course, most record companies and a growing number of artists are up in arms about MP3, which they say deprives them of royalties for their hard work and artistry. They definitely have a point, and it won’t be long before encoding technology (and a raft of lawsuits) makes this free music a mere memory of the rly millennium.

Napster dominates
“Napster” is the program and service that’s dominating the MP3 scene on line. You can visit their site and download their free program, which allows you to join what they call their online community. Once you have it set up, you simply log on to Napster, type in the name of the song you want, and wait, while the program searches the hard drives of every other person similarly logged in.

Once your song is found (the selection is vast) you click “download” and watch as As Time Goes By is copied onto your hard drive in MP3 format. You can play it on your computer immediately, or use another free program (Music Match Juke Box) to convert your MP3 file to a .Wav file, which you can copy onto a blank CD for use on a regular system.

Drawbacks to system
There are some drawbacks to this, other than the ethical dilemma of copying music without paying for it. When you are logged on to Napster, all the MP3 music files stored on your hard drive are accessible for download by anyone else who is logged on. This is unavoidable, since Napster really is a “sharing” system that relies on everyone’s collective collection of music.

I minimized access to my files by designating the “M” drive on my computer (the CD read and write drive) as the Napster drive, which means that others can only copy from that drive (and not my hard drive) while I’m logged on.

The other problem is the familiar modem speed demon, because unless you have a high speed “broadband” connection to the Internet, an MP3 file download (about 1 MB per minute of music) can be painfully slow.

At this point, the world of MP3s allows anyone to get the music collection of a DJ, and the only cost is time at the keyboard. Needless to say, it won’t be long before the big record companies put an end to it all.