The beauty of Jamendo is that you always get more than you paid for.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

T e c h n o f i l e
Where to download music legally -- and, in one case, for free

Feb. 24, 2008

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2008, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2008, The Post-Standard

   The music business is changing fast.
   CDs are old fashioned. You can get your music quickly and easily by sitting at your computer and downloading the songs you want.
   Usually, you have to pay a buck or so for each song, or about $10 for each album. But you can get music free, too, legally, without a single pang of guilt.
   I tried a half-dozen music download sources and came up with three clear winners. Each of the three provides music that can be easily burned onto audio CDs, and each one offers both single tracks and full albums, along with slick album covers.
   APPLE iTUNES MUSIC STORE. Works with Windows and Macs, although older computers of either kind will be shut out because they lack the necessary support in the operating system. If you have a Windows PC running XP or Vista or have an OS X Mac, you'll be OK.
   Music you buy, in so-called "protected" AAC format, cannot be played on any other portable player besides an iPod, but it can be played on your computer or any other computer that has the iTunes software. (You can share your purchased music by authorizing other computers or other iPods to play it.) If you burn your purchased music to audio CDs, you can share the music from the CDs with an unlimited number of computers or portable players. iTunes has a limited number of "unprotected" downloads that can be copied and shared freely.
   The iTunes software is free. It comes on Macs and can be downloaded for Windows at www.apple.com/itunes/download. The software is unusual in the way it works with your iPod, if you have one; you simply connect your iPod to your computer to charge the iPod's battery and, while the battery is charging, the iTunes software on your computer synchronizes your computer's iTunes music collection with your iPod's collection.
   iTunes does especially well with the 100,000 free iTunes podcasts, which are like homebrew radio or TV programs you can download. All you do is subscribe to a podcast on your computer, and your iPod will have the latest podcast programs synced up and ready for you after the next battery charge.
   iTunes Store music costs 99 cents per track. and albums usually cost $9.99. Most major labels are available. You can also buy or rent movies and TV shows, but as yet you can't rent music.
   AMAZON MUSIC STORE. Works with Windows and Macs, and downloaded music (in standard MP3 format) can be played on any portable player (including all iPods) and on any computer. Once you have them, you can copy and share the downloads any way you want. You use your Web browser to shop online, then download to a small program that puts your downloaded music into iTunes, if you have it available, or to your Windows Media Player.
   Single tunes on Amazon cost 99 cents; albums usually cost $9.99. An advantage for Amazon is the sound quality, which is slightly better than you get from the iTunes Music Store. Go to www.amazon.com and click the "Digital Downloads" link at the left.
   JAMENDO. Works with Windows and Macs. As amazing as it may seem, Jamendo has high-quality MP3 downloads of music by individual song or by album, with high-resolution album-cover art, organized well and easily searched, without any cost at all. Jamendo downloads are totally legal. All the artists are independent of big labels ("indies," in other words). Some of the music is first-rate, and some is just not very good.
   But the same could be said about a lot of the music on major-label CDs, too. The beauty of Jamendo is that you always get more than you paid for.
   Browsing Jamendo's music store -- is it still a store if everything is free? -- is easy. You don't need any special software. Just go to www.jamendo.com and start choosing. Any modern Web browser should work. My recommendation if you're not familiar with indie artists is Rob Costlow's "Woods of Chaos," a solo piano album as good as anything you could buy. Also try "A Place Called Home," by guitarist Ken Verheecke.