Music file sharing was probably the first major legal issue for the internet, arising even before concerns over private data and public safety.
Artists, record labels and the public all fought each other over whether music should be freely available or tightly controlled, and the music industry waged war on pirates. This, of course, encouraged the pirates to fight back, and 20 years later we’re still in the thick of the legal wrangle.
The good news for the average consumer is that this controversy led to a barrage of illegal and legal music download services hitting the market, and we were suddenly swamped with content. From file-sharing sites like Napster to official bodies like iTunes, everybody wanted a piece of the action.
Like video, there are two ways of listening to music online – you can either download it (save it to your computer) or you can stream it (listen to it online).
Pros and cons of downloading music:
- Choose individual songs as opposed to buying a whole album
- Create your own playlists
- Generally much cheaper than buying from a high street store
- Browse, try and buy - all from the comfort of your own home
- Download unique songs not available from stores e.g. special live performances, etc.
- Easy to use
- Extra information or songs which are only available through the internet
- Access to new music from unsigned bands
- No physical product (i.e. no CD or case etc.)
- Not all bands' catalogues are available from download sites
- Danger of internet security (make sure you use an official and secure website)
What do I need to get started?
- A computer (PC, laptop, Mac) or smart phone (one that can access the web)
- Any internet connection
Unlike video however, the demands on your connection are a lot less intensive. A music file can be as small as 2MB, which with an 8Mbps connection would take between two and eight seconds to download. Back in the days of 56k connection you could be waiting hours.
Confused about internet speeds and data? How long does an album actually take to download? What’s a meg? Check out Bits & Bytes Explained, our uSwitch guide to connection speeds, file sizes, and what it actually means to you.
Streaming and downloading music can be done with the most basic internet connection package, however if you plan on downloading every single release since 1955 then you’ll probably need a higher-than-average monthly data allowance.
Just need something simple? Check our best-value broadband deals here.
Need a quick speed or large GB download allowance? Check our heavy-use broadband packages here.
How to get music online
Most computers give you the option to rip all your audio CDs to your computer and then transfer them to a portable MP3 player. But what if you don’t own the CD? What if it was never a CD in the first place?
Apple and the iRange
These days, a lot of people have an iPhones, iPods or iPads. The only choice for buying content here is the iTunes web store, and devices usually have to be synched up to a computer in order to receive updates and transfer content.
7Digital and the best of non-Apple
Offers singles and albums for purchase, and lets you preview content before you buy. Other solutions like this are a lot less restrictive than iTunes and offer the same content.
Large companies like Amazon
Spotify and the streaming apps
A Swedish desktop music application that installs on your computer and lets you stream and buy music. There's also a mobile version for listening on the go on your smartphone.
It offers a massive amount of content but not everything is available, for example you won’t find AC/DC or The Beatles.
Last FM, Deezer and the world of internet radio
Internet radio is an interesting alternative for the music buff. Instead of just playing the music you ask for, it invariably mixes it with other songs based on genre, artist, influence etc. Pandora was one of the best, but now cannot operate outside of the US for licencing reasons.
P2P (peer-to-peer) technology seeks to minimise download times by changing the way the files are downloaded. Rather than trying to get one file from one person, it downloads multiple pieces simultaneously from multiple people and puts them back together when they’ve all been downloaded. This is a great technology and speeds can be hugely fast, but it is largely used for illegal file-sharing and should be approached with extreme caution.
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A few tips for staying out of trouble...
The internet is a minefield of copyright infringement, and it's important to stay up to speed. Remember that your provider can block your service and you can get taken to court for copyright infringement.
- Download only from reputable sources.
- Avoid illegal file sharing.
- Don’t duplicate anything without permission!
- If in doubt, always err on the side of caution.
How do I use my downloaded music?
Once you have downloaded your music, you may listen your songs in different ways. You can choose to just listen to your music only from your computer, but why stop there?
You can also put your music onto a portable MP3 player, so you can hear your favourite tunes anywhere you like. Alternatively you can put your music onto a CD.