Don't want to sing "I Fought the RIAA and the RIAA Won?" These five services will keep you entertained and out of court.
Have the recording industry's evil minions scared you off of swapping tunes online? Tremble in fear no more. There are plenty of ways to legally share music across the Internet, far from the clutches of the RIAA's attorneys.
Music-sharing sites also provide a great way to connect with people who share your excellent musical taste, as well as to get recommendations for new music that you'll like just as much. You might even make a few friends along the way.
Of course, there are more search engines and social networks based on music than there are cover versions of "Louie Louie," so winnowing the list down to just five wasn't easy. If we've overlooked your favorites, post them below. And thanks for sharing.
We do have a few caveats, of course. In most cases you are limited to streaming music to your PC or handset, not downloading it. A couple of sites permit you to upload your own tunes for others to enjoy, but they don't work with DRM-protected music. In other words, there's nothing to stop you from sharing MP3 files that you downloaded illegally (and you know who you are, you naughty little monkeys). But music you purchased from the iTunes store--or ripped from a CD using the iTunes software? No can do.
The world's largest social music network is built around what it calls "scrobbling." Download the Last.FM software, and it scans (or "scrobbles") your most recently played songs on iTunes, WinAmp, or Windows Media Player to build a profile of your musical interests. Enter the name of an artist into the FM software, and it plays a song at random and creates a playlist of others you might like. Thus The Clash begets the Ramones, Dead Kennedys, and Green Day. Norah Jones leads to Billie Holiday, Diana Krall, and John Coltrane. And if by some dark confluence of events Justin Timberlake comes on, you can click the 'Ban' button and never have to hear that song again. (Wouldn't it be great if everything worked like that?)
The site itself is chock-full of goodies. You can download free tracks from artists like David Byrne and Juvenile, upload or watch videos, see what stuff other Last FMers have scrobbled, and so on. Before you know it, 3 hours have passed and you've blown another deadline. Sigh.
Newly launched in beta, Social.FM (formerly Mercora) features a nice iTunes-like interface, but it's still a little buggy. Download the player to your desktop or your mobile phone, or put a Social FM widget in your Facebook, MySpace, or Xanga profile. Then you can upload your fave tunes, create playlists or "channels," and become a world famous DJ--or something like that. One cool feature is the ability to access your music via your smart phone (though my LG phone's IQ apparently isn't high enough to conceive of such a thing).
You say you'd rather listen than play DJ? Type the name of an artist into the Web search engine, and it will show you biographical info, plus songs and YouTube videos (provided that another Social FM DJ has uploaded them). The search engine needs a little fine tuning, however--a search for the seminal LA punk band X turns up songs from Abba's "Mystic Xmas Night" (!) and videos of Malcolm X. You can also send e-mail invites so your pals can enjoy your musical selections (though this feature wasn't working properly when I tried it).
I Want My Lala.com!
It may not mean "I love you" (that would be "Lalalalalalalalala.com," according to the Delfonics), but Lala.com has a whole lot to give, as do the other sites below.
Lala.com is one of the few music-sharing schemes that involves transferring actual molecules--in this case, trading your old CDs with other Lala members. Sign up with Lala and post the names of the discs you're willing to surrender, as well as the ones you desperately crave. If another Lala member wants something from your collection, you'll receive an e-mail message containing instructions on where to send the disc, and you'll get a CD from your wish list in return. Total cost: $1.75 for shipping and handling.
But Lala is also a digital music service. So you can take the CD you just got, rip it into MP3s, upload the tunes to Lala, and access them from any Net-connected computer or sync them to your iPod. Or you can cruise other Lala members' playlists, stream 30-second samples to your PC, and get recommendations from the popular Lala forums. If you discover a CD that you like so much you can't wait for a trade, you can buy it through the Lala store. In many instances the site will automatically add the appropriate MP3s to your Lala playlist so you can listen to them without delay.
As its name implies, iLike is more about sharing tastes than about swapping tunes. But this social network/music site also serves up plenty of free MP3s, along with links to online music stores and concert tickets.
When you download the iLike software, it installs a 'sidebar' that sits beside your iTunes or Windows Media Player software. Play, say, Crowded House, and the sidebar displays recommendations for similar bands (along with 30-second samples), offers free downloads from lesser-known artists, and shows you other Crowded House fans on iLike. Click the Friends tab, and you can see what your iLike buddies are listening to; meanwhile, the Artists tab gives you the downlow on your favorite bands.
If you don't use iTunes or WMP, you can accomplish the same things from within the iLike site, or add a widget to your MySpace or Facebook profile. The Facebook app is particularly slick: Fill out a quick survey on the artists you like, and it creates a Facebook page that displays news about the bands as well as song samples.
5. Songza and SeeqPod
You need to hear that special song right now or you will simply die. We know, we've been there. That's why God invented sites like Songza and SeeqPod that scour the Net for tunes that other people have posted, and then stream them to your PC.
Songza is dead simple to use. There's no registration, no software to download, and barely any interface. Type the name of a song or artist into the search box, pick the one you want from the search results, and click on it. A flowerlike menu appears that lets you play the song, rate it, watch the YouTube video, embed it on your blog or social networking page, or e-mail a link to friends. You can also create a playlist, which will be available the next time you visit Songza (assuming you ever decide to leave, that is).
SeeqPod offers similar features in a more conventional (and commercial) package. Hit the Search button to find songs and videos from your fave artist and enjoy them in the site's embedded media player. The Options button lets you share the tune with friends, embed it on your blog, scan the lyrics, get news and tour information, and buy CDs and download ringtones from partner sites like Amazon and Jamster.
Clicking 'Discover' leads you to similar artists, though it's a bit more hit-or-miss. A search on Nick Lowe leads to Elvis Costello, The Jam, Ian Dury, and dozens of other new wavers. But Graham Parker serves up Meat Loaf, Peter Frampton, and--I'm not sure I can even type this--Rick Springfield. The horror, the horror!