Published in San Antonio Current, August 1, 2007
Once again, the government wants to kill our good time. Last week, the House Government Reform Committee called peer-to-peer file-sharing software such as LimeWire a “national security threat.” LimeWire and the Gnutella network it uses are a popular means to share music and video — often copyrighted — across the internet. Chairman Henry Waxman and his peers warned Mark Gorton, CEO of LimeWire, that his software could turn a computer into a weapon.
The Committee’s concern stemmed more from an accidental misuse of the software than from any deliberate leaking of sensitive material. LimeWire would be a pretty dumb tool for terrorists, but it is also a really dumb thing to install on a computer that contains classified information. Of course, there are a gajillion other ways to get files across the ’net. The mere act of connecting Microsoft Windows to the internet can compromise your digital stuff. Why wasn’t Bill Gates in this hearing?
While the recording industry does not seem to be directly involved with this particular attack on LimeWire, the RIAA has made 2007 its banner year to prevent you from actually hearing the music it records. It has threatened internet radio [“Dead Air,” July 11-17] and sued college students for sharing music. So this seems a fitting time to list some more above-board, even legitimate, ways to get great tunes for free.
First I’ll list some “streamed music” services. Streaming typically means that you can listen in one direction only — forward — and that you don’t get to store the music unless you use a parlor trick (easily learned) to record the audio your computer is receiving. I love turning people on to Pandora. This site asks you to create a “radio station” by entering an artist or song. Pandora then uses its database of “music genomes” to construct a list of songs related to your original selection. Pandora is one of the most high-profile services imperilled by the crackdown on internet radio.
Wolfgang’s Vault is a crazy good time. Bill Sagan discovered and bought the collection of concert recordings and memorabilia of late legendary rock promoter Bill Graham, and Sagan’s company has spent a considerable amount of time and resources documenting all of those recordings and posting them online for your listening pleasure.
Real.com offers Rhapsody, a neat subscription that lets you choose from millions of tracks, store and share your choices. You can pay for “unlimited” access. I know many people who dig Rhapsody, though I found the site more clunky than others, and it crashed two of my browsers and wouldn’t work with the third.
Now comes the double-plus fun. Without installing any security-menacing software, you can find MP3s from all over the internet, yours to keep. Google can track down music files. You can look up the tricky syntax for the searches (Google “how to find mp3 with Google”), or use a site like http://www.b3ta.cr3ation.co.uk to do the geek-work for you.
Somewhat newer to the scene are music or MP3 blogs, where fans discuss music and post listenable and viewable files. Sites such as Hype Machine (hypem.com) and Elbo.ws scour, track, categorize, and sort the content of these blogs.
But here’s the magic: Whenever you do a search in Hype Machine, a link to a “feed” is generated for you. You can ask iTunes (or another music app) to subscribe to that feed. Click “Advanced > Subscribe to Podcast …” and iTunes will start downloading the top song result from your search. Then you can ask it to grab more. A constantly refreshing set of songs from your artist is downloaded daily (or hourly, weekly, etc.), ready to be synced to your iPod (or another portable music device).
Hype Machine was the recent discovery that made me get up and do a little dance. (No, I didn’t post said dance on YouTube. And by the way, if anyone says “cat playing piano” to me again, I’m gonna drink Drano.) They let you play your search results in their own little window, but the ability to find and keep a track you like is just golden. And it’s just the kind of gold that the music industry wants to deny us, even though it ultimately attracts ears and purses to their product. So take a cue from Janis, and get it while you can.