Would I ever buy music? Would I ever pay someone to get those 4MB mp3 files on my iPod? Hell no! There’s enough free music in the world. Just tune in to your local radio channels and enjoy! Come on! That should satisfy your hunger for the latest chartbusters. If you like oldies, there are tons of stations that are dedicated to playing classics.
If that isn’t enough, there are tons of ways to listen to music online without buying it (or in some cases, without paying for it at all). No, this article hasn't been written to encourage piracy. If you are, like me, averse to buying music but have a pretty good Internet connection at home and 3G on your phone, you’re in for some royal luck.
Note that I won’t buy music, but that doesn’t mean I won’t pay for music. In fact, I’m more that happy to shell out $3 a month for an online music service like Last.fm. Paying for a Last.fm account means I can listen to any song that I want to, for an unlimited number of times, as well as listen to a streaming radio that lets me discover new artistes who play my preferred genre. Having a Last.fm account also means I actually have, at my access, 95% of the music that has ever been released or will be released.
Last.fm doesn’t stop here, however. It is actually a social network centred on music. You can link up your desktop player to Last.fm, and stream music right away! However, the biggest advantage of linking up is “scrobbling”. Taking this idea of social networking around music, Last.fm aims to record every single song you’ve ever listened to, and synthesize your tastes. Then, when you make friends on Last.fm, your musical compatibility is calculated. Also, when you scrobble a track from your player, Last.fm isn’t left in the dark about what you’re listening to outside its jurisdiction.
But for those of you who aren’t ready to shell out a single buck, there are a couple of other options too. For example, Jango. You feed in an artiste's name or a genre and it plays a radio of similar songs. It’s similar to Last.fm’s radio service, and it works everywhere, as long as you have a browser with Flash support and a 256K internet connection. My only gripe is that its library is very small – almost all the songs it has ever played were in my personal 10 GB MP3 collection. 10 GB is small!
Jango offers only a radio. If you want to listen to the track you want, you can head over to Grooveshark. Type in a song’s name; add it to the playlist and it starts playing. Listen to as much music as you want, for as long as you want. No holds barred. The only issue is that certain record labels have problems with their music being played for an unlimited amount of time for free, so they don’t allow their music on Grooveshark. One such popular artiste is Pink Floyd.
An alternative for Grooveshark would be Spotify. Spotify has a larger library (although Grooveshark has so far been able to play any song I asked of it) and also scrobbles to Last.fm. Spotify has a free service exactly like Grooveshark, and it also has a paid Premium service, with perks like Desktop and Mobile players, Linux support, higher bitrates, and offline access to music, besides being Ad-free. Does this sound too good to be true? It actually is. Spotify is available in a pretty restricted subset of countries in Western Europe – Finland, France, Norway, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and United Kingdom.
That’s about what the scene is. Or was. Before Napster returned.
No, not Shawn Fanning’s Napster. A different one. For those of you who don’t know, Napster was a wildly popular music sharing service made by a certain Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker. Overnight, people could just lay their hands on the music in seconds, and for free. People never had to go out and buy a record again. Of course, like all good things in life, this too had to come to an end because the record labels didn’t appreciate their music being given away for free. Naturally, they sued and shut down Napster.
10 years after it was shut down, a new media player, called Tomahawk, resurrects the core ideas of Napster. Touted as a meta-music player, Tomahawk promises that once you type in the name of a song into the player, it will play that track almost instantly, no matter where that track resides.
Tomahawk is a Qt4-based music player available for Windows, Linux and Mac. Install it and it’s just another music player. It indexes your library and plays your music. Simple.
Now download and add a couple of resolvers to the app and it transforms into a meta-music player. Yeah, “Resolvers”. Think of these resolvers as sources of music. Tomahawk comes with three resolvers by default – the local library resolver, which sources music from your own collection, the LAN resolver, which sources music from other computers on your LAN which are running Tomahawk, and the Jabber resolver, which talks to other Tomahawk players on the Internet via a Google Talk account, and sources music from them.
Tomahawk is still under heavy development (currently at version 0.0.2), and understandably its spanking new resolvers aren’t really available for every single source. The developers are writing currently writing resolvers for Spotify, Magnatune, Last.fm and other services that provide free streaming services, and it’ll also be able to source music from your own MPD/Icecast, DLNA and UPnP servers pretty soon.
While the LAN and Jabber resolvers seem a bit dodgy legally (they do the exact same thing that Napster was shut down for), the design of Tomahawk means that if there’s a legal issue, only the errant resolvers need to be taken down, and Tomahawk as a player survives, pulling music from your paid and free online music stores and streaming services.