How to get Music on the Net for free.

Information wants to be free.

I am writing this on the light of the presumed "shutdown" of Napster by a Federal judge in the US. The shutdown was adverted in a last minute appeal, but still what follows may be of interest. If you have been under a shell for a few years let me explain that Napster is a computer program that allows users to exchange music files compress in a format dubbed Mp3 (MPEG1, Layer 3). The format compresses music files in a 10 to 1 margin (approximately), which means that a minute of music occupies about 1 Meg of disk space. The way Napster works is a common Server/Client strategy with a twist. The twist is actually two fold: first, the client and server is the same program (for Windows, for other OS it's different, for the Mac I recommend Macster) and, second the client asks a centralized computer as to the location of the nearest and more efficient servers. This has caused a revolution in the way computer literate people get music. Young people in particular are amassing large collection of music through Napster and Mp3s.

To play Mp3s you use a player program: WinAmp for Windows, SoundJam for Mac, and XMMS for Linux. You can also play Mp3s with portable players like the Rio and others.


The music industry through its association (RIAA) is accusing Napster of violating copyright using a recent law. I was planing a big opinion about copyright and Intellectual Property, but I'll keep it short and do more damage through knowledge sharing. Intellectual property is for me an oxymoron. The reason I want sole property of my car or my stereo is that if I lend it to you I can't use it at the same time... With ideas is quite different, you can have a good idea, share it, and still profit from it. With respect to copyright I will, humbly, side with Thomas Jefferson in saying: "that ideas should freely spread from one to another all over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man .." Finally, with respect to the Music Industry and its greed I'll quote from an old book: "There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute nor common law. Neither individuals nor corporations have any right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped or turned back, for their private benefit. (Robert Heinlein, "Life-line", 1939). Enough! (or visit this)

How to get Mp3s

It is possible to transform your CDs into Mp3 using a program like AudioCatalyst or MusicMatch. It is an easy process that takes about half the length of each song. You can transform your CD collection and keep it in your, very large, Hard Disk or burn it in Recordable CDs. I should point out that it has been possible of semi-possible to get music for free on the Net for years. There are sites dedicated to giving or selling music in Mp3 format like and emusic. Some groups (eg., Hole) give their music away in Mp3.

The first, and still a common way, to get mp3 files is through ftp. The problem is how to get the servers names or IP numbers. Connecting to a search engine like that specializes on Mp3s is the best way. The problem with this method is that most of the listed servers for a particular song do not work. This should change as we get more permanent (non-dial-up) connections to the Net, clearly if you connect by modem it is not convenient to set up an ftp server, since it will only be available when you are connected.

Contrary to popular believe the most common way to get Mp3s and software, especially hot items like new songs (before the CD is out!) or developers software is not Napster, but Hotline. Hotline is a typical client/server application with a system call tracker to find servers with useful information. You can find Trackers by using any search engine (eg., google), and searching for "Hotline Tracker Mp3" or "Hotline Tracker Warez". The main problem with Hotline is that it is not exactly free. Most server administrator makes you click through banners in order to obtain a login and password with enough privileges. Furthermore, most server admins are a-holes that want to express how much control they have over you. The only way to progress in a sever is to kiss up and find the stuff the admin wants... It's not exactly great, but you get the most exciting stuff once you get into an inner circle... Another option is to put your own server and see what people upload into it.

Napster comes next (if you don't count direct web sites). You download a program and search for songs over the net you get tons of hits for each song and everything works easily and fast. Despite what the clueless think it is impossible to shutdown Napster. What you can do is bring down the server that most users connect to. But other servers will pop up and ways to patch the program will appear... Don't believe me? Check Napigator and OpenNap... Napster will not die unless another program becomes a better option...Options include Gnutella and FreeNet. These are very similar to Napster except they are open source and you can tell them which server to look (which you will have to find on your own if a huge crackdown on these services occur). Gnutella and FreeNet are fairly easy to use, but they have a problem. They share any kind of file and this makes it harder to find what you want. Say you want a song called "Let it be" not only you find Mp3 versions of the song in Gnutella (by several artists!) but you also get lyrics, music in other formats, opinion pieces, text files, etc. Organizing your searches is harder and, hence, it takes longer. All these services can and probably will be made less general and you get different servers for different content.

At the end the conclusion is the same, once a technology exist to do something people want to do (download music), there is no way to stop it. Free music has been available for a long time. The Music industry has manage to fool people with the album format for years but that will have to stop. Artist (good ones) will not die of hunger (at least no more than they do now), they have several forms of revenue and (real artists, at least) are more interested in sharing their art than in making a buck. The artist that complaint about not having money are the ones that were not making money before and, probably, do not deserve to make money now...


Tell me what you think (

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Last Modified: August 10, 2000