BOOT CAMP 394 (18/10/05)

Downloading music, part 2


In order to download music from the Internet you need a reasonably recent Windows or Mac computer and a broadband Internet connection. (Yes, I know you can also download tunes on some mobile phones but that’s another story for another day).


There’s nothing to stop you using a dial-up connection but the point is most music tracks are between 3 to 5 megabytes in size and normally take a couple of minutes or so to download via broadband. Downloading a track over a dial-up connection will take at least ten times longer, in which case it might be quicker and cheaper to pop down to your local record shop and buy the CD…


By the way, you don’t need an iPod or indeed any sort of personal digital music player to download music. You can listen to your tunes through the PC loudspeakers, or connect your computer’s audio output to your hi-fi system for even better results and this will also let you copy your tracks to a cassette. If your PC or laptop has a CD writer you can create your own compilation discs, which you can play on your home hi-fi or in-car and personal CD players.


Before we get started we should quickly run through the legal issues concerning music from the Internet. The general rule of thumb is that if you download from an online music store and you’ve paid for it then it should be okay. There are exceptions some file-sharing sites sell tracks illegally and numerous bands and musicians make copyright-free and freebie tracks and albums available from their websites but if you are downloading commercially released music by well-known artists using peer-to-peer file sharing software then the chances are it is pirated.


Whatever your views on the rights and wrongs of paying for music online or adding to what you imagine are the record industry’s already well-stuffed coffers then here is something else to think about. When you stray outside of the legitimate online music market you have no way of knowing what you are downloading onto your PC.


Pirated files and music tracks may be spiked with viruses, worms, trojans and other nasties. As soon as you click to open a file you might unleash an infection that could scramble all of the data on your hard drive or reveal sensitive or personal information to hackers. There’s one other thing to consider and that’s the cost of getting caught, and if you think it won’t happen to you or someone in your family then think again. File sharers, especially those with several hundred tracks on their PCs, are comparatively easy for record industry investigators to locate due to the large amount of data traffic their online activities generate.


That said it’s still not always obvious from some music websites whether or not they are legal so if you want to stay on the straight and narrow the best thing to do is consult the list of legitimate sites compiled by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) at:

content_file_79.shtml, see also this week’s Top Tip.     


Now that’s out of the way you are ready to see what all of the fuss is about and the first step to choose your on-line music store. If you happen to own an Apple iPod then the logical place to start is the Apple iTunes site, and ( It’s worth making iTunes your first port of call if you do not own, or intend to buy a digital music player (other than an iPod) since it currently has the biggest catalogue, you can play tracks through your PC or hi-fi and burn them onto CD using the iTunes software. If you have any other sort of digital music player then iTunes files won’t play on your device so start with the one of major music stores listed below


When you visit an online music website for the first time usually one of the first things you need to do is download the store’s software. This could be a simple player or browser plug-in, though increasingly it will be a custom browser with built-in player, jukebox, file management and CD burning utilities. You may also be asked to enter your credit card details before you are allowed to enter the store, though on some websites you can freely browse and listen to 30-second samples or clips without any commitment.


However, before you sign up for anything you should make a point of perusing the site’s information and FAQ sections to establish whether or not the software the site uses will run on your PC or browser (not all online stores are Mac-friendly). You also need to know if the file format of the music they are selling is compatible with your digital music player, if you have one. (most sites other than iTunes use the WMA codec). While you are there find out what your 79 pence (the usual cost per track in most UK-based online music stores) actually buys. Almost all legal music downloads contain Digital Rights Management (DRM) data, which can restrict how and where you use the files you’ve paid for. You may be restricted to loading your tunes on just one personal player, or limited to the number of compilation albums you can burn to CD. DRM can also stop tracks from being copied from one PC to another over a network. Some stores also have subscription deals and you should check the fine print carefully. They can look quite attractive, offering unlimited downloads but in some cases the DRM will stop tracks being played if at any time you cancel your subscription.


NEXT WEEK -- Pictures on your PC





Process of creating or recording data on a blank or rewritable CD 



A file, component or program that extends the capability or adds extra features to another program or application



Windows Media Audio - audio codec used by Windows Media Player and devices like personal digital music players WMA




If you are a concerned parent and worried about what your offspring are up to on their computer there is a way you can find out, and put a stop to any illegal activity (and remember, you’ll be the one that has to pay the fine!). The BPI is distributing a free utility called Digital File Check, which looks for file-sharing software and pirated material stored, with the option to delete anything it finds. The program doesn’t send any information from the PC so the slate is effectively wiped clean and you can rest easily once again. To learn more and download a copy go to: You will find many more useful freeware and shareware programs here and click here for a collection of tried and tested Top Tips






© R. Maybury 2005, 1210

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