Free music: Piracy, streaming and you

Quinn Conklin, Co-Editor-In-Chief

Free music. It is nice to have, but most types come with costs. There are two options available to get it: piracy or streaming. The costs of piracy can be debated, but arguments about stealing money from the artist and putting the music industry at risk aside, it is illegal. On the other hand, using a streaming music service traps the music we listen to in someone else’s collection.

We can listen to pirated music on our computer, iPod, smart phone or burn it to a CD. Streaming music isn’t much different. We just can’t make copies. An Internet connection is the only real limitation to where we can listen to streaming music.

Let’s take off the eye patch for a minute and look at our options for streaming music. There are two different types of streaming services: radio stations and playlist editors.

Radio stations define a sound or genre and then generate a play list based on these selections. This covers services like Pandora and Last fm. They play music you know and songs you don’t. It can be a great way to find new music.

The downside is advertisements. It’s not nearly as bad as a traditional radio station, but it’s still annoying. Every few songs they pop in a single commercial. Unfortunately, it seems as if they only have three commercials since they always play the same ones.

Another option is a playlist editor like Grooveshark. Grooveshark is like having almost any song you could want in your music library and being able to build a playlist without needing to spend money to buy all the music. The nice thing about Grooveshark is that it does not insert audio ads into your playlist. Instead, ads are displayed in the browser window. You get to hear what you want, when you want it.

Grooveshark’s problem is playlist management. Load up 20 songs and you only have 20 songs to listen to. Also, it’s not a good way to discover new music. It’s not much different than listening to your playlists in iTunes, but until you have a decent playlist built, it can be annoying.

Spotify is another interesting option to emerge, which blends iTunes with streaming music. Like iTunes, Spotify imports local music from a computer’s hard drive to the player. Music not in the library can be streamed from the cloud. Since it effectively gives everyone using Spotify the same library of music to pick from, playlists can be shared between users. Unfortunately, Spotify uses audio ads when playing streamed music. However, in a playlist that has both local music and streamed music it only counts streaming music on the ad clock.

The other disadvantage with Spotify is that you have to install the player. That means if you are sitting at the school library, you can’t call up your playlists from the cloud.

The problems of all these streaming services are not deal breakers but they can be annoying. The question is are they annoying enough to drive the average user to piracy? Is one commercial too much to ask to listen to music legally?

Steal or stream, nothing is perfect. But diving into streaming carries less personal risk.