How to download music like it’s 2001

This was a piece written for the Trinidad Express in mid-2001

All logged on and no music to download.

Like many other internet addicts, music junkies and college students who’ve been spoiled by high speed internet access, downloading free music from Napster had become a staple in my existence. But then it all came crashing down. The music industry in the US sued Napster about copyright infringement, and the free exchange of music over its interface has been slowed or shut down in the last months.

What made Napster so special – and so popular – is the very thing which the music industry and artists like Metallica are terrified and enraged by. Users download and install the Napster software, and then build a folder of music files (usually in mp3 format). A man in Beijing can then use the software’s search engine and download the latest Soca from the mp3 folder of a Trini in D’Abadie, as long as they’re both online to swap the file.

It was music Heaven. Got an itch to hear a song? Log on to Napster, search, download, listen. What was even better is that these music files could be burned on to a CD. So Instead of listening to an artist’s album and having to skip through it to find the songs you like (sometimes about 3 off of a 12-track album), you just download the songs you want – from any number of artists – and compile your own ideal mixed CD. Now you see why the record companies were livid.

So now, the future looks bleak. There seem to be three main ways in which users will be able to access online music files in the post-Napster era. First, some current mp3 sites will abide by the demands of the Music Industry and offer music files as a paid service (like emusic.com, or how Napster will re-emerge this summer). Or, mp3s will become totally obsolete, replaced by more high tech and heavily encrypted digital files or DVDs. Or smaller and less conspicuous sites and services will continue to illegally provide free music mp3s through an online database or a file-sharing service like Napster, or something less centralised and easy to police.

It’s these rogue sites, ones which still offer free music, that a lot of us music lovers are interested in. Napster’s big asset was that everyone was using the software, millions of people were sharing their music, and so the variety and accessibility of songs was limitless. But with different people using different services, the number of files you can access in any one place is limited, or are not accessible from all operating systems (a big problem for Mac users like myself).

But some of these sites are not user-friendly, and in an effort to escape policing are just too complicated. More than that, though, Napster was unique in ensuring that only mp3 files could be accessed on their server. However, many of these Napster alternatives list pics, videos, programs and unwittingly viruses, some of which change their name to whatever song you’re looking for. So beware – if the song doesn’t have the .mp3 suffix, best to scan it first.

So, with all the options out there, here are 6 of the best free sites still available.

1. Gnutella (www.gnutella.wego.com) – Non-centralised network of file sharing, with a large selection of files. To access music, graphics, video, even program files, users need to download a program like LimeWire, Bodetella or Mactella (for Mac users). Available for all operating systems.

2. Audiogalaxy.com – Good selection of songs, lots of users, but system can get clogged, spelling long download times or frequent disconnections. Users must download Audiogalaxy Satellite to search for songs. Windows or Linux only.

3. iMesh.com – Third largest non-Napster group. But – Windows only.

4. KaZaA & Morpheus – Allow sharing of all sorts of files, as well as send instant messages. Heralded as the future of file sharing. Windows only.

5. OpenNap – Network based on and affiliated with original Napster network. Users need to download clients like WinMX and Rapigator to access files. Windows only.

6. Aimster.com – Works with your favourite Instant Messaging software…not as wide a membership as the other clients, but very similar in look and feel to Napster. Windows and Mac.

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