You don’t have to resort to illegal file sharing or invest in a pay-download site to get good music for your iPod or mp3 player. Free, legal music is everywhere! Come with me, I’ll show you.
Start with your own music collection. You have CDs, cassettes, maybe even a few vinyl albums. Until the RIAA says differently, this music is YOURS, and it is still legal to make copies for your own personal use. Rip your own CDs to mp3, using Windows Media Player or CDEx or some other good free program. Borrow CDs from friends to amplify your collection.
Cassettes and vinyl are a little more problematic, and the solution is not exactly free, but the benefits are too great not to be mentioned. Invest in a stereo patch cord and an adapter that plugs into the miniplug input jack on your computer sound card. Plug this into your record or tape player, play your tapes and records and record them onto your computer using a program like Goldwave or Golden Records. You can clean up scratches, pops, hisses, and so on. There are even USB turntables made especially for this purpose. Some people actually go to thrift stores and yard sales and buy old vinyl records and tapes (for 50c or less) specifically to make archival mp3 recordings. Since many vinyl albums are out of print, you’ll be preserving a part of the past. You might find some really great retro bizarrities, if you’re into that, or long-forgotten psychedelic classics.
Now to the internet. Free LEGAL music downloads are everywhere. Even amazon.com and other sites offer free promotional downloads of artists you know and love. With a little searching you can find everything from the Grateful Dead and Dan Fogelberg to Neko Case and My Morning Jacket for free. Search on “Free legal downloading” and you’ll find dozens of sites. Be sure not to overlook sites that promote independent artists you won’t hear on commercial radio. After all, that’s how Sufjan Stevens got started! Go to Neil Young’s website and listen to some of the musicians he promotes for free at neilyoung.com/lwwtoday, some of them quite good. He also occasionally offers free downloads of his own material, even videos.
Whatever you do, don’t give up. You don’t have to break the law to put great music on your iPod. Things are changing in the music industry — they’re realizing that people want free, legal music, and they’re going to have to find a way to give it to us. Support the artists you hear for free by going to their shows. Remember, most artists make the majority of their money not from record sales, but from concerts!