I have no idea what the kids are listening to these days...
February 11, 2010 7:54 PM   Subscribe

My music collection is practically non-existent. I have a new iPod, a laptop and 2GB per month downloads. What is the best and cheapest way to start building a music library from scratch? Should I just buy everything from iTunes, or what? And does anyone still pay for music?!

I have been a lazy music lover for years now. Mainly through listening to my housemate's massive vinyl collection or whatever other people are playing, instead of pursuing my own tastes. I want to rediscover old favourites, explore new artists and genres, and generally begin to build a large, diverse and personally meaningful music library on my iPod.

BUT... as a beginner to storing music on computers (yes I realise how incredibly lame that sounds) I'm totally confused by my options! Many of my friends seem to have compiled libraries purely from file-sharing networks like Limewire. I gather this is basically illegal but very common. Does it really rip off the artists involved? I don't particularly want to buy CDs as I will only listen to music through my iPod or PC. But the iTunes store still seems slightly expensive.

So. How and where do you buy your music, especially if you want to start by buying, say, 300+ tracks? Do you shop around depending on the artist/style? Do you pay for it at all?? Is iTunes the best option for purchasing and managing music for an iPod? Or are there other options out there that are cheaper?

Thanks for any tips :-)
posted by Weng to Technology (29 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Support your local independent music store and check out their used CD's for starters. Yes people DL music for free and no they shouldn't, especially when it comes to bands on smaller labels or ones that publish their own music. I have less sympathy for major label artists but hey, even if you do buy the new Green Day album it's not like they get much of a cut. Almost all of it goes directly into the coffers of the music label.
posted by bardic at 7:59 PM on February 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Ask your friends to make you a couple of data CDs with their top 50 most listened-to tracks, just to get a sample of different types of music. While you're not technically paying for the music, I'm going to go ahead and assume your friends did, but it gives you a great starting point without having to wade through the commercials on the radio and you'll be able to determine what to buy in the future.
posted by banannafish at 8:03 PM on February 11, 2010

The very best way to start a music collection is to figure out who among your friends has good (good meaning similar to yours) musical taste and a large mp3 collection and ask them if they will copy a bunch of albums for you. Files can be big so you might want to purchase an external hard drive for this purpose, or at least a good zip drive.
posted by emd3737 at 8:03 PM on February 11, 2010

Check out Amazon MP3. They often have a list of albums available for $5. They also run daily deals on albums (usually new) for around $2.99. Great way to get a lot of cheap, legit music.

Their downloader will automatically import the songs into your iTunes library so it's easy to get everything onto your iPod.
posted by tommccabe at 8:04 PM on February 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

I like Amazon MP3 also. No DRM, and it's generally $5-$10 per album. And then I don't have pesky CD cases to store.
posted by number9dream at 8:32 PM on February 11, 2010

Oh, yeah, buy your music. If you don't want CDs, go with Amazon mp3, as many have suggested. What about iTunes seems expensive? A typical album on CD costs about $13 (or it least it did the last time I bought a real CD; I just buy vinyl or digital now). You're actually paying a similar price for a lot more convenience when you buy online.

Since you're new to digital music, DRM is digital rights management. It can restrict how you can play, store, or share the files with others.

You might also think about opening a free account at Pandora (Internet radio that plays music based on your tastes) to try to find new artists and music that you like that you wouldn't have encountered otherwise. Buy songs or albums when you hear something you like on Pandora. Pandora (and the Music Genome Project, which Pandora uses) is awesome, but is only available if you're in the US.
posted by k8lin at 8:41 PM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

File sharing networks "rip off" artists in the financial sense that they get nothing from the transaction whereas they will realize some return from a legitimate paid transaction.

The one real benefit of the CD left is that it serves as its own archive: if your collection is wholly digital you better be serious about your data backup: if you fry your hard drive without a backup guess what, you just lost your whole collection.

As far as a la carte downloads go it is worth checking Amazon, Rhapsody, and iTunes for specific items, because there is some variation in pricing and all occasionally have good deals. All sell DRM free files.

The best value for a large selection is eMusic. They recently raised the rates but they are still by far the cheapest. The downside is that you have to subscribe to their service: you pay some sort of regular fee (the best values come with paying the year in advance) and get so many download credits (generally equivalent to on song but see complications below). At the best rate you get credits at about 36 cents a piece, the worse rates get up to 60 cents per credit.

The other big issue is that they don't yet carry all the major labels though they have deals with Sony and Warner Brothers now so they are starting to build a significant mainstream catalog. However I understand these deals are U.S. only right now. Their indie labels catalog is very large and deep. But you'd do well to check the catalog out before signing up, and making sure there is plenty of stuff you actually want.

They've started selling a significant percentage of their albums at a fixed rate of 12 credits which is often a great deal (for example I recently downloaded the Neil Young compilation Decade, which contains 35 tracks, for 12 credits, a little over 4 dollars at the best rates. Of course records with few tracks (many jazz and classical records I'd guess) stopped being such a great deal under this model. The other thing is that they started restricting track-only downloads of a fair number of songs - that is, you can only get these songs if you buy the whole album, you can't buy the single track. Basically the tracks getting these treatments are top hits, and sometimes exceptionally long songs. So you can't mine out the one hit wonders and such so easily.

See a couple of previous threads that might be of interest: here, and in particular I actually dug back through the archives and listed a bunch of other relevant threads in this comment, and here is something I have yet to check out but still think sounds interesting, maybe I'll get around to it some time.
posted by nanojath at 8:45 PM on February 11, 2010

I wasn't going to post but I just checked out tommccabe's recommendation for AmazonMP3: best.thing.ever. There are even several free CDs available for download (altough this is international music, but very novel).

A suggestion that I am going to give to to the OP to discover new music is to try last FM. Basically, you put in the name of an artist that you like, and last FM steams several songs by similar musicians; I've discovered really interesting new music this way. This last suggestion may be obvious, but if you find a musician you like in last FM, I sometimes go to youtube, type in the name of the muscian and listen to other music by the musician. Based on the sampling of music, then I go buy music at itunes, but that's just me.

On preview, Last FM is similar to Pandora. and I type too slow I like Last FM more, though, because it can recognize a wider range of music (ie, musicians from other countries), something that didn't work too well when I tried Pandora. YMMV.
posted by Wolfster at 8:45 PM on February 11, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the great answers all! I should clarify that I'm specifically interested in suggestions other than CDs.

Amazon and eMusic look great but don't seem to be available to Australian customers... :-(
posted by Weng at 8:56 PM on February 11, 2010

I like Amazon for mp3s. Libraries are good for CDs. I don't like free music, other than the occasional free preview.
posted by fifilaru at 8:58 PM on February 11, 2010

Adding to the OP's question a bit, I've wondered if there were ways to get "bulk rate" mp3s. Prepaid cards for online mainstream music stores still come out to $1 a song. I suppose I could see the major labels thinking they're already compromising just by selling them for $1 in a first place.

I like Amazon mp3s like everyone else. As for other methods of acquiring music, you could try online clubs like Yourmusic.com (formerly BMG Music Service), and used CDs in stores and eBay. I'll rip CDs I get from my library for artists I'm new to.

And as bad a rap as they get, I love best-of collections. It gives me a good overview of an artist before delving deeper into their albums. YouTube is another great, easy way to try out artists, as many complete albums are a bit too easy to find on there.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 9:04 PM on February 11, 2010

Dang, it looks like you Australians are kind of getting roundly screwed in the digital download department! I'm a big proponent of paying for music but honestly, I'm kind of inclined to say fuck it, get pirating, matey. It isn't your damn fault these dipshits can't sort out the legalities to allow you to give them your money.
posted by nanojath at 9:06 PM on February 11, 2010

I gather this is basically illegal but very common. Does it really rip off the artists involved?

Of course downloading pirated music for free is ripping off the artists. There's no valid excuse for it as far as I know.

The main excuses I usually hear are:

(1) "Oh, I'll see them in concert and pay for that." First of all, you probably won't. Second of all, they should be paid for their recordings and their live performances.

(2) "Most of the money doesn't go to the artists." First of all, some of it does. Second of all, there's a good reason a lot of the money goes to people other than the artists themselves -- because people other than artists put a lot of hard work into making the music possible. Few if any bands are capable of going from writing a song to producing a recording to marketing and distributing a finished product for your listening pleasure without any assistance from any other workers. Just because you don't see those other workers and they're not rock stars doesn't mean they're not benefiting you.

If eMusic and Amazon and CDs are out, that leaves iTunes (unless there's an Australian alternative I'm not familiar with). Expensive? As people have said, it's less expensive than CDs. It costs what it costs.
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:09 PM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've been enjoying Radio Paradise as a place to find music I'd otherwise never hear: radioparadise.com (they have links to buy stuff from Amazon if you hear something you like). I've tried others like somafm.com and such, but having a human DJ makes a world of difference for me.

Pandora can be good, but any given playlist gets repetitive pretty quickly. It is great that you can plug in any artist or song and it'll play similar music, though. For instance, I watched the Blues Brothers recently and plugged in one of the artists from the soundtrack and had a great couple of hours listening to blues I'd never heard before.

Besides Amazon's wonderful mp3 downloads (which are pure heaven), seek out the artist's webpages. Sometimes they have free downloads and previews of their music. Some actually sell mp3's direct from their sites.

Also, take a look at the free podcasts in itunes. Some DJs put out compilations in podcast format for free. These range from mixed sets of dance music to whatever the DJ thinks is cool that week.

Lastly, go see live music at small venues and free shows. Sometimes you find great people this way. It's fun to buy music directly from the artist, and listening to it later will remind you of the show.
posted by DrumsIntheDeep at 9:10 PM on February 11, 2010

If you're into independent artists, I recommend RCRD LBL. It's a site devoted to indie artists and music, and all of the music there is free to download and share (no DRM, and many tracks are available with a Creative Commons license).
posted by Telpethoron at 9:11 PM on February 11, 2010

It looks like some of your legal options are BigPond Music, Getmusic, and bandit.fm.
posted by nanojath at 9:16 PM on February 11, 2010

Using vixy.net, you can download the audio from any Youtube video - so you can have any song you hear on Youtube as an mp3 to put on your iPod and carry with you.
posted by koeselitz at 9:25 PM on February 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Pandora is awesome.
Don't steal music.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 9:36 PM on February 11, 2010

If you're in the mood for lots of free jazz MP3s you've never heard before, try:

Red Hot Jazz
Jazz On Line
posted by aquafortis at 12:11 AM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

As an Australian it looks like you will have to pay for LastFM - although I would not consider 3 euros per month a great cost given the amount of music on offer. LastFM probably offers more modes of discovering music than other services or activities I am aware of. Specifically you can:
1. Allow LastFM to gather listening data from Itunes (or whatever) and then make suggestions for you on the basis of that.
2. Search for a particular artist and play more of their music.
3. Look at the profiles of your friends, people who like a song/artists that you do, other musicians, etc; find out what they like.
4. Look at groups of people who are into a particular type of music and see what this group is listening to.
5. After a while LastFM calculates a list of your musical "neighbours". You can see what they are filling their ears with.
posted by rongorongo at 12:28 AM on February 12, 2010

My sister likes Rhapsody's subscription service. They have a flat monthly fee to stream whatever music you want. The basic service is streaming only, no offline option. You can pay a little extra to download music to your mobile device, but since they use DRM to enforce the monthly subscription, iPods aren't supported. (The premium version might let you use their Windows DRM player too, but my sister has a Mac.) So no, it's not a complete solution for you, but might be worth considering as a supplement or a way to try out new music.

I'm one of those weirdos who still buys CDs.
posted by serathen at 6:26 AM on February 12, 2010

Oops, didn't see you were Australian. Looks like Rhapsody is US-only.
posted by serathen at 6:30 AM on February 12, 2010

For albums, buy used CD's locally or on Amazon. For individual tracks, buy from Amazon MP3 (although on preview I see you can't get Amazon MP3's in Australia).

Why don't you want CD's? Buying used CD's is often cheaper than buying MP3 albums. Also, you will get better quality from CD's. If some new format or encoding comes out in the future, or you later decide you want higher quality or lossless files, you'll have the discs to re-rip.

Another great though quasi-legal source would be ripping music CD's available at you local library. (I'm assuming Australia has a public library system....)
posted by paulg at 8:36 AM on February 12, 2010

If you have a vinyl collection, you could convert that to mp3 if you have some money and a little patience.
posted by poyorick at 10:48 AM on February 12, 2010

Talk to your friends. I'm pretty sure if anyone asked me I'd be happy to have them come over and, er, browse my collection of music. It's all conveniently located in one folder for easy, legal browsing.

Don't drag and drop that folder onto that external hard drive you brought with you, as that would take time that we could spend drinking and talking, and it would be illegal. Can't have that.
posted by chairface at 12:16 PM on February 12, 2010

It's amazing how much great music you can find via your public library. The trick (at least, for my local library) is to find music on their website and add it to my holds list. When the CD becomes available, I get an email telling me to come in and pick it up. Sometimes it takes forever to finally get a disk if lots of other people have holds on it too. Other times, it's pretty quick.

I'm currently 90 out of 127 holds (out of 7 copies) for the new flaming lips. Yeah, that'll take a while! On the other hand, there's a Kings Of Leon disk I should be getting any day now. It's kind of fun, actually, because I never know what I'll get from week to week.

I have a friend who borrows a lot of movies from the library, but I rarely do.
posted by 2oh1 at 1:17 PM on February 12, 2010

You can subscribe to podcasts on iTunes, and fill up your iPod with music or talk shows from your favorite radio stations, along with web-only special interest shows, lectures, etc.
posted by mbrubeck at 6:00 PM on February 12, 2010

I don't know if this is at all what you're looking for, but the American Library of Congress has a website with loads of free files from old blues, jazz, ragtime, folk and other older performers. I dunno if there's any limitations on that coming in from Australia or not.
I also browse music blogs to see what I like. There's a music blog aggregator called elbo.ws that allows you to search for a particular artist and then shows music blogs that have posted on that artist - usually a good place to start for a reference to a particular kind of music, and they also have free MP3s - though definitely not in a large quantity and the files tend to expire after a little while.

Good luck!
posted by ajarbaday at 8:53 PM on February 12, 2010

Archive.org was mentioned before, but only in the context of Jazz. I wanted to add, they have lots of other stuff, too. Try their Live Music Archive. Over 4000 bands, all free, legal downloads.
posted by fings at 1:29 PM on February 13, 2010

« Older Assume Stuffing Windshield Wipers is NOT What We...   |   Survival Tips for Uncommon Situations Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.