Music Downloads Explained: Musicmatch, iTunes, or Napster?

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Downloading music can be an inexpensive alternative to buying physical CDs. In the past few years, more and more lawsuits have been popping up involving the music industry against free download sites or individuals. However, the music industry has since realized the value in selling music on-line at a discounted price. As such, there are now many sites that offer legitimate downloadable music at a reasonable price. The three biggest and most widely known will be compared here:

Musicmatch

Musicmatch is definitely the music program with the most flexibility, although its complexity can be confusing at times. The picture to the left shows how the interface typically looks (click to enlarge). Musicmatch’s pros include an auto DJ (you pick a few songs or artists to get it started and then it pulls from your music library additional songs that fix the same feel), advanced playlist options, radio service, burning / ripping capabilities (to “rip” means to copy a song from a CD to your computer), and great pricing (songs guaranteed at $.99 while albums can be as low as $8.50). Cons include limited burning and ripping speeds unless you upgrade to the plus version (cost $20), confusing interface for beginners, and no support for video or photos.

Napster

Napster claims to have the largest music library available on-line (one million songs as compared to Musicmatch’s 800,000), though its main draw is the ability of listeners to listen to any music available from this vast library for the price of a monthly subscription. While the music has much stricter restrictions, as you don’t actually own it, you can listen to it as often as you’d like as long as you’re paying the monthly fee ($9.99 monthly). The new Napster To Go service ($14.99 monthly) allows you to listen to any music from the library on your personal digital music player, though you have to periodically sync it with your computer so that it knows you are paying the monthly fee. Napster offers a unique setup for those specifically interested in a large selection at their fingertips. Just remember, once the monthly fee stops, so does all the music.

iTunes

iTunes is the most user-friendly music program by far. It’s more like Musicmatch in that the pricing of tracks and albums is similar, though iTunes gives you all its features for free (as opposed to the $20 plus upgrade for Musicmatch). The music library size is also comparable to that of Musicmatch. The main difference is the trade-in of advanced features for a clean, simple, and easy to use interface. If the easy-to-use interface wasn’t enough, iTunes includes a handy help file.

It should also be noted that when you download music, even though it belongs to you, each of these music services puts a certain limitation on how much activity each song can have (i.e., you can burn each song to a CD, transfer it to another computer, and/or move it to a digital music player a maximum of 5-10 times each, depending on the service). Though these songs are digitally protected, one easy workaround is to burn a song to a CD and then to later “rip” it back to the computer. In this way, the newly ripped song does not have the limitations of the original download. Though these restrictions may seem annoying, the music industry has no other recourse to prevent illegal mass spreading of its music.

One other thing to keep in mind is that of portable digital music device compatibility. In the article on MP3 players, various options were discussed for digital music on the go. Each of these music services may or may not be compatible with certain digital music devices. For example, the iPod (the most popular digital music player) works well with both iTunes and Musicmatch, though Napster does not support it. Be sure to check if your digital music device is compatible with the music service you choose.

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