EDITORIAL: Be smart with music downloads

Virtually everyone loves music, but as CDs increasingly become artifacts, the amount of people attaining their music online continues to increase. With the immediacy and availability of online music, it can be very tempting to download songs illegally. However, various institutions are finally catching up with the times and are changing the way people share and listen to music.

The Milwaukee Public Library is now offering a safe alternative to illegally downloading music. The library and the Freegal download service have recently started working together to allow Milwaukee residents with public library cards to download three free songs — legally —  from the Sony music catalog each week.

We at the Tribune love this idea. It not only allows us to quickly download free music, but it also provides us with a smart and legal way to do it.

There are other outlets that also provide legal ways to download music. Many bands offer their singles as free downloads in hopes of getting you to eventually buy the entire album. Similarly, aspiring musicians typically hand out free copies of sampler CDs at concerts and festivals to expand their recognizability and fan base. These inexpensive alternatives are great ways to become exposed to new music without paying any additional fees.

There are also other ways to access free, legal music online. Websites such as Pandora, Spotify and Grooveshark provide free online streaming. Oftentimes you can register for these websites and access a certain amount of free downloads as well. For example, when you register for a free trial of Spotify, you have 30 days to download as much music as you want. Once your trial is over, you can discontinue Spotify’s service at no cost.

So what exactly is the big deal about how you download your music? There are variations of legal and illegal ways to do so, but it goes beyond that. This isn’t just about avoiding computer viruses or staying off of the government’s radar. It’s about rewarding the musicians who produce our lives’ soundtracks.

Some people may not care about how they get their music, but musicians do care – a lot. Multiple bands have made YouTube videos asking their fans to buy their CDs as opposed to illegally downloading them. The popular British band Radiohead actually allowed fans to choose how much they paid for their 2007 album “In Rainbows” — but asked for payment nonetheless.

It’s clear these musicians care about their fan base and their music. But people need to remember being a musician is often a band member’s only job. If a band’s songs or albums are downloaded illegally, they are not getting financially rewarded for their work. The music labels are still finding ways to generate income, but the hardworking musicians are getting shortchanged.

It’s not clear exactly how many students at Marquette illegally download music, but it’s safe to say that many of us have, at least at some point in our lives. Thanks to services such as the Milwaukee Public Library’s download program and others, there are safe alternatives to getting great music at no cost.

We’re not expecting illegal downloading to stop in its tracks. In fact, we’re not expecting you to immediately stop downloading illegal music either. We do want you to be smart about how you do it. There are multiple legal options now available to get the music you love. Take advantage of them.

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