Friday, February 06, 2009

Internet column: Spiralfrog

(I've decided to start reprinting the Internet column I write for The Lawton Constitution here on my personal blog, as a courtesy to readers who have trouble finding past issues of the column. Here's the first one:)

Any site that offers tons of free music can't be all bad.
I am referring to, a site that despite offering plenty of music has generally earned bad reviews because of its use of DRM, or Digital Rights Management technology, which seeks to prevent pirating but also limits what honest users can do.
I am not a big fan of DRM, either, and I found it prevented me from doing everything I wanted to do with SpiralFrog. Nontheless, I am rooting for SpiralFrog to succeed. I hope it survives the current economic downturn and I urge you to give it a try. resembles services such as Napster-To-Go, Yahoo Music Unlimited or Rhapsody. All of the latter are subscription services. In return for paying a modest monthly fee, the user can "borrow" a huge number of music tracks, downloading and playing them on a computer or an MP3 player. As long as you are paying the monthly fee, the songs work. If you quit paying, you lose the music., however, is supported by advertising and is free. As long as you log in once every 60 days, its service continues.
Now, here's the bad news. SpiralFrog works only with Windows XP or Vista, so if you use Macintosh or Linux computers or an older form of Windows, it won't work. You have to have a recent version of Windows Media Player on your computer. And if you want to be able to put the tracks on a portable music player, you have to use one that uses Microsoft's "Plays for Sure" technology. SpiralFrog won't work with the iPod or the Zune.
I signed up for SpiralFrog and downloaded a couple of albums. I found they played fine on my computer. But when I tried to transfer them to one of my MP3 players, I only got error messages.
Admitted, my rather cheap players aren't on SpiralFrog's list of compatible devices. But the site says that's only a partial list, and I thought one of my players, compatible with Windows, should have worked.
I was all set to write a bad review of SpiralFrog. But you know what? That classic Tom Petty album I missed, "Let Me Up I've Had Enough," sounded fine on my computer.
And when I searched for other artists, I found SpiralFrog has a truly impressive music library. There's lots of Tom Petty, including many entire albums. There's plenty of Rolling Stones. There's a good deal of jazz and classical.
Whatever kind of music you like, you can find it here. The country section includes George Strait, Lee Ann Womack, Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts, Willie Nelson, Toby Keith and many others. There's no Beatles, but lots of Paul McCartney, including live albums in which he plays many Beatles songs. There are gaps -- no Brad Paisley albums, and the many Miles Davis albums seem to be limited to his 1950s period -- but what's available is more impressive than what's missing.
And I found that although the music only played on my computer, a little creativity would allow it to be heard in other parts of the house. I plugged an FM transmitter into the headphone jack of my computer -- one of those little devices designed to let your MP3 player broadcast on a car radio or anything else with an FM tuner -- and I found I could listen to SpiralFrog albums in my bedroom. if I used my best radio.
If you have the kind of computer (and the kind of portable device) that SpiralFrog allows, give the site a try.
More music. Here are a few of my favorite music sites, all of which work with a wide variety of computers. Imeem streams music only rather than allowing free downloads, and it does not seem to have many entire albums. But it has an awful lot of songs and you can put together playlists. It works fine on Macintosh as well as Windows computers.
Slacker is an awesome collection of Internet radio stations; if you don't like any it offers, you can build your own. It's meant to sell an apparently cool portable music device, but works fine as a free offering on your computer.
MediaMaster will stream any music you upload, to any computer. It's another free service and works well, although it says that someday it will charge a fee.

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