How to Buy Music Online

by Contributor

You've got plenty of choices when shopping for music. In addition to what's available at your local record store and online shops like, and, there are countless music files available. Apple's got the newest kid on the block with iTunes, where you can buy any song in their vast online database for 99 cents.

Learn the difference between streaming and downloading. Streamed music plays live when you're connected to the Internet. Downloaded music gets copied directly to your computer's hard disk. Then you can listen to it anytime, move it to a portable MP3 player or burn it to a CD. Streamed music generally can't be saved or burned to CD.

Get the software you need to listen to MP3s and streaming audio. It's probably already installed on your computer; if not, you can download these for free: RealOne, Winamp, Windows Media Player and iTunes.

Visit music sites to look for the musicians you want to hear. Some popular download sites are,, and Popular streaming sites include and Yahoo Launch (

Check for individual songs you want to hear. Just because a band or group appears on one service doesn't mean that all its songs are available there. Artists often appear at several sites.

Check out an artist's official Web site, especially if you're looking for new or obscure music. Many artists will promote songs by letting you download them directly from their own sites. Lots of radio stations stream their broadcasts on the Web for free.

Compare the plans and prices offered at different sites. Most offer a free trial period, and then charge a subscription fee ranging from $5 to $15 per month (with a discount if you subscribe for a year). Some also offer pay-per-download plans. This can be worth it if you only want to get a few tunes.

Find out what the subscription fee includes. Look for one that gives you plenty of downloads and unlimited streaming. For streaming sites, find one that allows you to create custom playlists or "radio stations" that play only your favorite music.

Watch out for plans in which downloaded music expires or becomes unplayable when your subscription lapses, or when you move the music around. This is usually called a secure service or digital rights management (DRM). It's better to use a service that gives you full rights to copy the music to another computer or portable player, and to burn the songs to CDs.


  • check You may have to provide some personal information (such as your name, age and e-mail address) to get songs for free.
  • check Check out for downloadable audio books in MP3 format.
  • check You don't have to download music that you already have on CD. There's freely available software that will convert music on CDs to MP3 format.


  • close The advice given here concerns the legal, paid downloading of music.
  • close Peer-to-peer (P2P) services let you swap music directly from your computer's hard drive to those of other people on the Internet. The most famous P2P service, Napster, collapsed under legal challenges, but P2P services still exist. Use them with extreme caution: They can be breeding grounds for viruses and spyware (which gives other people access to your computer), and their legality continues to be in dispute.
  • close Play music immediately after downloading. Listen carefully for bad files.

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