Free Legal Music Downloads

by Janet Meyer Sep 05, 2006

SpiralFrog, a new music download service, is scheduled to debut in December. The goal of SpiralFrog is to lure consumers away from similar services by offering music at no monetary cost. There is a catch, of course. Users will have to consent to viewing advertisements before they get their downloads.

SpiralFrog says that customers can get free music without worrying about spyware or other problems that can be caused by peer-to-peer sites. It hopes to attract users of illegal free sites as well as those who would like to save some money when loading their MP3 players. Market research performed by this company suggests that consumers are willing to read ads in exchange for music.

At first glance, this looks like a viable alternative to other models. Universal Music Group has already signed up. According to USA Today, SpiralFrog is currently in talks with EMI Group and Warner Music Group. Reportedly SpiralFrog has agreed to pay Universal upfront money for the right to use its music, but the company states the plan is to share advertising revenue with partners.

As expected, SpiralFrog will utilize digital rights management. Songs can be downloaded in Windows Media format. They can be moved to portable devices that have the “PlaysForSure” logo on them, but they can’t be burned to CD.

Still, for free music, this still doesn’t sound that bad. Lots of people put most of their music on mp3 players anyway. I can see where there would be a certain type of customer for this service. Even the ninety-second ad is not a big deal. It’s easy enough to surf the net while the ad is running.

But wait, there’s more! You can’t get away with viewing the ad just once. You have to view an ad per song every single month to be able to continue to play your music. Even with that, each song expires in six months. If you want it back, you have to download it again.

You would have to do some serious record-keeping to know what is available on your mp3 and what has to be renewed. Then think of how often you’d be online to renew songs if you had any kind of collection at all. It amounts to 15 minutes each month for every 10 songs you want to keep.

Another thing to remember is that SpiralFrog and Universal is doing this for profit. Without advertising revenue, they can’t keep it running. If users surf during the ads they won’t be buying. It won’t take long for advertisers to pull out if they don’t profit enough.

I question what happens to the artists in this venture. How do royalties work when music is free? Do they get a share from the money the labels make? If anybody knows that answer, I’d like to hear it.

I’ve heard some suggest that this would be a good way for consumers to see if they like a song before purchasing it. This would make sense, except that at places like you can listen without the obligation. You get five times to listen to every song there. If you’re not sure of a song by then, it’s probably not worth paying for.

It looks like this won’t be the only advertising-supported model we’ll be seeing. According to USA Today, other record companies are testing these models. It remains to be seen whether they will come up with something that seems more viable than this one.

SpiralFrog states that it’s goal is just to get a piece of the market. They don’t plan to compete with iPod and don’t view themselves as an iPod killer. Personally I like competitive models and would like to see more ideas. This one, however, strikes me as one doomed to fail. It just seems too time-consuming. There doesn’t seem to be enough incentive to lure away those who already download free music from other sites. Those who pay a per-download price will likely continue because there is just too much of a time commitment with this model.

Then again, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there are enough people lacking in funds who want the free music and want to get it legally. Maybe it will be relatively easy to ignore the ads. Maybe other people will find it easier to keep records of what needs to be renewed than I would and they might think it’s worth it.

Universal Music Group obviously feels this model has a chance. Most analysts seem to think it doesn’t. We’ll find out soon.




  • I won’t use it because the songs won’t play on an iPod.  But I don’t think the model is all that terrible.  Young people have time but not necessarily a lot of money.  So they can watch a short ad for a song.  And having to watch once a month isn’t that often.

    The big hassle is the redownloading every six months.  That doesn’t make any sense.  Maybe they figure young people will get tired of a song after that length of time, or maybe they need to change up the ads or something.

    But ad-supported this-and-that seems to be the trend-du-jour for almost everything.  But $1 a song can be a steep price to pay when you listen to lots of music.  So free alternatives might have a place.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Sep 05, 2006 Posts: 2220
  • The other side of that is that the Microsoft WMA DRM is getting cracked right and left; so I can’t imagine the service will hold users in thrall for any great length of time. By the time the 6 months is up, the files will already have been cracked, converted to mp3, and uploaded to iPods.

    tao51nyc had this to say on Sep 05, 2006 Posts: 45
  • An easy crack would be an argument FOR the service, not against it.  Unlike Napster and iTM$, where you still have to pay for the music even if you strip out the DRM, you could crack these free songs and listen to them whenever you want having never paid a thing.  What’s not enthralling about that?

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Sep 05, 2006 Posts: 2220
  • I won’t use it because the songs won’t play on an iPod. -Bbx

    Do I remember the angst against the iPod “lock-in” and being a de-facto standard not too long ago? Hmmm…anyway…

    I’m sure the audio quality is below what you would normally use when archiving your own CDs. Do I hear sub-par 96kbps or below. OKish to listen to on your daily jogs or treadmill trots, but not anywhere near archival quality. So, even when “kids” rip the audio content free from the DRM, there is nothing they can do to improve the sampling quality.

    As for the ads they are purporting to include, I doubt they will stop at visuals on screen. How about included with your music sound??? Yes, they could do this ad thing like a radio. Every music can and will have an intro and finale ad blurbs. Now that really sounds great, ain’t it? You will never get anything for FREE (even in the virtual world) without strings attached.

    To me, fuh’get it! Spiral Frog will end like the Free DSL idea of yore. So much promise and fanfare to no waiting audience.

    If ( can stay afloat despite new Russian internet laws, buying your music there for as low as $1.99 per album @ 192kbps archival sampling rate is a much better choice than Spiral Frog’s.

    Robomac had this to say on Sep 05, 2006 Posts: 846
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