Lets start with two basic question:
- What is music streaming?
- From which websites can I stream music legally?
What is streaming music?
Streaming is when you play music or video directly over the internet – like YouTube or BBC iPlayer. There are many sites that allow you to download or stream music, but some of them are illegal because they don’t have the permission of the owners of the music. Reputable companies will feature in the press and other media – Google a name you’re not sure of to see how it’s reported. If it sounds dodgy, steer clear – the prices may be attractive, but streaming from a disreputable source could leave you open to attacks from viruses and malware, as well as the legal attentions of the copyright holders.
From which websites can I stream music legally?
One of the biggest music streaming sites is YouTube, according to a recent survey, but you’ll need to search and play tracks individually. However, there are also specialist music streaming sites like Spotify, Sony Music Unlimited and WE7 which allow you to stream music directly from their huge databases for a monthly subscription fee. You can play single tracks or whole albums, select the entire output from a particular artist or organise your own playlists. Many streaming services have a basic free model, though you’ll be limited to a certain number of tracks and some have bigger databases than others – it’s a good idea to search for the kind of music you’re after before you sign up.
- Internet radio. You can also listen to internet radio from the BBC and many other stations around the world using your PC or laptop. Simply find the site you want and click on their play button. The line between radio and music libraries is blurring, and services like Last.fm allow you to choose an artist you’d like to play, and play a selection of tunes by them, along with similar artists. You might be asked to download an additional program to be able to stream the music, such as Flash or RealPlayer. You’ll be directed to an official download site, but so long as you’re planning to stream from a reputable site, this shouldn’t cause you or your computer any problems.
- Hi-res audio. There are also high resolution streaming and download sites available, like Linn Records or HD Tracks, which offer better quality audio than most sites. These often focus on classical and jazz, and for some you may pay on a track-by-track basis rather than a subscription.
What are the dangers of copying music?
Downloading music online isn’t just illegal, it can also expose your computer to malware and viruses which could damage your computer, or cause it to run slowly. If you download music online, it’s always safest to pay for it from a reputable site. Just because a site charges, doesn’t mean it’s reputable – some sites may charge a subscription or download fee, but aren’t licensed by the copyright holders.
What’s legal? It’s legal to copy music from a CD for your own personal use. You can upload it to a secure server, such as an account with a cloud provider, to which only you have access. You can also stream it around your home using your home wireless network, without fear of prosecution.
And what’s not? It’s not legal to share music recordings or files with others, by copying them and posting them online. Uploading music to a site which is intended for file sharing could get you in trouble with the law. Strictly speaking, it’s not necessarily legal to upload songs or videos to YouTube, Facebook or other public access sites. Lots of people do it of course, but if the copyright holder objects, the site may remove it and you could potentially be contacted by the authorities.
How To Share Music in Home Network
1. What you’ll need. Wi-Fi is the wireless technology which makes it easy to stream music to different players around your home. You’ll need a Wi-Fi router which you hook up to the internet via your phone line or cable connection. Routers will usually have the option of connecting several devices via Ethernet cable as well as Wi-Fi. A wired connection is more stable, since Wi-Fi can occasionally falter or suffer from interference from other wireless devices. If your computer doesn’t have built-in Wi-Fi, you can buy a dongle which you plug into a USB socket. You can use an audio player like Windows Media Player, which probably came preinstalled on your computer, to organise your music and the devices you want to play it on.
2. Wi-Fi devices. There are lots of different types of Wi-Fi-enabled digital radios and iPod docks which can connect to your network and stream music directly from your computer’s hard drive. Each device will have its own system for searching your music. Some can be quite clunky and awkward with small screen displays, though you may be able to control them directly from your computer or by using a mobile app. There are also systems which connect to your existing hi-fi, allowing you to combine the storage power of your computer with high quality audio playback.
3. Wireless systems. Wi-Fi provides the wireless connection, but each device will have its own playback system. Some are easier to use and more versatile than others. AirPlay, for instance, uses Apple’s popular iTunes software to organise you music and play it wherever you like, though you’ll need a speaker that already incorporates the software. AirPlay devices, and many others, offer the chance to download an app for your iPhone or Android smartphone which allow you to use it as a remote control – this can be a much easier way of navigating the menus and searching through your music collection.
4. Streaming around your home. Online streaming services like Spotify will allow you to stream your music to other devices, but you’ll usually have to pay the premium subscription rate to enable this.
5. Wi-Fi alternatives. Wi-Fi isn’t the only wireless game in town, and some wireless audio systems, like Sonos, create their own wireless network. It won’t suffer from interference from Wi-Fi devices, but the players can be more expensive.
Guest Post by Alex Johnson, who writes for knowthenet, which provides advice on staying legal, informed and safe when online.
Image credits: DNLA Media Sharing by Prepayasyougo, Spotify login window by gabriel.jorby, top image by superUbO