Music downloads are highly compressed audio files transferred onto a personal computer from an Internet website or P2P (peer to peer) program. From IPOD's to MP3 players galore, music downloading is seen as the fastest way for a musician to get his or her work out to the public. Many musicians have developed world-wide followings by adding downloadable music files to their web sites.
It's a trend reaching nearly epidemic proportions; music downloads are everywhere. Websites all over the Internet offer downloads of particularly rare or hard-to-find songs, and computer-savvy music fans have been known to spend hours searching through the mountains of downloadable material. They also function as a godsend for new or underground musicians; who needs a record label when strategically placed downloads alone can garner you a dedicated following? Even cell-phone companies have grabbed themselves a piece of the pie by offering downloads that serve as ring tones. The sound quality is often superior, the P2P programs easy to use -- one of those rare pop-culture phenomena embraced by nearly everyone.
But despite (or perhaps because of) their overwhelming popularity, musical direct downloads have stirred quite the controversy. Many P2P programs allowing users to transfer music directly between computers offer downloads for free, much to the chagrin of several recording artists and labels. Fearful of losing money to music fans downloading the songs instead of buying the full record, bands and labels have set out to stop the users from obtaining their music from free programs. A virtual witch-hunt for frequent downloaders and the threat of lawsuits led many P2P programs to begin charging for their services, though several sneak under the wire by making that payment optional.
The ethical implications involved in free downloads are complicated. Some vehemently rail against the practice, claiming that to download free music is to disrespect the artist that created it. Even bands unconcerned with the financial aspect hate free downloads simply because they allow their records to be leaked, or made available before the official release date. But others see no problem with free downloads, some even completely embrace them. In fact, many cite the exorbitant costs of records as justification alone for free downloads. This type of download and the users that either embrace or condemn them are a hotly contested topic; it's an argument not likely to end anytime soon.
For the musician, however, downloads are an absolute breakthrough technology, allowing, for the first time in history, for a musician to develop a following without ever leaving his or her house! Marketing possibilities are unlimited for the musicians who avail themselves of this wonderful new technology.
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