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Expand Your Digital Music Collection
If you've downloaded and installed audio player software, now all you need is some MP3s. And even if you've already started your digital music collection, chances are you've left many stones unturned in your searches. There are several ways to go about finding MP3s and other digital audio files, some totally legal, other questionable, and still others downright dodgy.

Required Attention Span: Potentially infinite; collecting music is widely recognized as an addictive habit.

   Before you start you'll need to gather these elements:

  • A software MP3 player
  • A hardware MP3 player (optional)
  • Enough disk space to handle the files you want (about 4MB per song)
Try the Following Methods

    Web Searching
    This one's a no-brainer; just query search engines with terms such as Beatles MP3, and you'll return lots of results, although most will be either irrelevant or unavailable. To make this slightly easier, CNET has put together its own MP3 Web search service, which lets you search directly on 11 different Web-based MP3 sites.

    Legal MP3 Sites
    These sites offer free or cheap MP3 downloads of varying genres and quality. Some, such as, offer up mainly amateur stuff, whereas others, such as, are more selective.

    Illegal MP3 Sites
    By and large, these fly-by-night MP3 sites are what you get if you use a search engine to find MP3s. Though they occasionally offer MP3s of songs from major artists, they're riddled with broken links, and they spawn enraging pop-up windows all over your screen, advertising pornography and other similar MP3 sites. We recommend avoiding them.

    File-Sharing Software
    There is no easier or more efficient way to get MP3s than by using one of these programs. Napster and similar programs let you scour the hard drives of other users and download the songs you want directly from their computers. You'll find lots of great stuff here, but remember that if you download an MP3 of a song you don't own, that's copyright infringement, and it's against the law. (It's the person uploading the file to you who is at fault, but you're still somewhat to blame). Download Napster for Windows or Macster for Macintosh, or check out similar services, such as the ones mentioned in this column.

    Ripping and Encoding Your Own MP3s
    Your physical music collection is your handiest resource for assembling your digital music collection. You can turn those CDs, LPs, and cassette tapes into MP3s--it's a great way to build your collection, and it's completely legal, since you've purchased the right to hear those songs in whatever format you please. (If, however, you give copied songs out to people, you're technically committing copyright infringement.) Find out how to encode your CD collection in our hands-on guide.

    One-on-One Trading
    If you want to trade MP3s with someone you already know, there are a plethora of ways to do so. You can snail-mail CD-Rs filled with MP3s; email MP3 attachments; or upload files to a shared directory (check out our Net Guide on where to store your files online). You might also try the file-sending functionality of chat programs such as ICQ (for PC or Mac) or AOL Instant Messenger (for PC or Mac). If you're on a network at home or at school, you can share a folder or drive with everyone else on the local network by following these steps.

    IRC Trading
    IRC, or Internet Relay Chat, is one of the oldest forms of communication on the Internet, but that doesn't mean it's not an effective way to meet people and trade with them. First, download an IRC client (for PC or Mac) and install it. Play around with the thing--getting the channels listed, joining different channels (by double-clicking them), and chatting with folks--to get your feet wet. Once you have a feel for it, find a channel with MP3 in the description. Join that channel, and look for people to trade files with one-on-one, using the DCC Get and Send functions. This is easier than it sounds--read your IRC client's help file for information on trading files specific to the program you use.

Next Steps
  • If you're thinking of using IRC or other forms of chat to help you conjure up some music files but don't know the first thing about it, check out "Join a Music Community" to get started.
  • There are several online storage sites that allow you to swap your files with other users. Give them a try; you might find the elusive tracks you've been pining for.
  • Start your search for MP3s with us. We'll have you combing the Net in no time.
  • Once you've gathered a bunch of MP3s, organize your collection with an MP3 jukebox.

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