The Music Internet Untangled: Using Online Services to Expand Your Musical Horizons

Mark Sabbatini By

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Andy Breeding
The Music Internet Untangled: Using Online Services to Expand Your Musical Horizons
Giant Path Publishing

The risk of writing a book about online music is it may be obsolete in less time than it takes to write a paragraph reviewing it.

Andy Breeding mostly manages to avoid such obsolesce in The Music Internet Untangled: Using Online Services to Expand Your Musical Horizons by focusing on major sources of music and consumer information likely to survive evolving technology. The book, more of a how-to guide than a comprehensive reference of Internet music sources, is generally simple enough for beginners while offering tidbits for experienced users. Quibbles about content and presentation can be made throughout, but none are significant cracks in a solid foundation.

A bit of personal context: I've spent years downloading music - mostly but not entirely legally - and my work now involves seeking out legal online music on a nearly full-time basis. I belong to numerous online music stores and radio services, and peruse scores of blogs and publications daily for material old and new. I agree with nearly all of Breeding's major points, but constantly found myself wanting to make small changes or additions. Much of this is personal preference and should be treated accordingly, although there are a few more notable oversights and weaknesses.

Breeding's initial focus is Internet radio, giving newcomers a chance listen to online music within a few pages by listing major services and the basics of using them. He also gets quickly to advantages and disadvantages of the format, including the vital matter of whether users are required to pay for a service and what that money buys. Experienced users may know most of this, but bits such as URL listings - including Canada's free 200-station theiceberg.com, previously unknown to me - are worth learning about.

Breeding suggests Internet radio is the easiest and best choice for beginners, a good example of an argument I understand but don't necessarily agree with. Users can listen to some services free with minimal fuss, but radio also requires a constant high-speed connection, usually can't play specific songs a listener might want on-demand and can't be downloaded to portable players. I might start newcomers with sites offering free music downloads but, as Breeding notes, this requires a commitment of hard drive space and organizational skills, and getting most songs users want requires a larger financial investment than radio.

His coverage of download and on-demand services such as iTunes, Rhapsody, eMusic and Musicmatch is solid, with shorter overviews of other services that for various reasons he explains are in the second tier. Most readers should be able to figure out from his summaries if a service suits their computer, budget and music tastes. There's also a solid section on searching for other paid and unpaid music sources such as artist and label Web sites, plus tips for finding reviews and user groups.

There's omissions and inaccuracies, often due to the frequent service changes previously noted. Napster high-profile replacement of its on-demand service with a subscription-based one occurred after publication, as did Sony's decision to loosen highly restrictive format standards. Still, his overviews of topics like subscription services should help those considering updates such as Napster's.

But there's also worthy material simply left out. There's no mention, for instance, of free concerts and public domain music available from large sources such as the Internet Archive and eTree. Breeding says he is avoiding file trading services, since they often deal with illegal files, but free public domain sites can legitimately be considered a separate category.

He wraps up the book with in-depth "seven-day"? plans for using the most popular radio and on- demand services, guiding new users step-by-step through virtually every feature offered. Mostly they're useful, although occasionally it feels like he's stretching to come up with enough material to fit the seven-day format.

Most of the information in The Music Internet Untangled can be found by surfing various music and consumer sites, but Breeding has done a good job of assembling the fundamentals into a $20 200- page paperback. Newcomers are likely to get the best return for their investment, especially if it keeps them from signing up for a service they later regret. It doesn't aspire to offer information about every site and service available, but readers should come away with a useful base of knowledge enabling them to find those souces on their own.


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