Free and Legal Music Downloads?

Free music at SpiralFrog.com

Come December, Universal Records’ entire music catalogue will be offered online for free. The website called SpiralFrog.com will offer 300,000 songs by bands in Universal’s stable, such as U2, Gwen Stefani, and Stevie Wonder. All you will have to do is watch a 90 second ad to get your free song. The site will be commercial advertising supported, meaning visitors will not have to pay, but will be subjected to ads.

This may pose a problem for the company in these days of instant gratification and low attentionâÂ?¦(what? Oh, yeah)âÂ?¦span, but the site may be able to sidestep these issues by featuring highly entertaining pages with information, videos, photos, message boards, and biographies about the musicians. SpiralFrog’s creators will probably also attempt to foster a community vibe reminiscent of Myspace, adding comment and referral systems like those of Amazon.com and iTunes.

SpiralFrog seems to be positioned to compete less with iTunes and more with file-sharing programs like Limewire because it is offering the songs for free. The company hopes to cash in on some of that part segment of the market – the segment that includes people who look for free music on the web – and do it in a legitimate way that generates revenue for the record label and the artists. There may be the potential for significant revenue, but the music is limited to Universal’s catalogue at this point, so fans of acts not on the label will have to look for their music elsewhere.

Here is what SpiralFrog’s creators have written on the site:
SpiralFrog will be a secure environment where music lovers can satisfy their unyielding passion and thirst for music, entertainment, and information. Our site will be as multifaceted, smart, and current as the audience we hope to attract. An audience that we believe is the driving force behind the way music is created, discovered, and consumed today.

This is an ironic statement because it seems that the audience that has been the “driving force” behind popular music-the crowd the site is aimed at-is staunchly anti-commercial.

The free songs that you download will be transmittable with some restrictions on how many times you can burn it to a disk. However – and this is another big obstacle to their success – SpiralFrog will not be compatible with ipods or Macs.

SpiralFrog may be successful if it can create a better experience for the users who actively look for free music downloads, but how well do they really know the habits and desires of that under-the-radar audience? SpiralFrog may become a viable alternative to venues that allow exchange of pirated material, but only if it succeeds in finding an audience. It will definitely attract a lot of attention in the beginning, because it is the first site to offer commercially supported free legal music downloads on the web, but it will have a limited window of time to convince people to use their site before they go back to old downloading habits.

At the outset, there are obstacles to SpiralFrog’s success in staying afloat offering free music downloads. Songs will not be compatible with ipods or Macs, which may hurt the company. But it may actually be a shrewd move for the company to distance itself from iTunes and the ipod and create its own market. ITunes and ipod have such a commanding presence at the helm of the digital music revolution that they have reached iconic status. When you think digital music, you think iTunes and ipod. The other obstacle is the audience SpiralFrog is targeting. The company is hoping to create a shame-free, legitimate way for the free-music-seeking crowd to get their free music downloads. Success will depend on how user-friendly the site is and how invasive the ads are. I don’t know how successful this platform will be, but there are some serious obstacles SpiralFrog would have to overcome-like finding a large enough audience.

That audience will not include those strongly attached to their ipods (like me). But then again it’s free music.

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