Now Let's Go Get Some of These Things
All you need for this step is a current Web browser, and you know us, we like Netscape, not because it's superfantastic, but rather because it's not Microsoft. And we say current because some of the older browsers aren't audio-savvy. Now we're going to shoot over to MP3.com (see Figure 2).
Figure 2 This is MP3.com's home page, the starting point of your initial foray into the world of MP3. But remember, MP3.com isn't the only place for free legitimate MP3s on the Internet, not by a long shot.
We picked MP3.com because it's a legitimate MP3 site, and it, in its short existence, has helped along thousands of independent artists. It also features a broad and varied selection, so if you don't dig the stuff we go after, you can go to your favorite genre and download something from that area. Many sites like MP3.com have sprung up, and lots are devoted to a single genre, so go out and have a look when we're done here.
There it is, the home page. Today we're feeling pretty good, so we'd better temper that with some Shoegazer music. Yes, "Shoegazer" is a genre, although we didn't know that until just recently. That rubric didn't exist when we were out buying music by pigeonholed outfits that are now considered "Shoegazer" bands. To be honest, we're still not quite sure what defines Shoegazer: We know, though, that it's not obtrusive-it's ethereal, even, and dreamy-and a melancholy pang surfaces time to time. The pang tickles Bob but good-he's got that thing where he sees his somber soul reflected in art, and he can't help but be happy, like a baby in a mirror.
Since we've done this before, we know we'll find Shoegazer somewhere in the Brit Pop section in the Alternative area, unless the site underwent a reorganization while we were away. Aha, right where we left it.
Now we're faced with a whole bunch of tracks, arranged in order of popularity. Just so you know what you're getting into, MP3.com gives you the option of playing the files before you download them. The way we generally do this is click the track title-this most often takes us to another page featuring the track we want to play and download, an artist biography, and other tracks by the artist. Scrolling through the list, we come across a track entitled "I Hate Paul Reiser" by a band called Poingly-odds are, this isn't Shoegazer, per se, as one might have to look up from his shoes to proclaim hatred for Paul Reiser, but judging from the title, it should delight us. We click the track to move into the bio area and begin playing the hi-fi version of "I Hate Paul Reiser," which does, in fact, delight us (see Figure 3).
Figure 3 Poingly's area on MP3.com features all kinds of information, from their influences to downloadable tracks.
If you can't play the file or save it to disk here, there are quick remedies. On a PC, get into you browser's Preferences area, and in the Applications area, find the file extension you're looking for (in this case, MP3 or MPEG Audio). Check the box next to "Always ask before doing anything with this kind of file." That should give you the option, whenever you click to download an MP3, to open the MP3 file or save it to your hard disk. If you're on a Mac, it's a little easier: If you want to play the MP3, click it. If you want to download it, hold down Ctrl and click the MP3. Press OK in the window that pops up to save it. Backing out of Poingly's area into the list area, we come across Mira, a cool Shoegazer outfit that we know got signed to the cool Projekt label. We go in and grab all the band's stuff-same way we grabbed Poingly's-and notice that Mira has an album coming out here shortly, which is handy knowledge, as we'll want to go buy that when it hits the shelves. Happy for Mira, we take our leave from MP3.com, comfortable in the knowledge that everything we've just done is not only completely legal but openly encouraged by the copyright holders themselves.
By the numbers
By default, the MP3s you acquire from sites such as MP3.com will be encoded to 128 kbps, or kilobits per second. That means, practically speaking, that one second of those MP3s will occupy about 128 kilobits (not kilobytes, mind you) of hard disk space. By comparison, one second of CD audio occupies about 1400 kilobits. That's the ultimate beauty of MP3: the compression method MP3 utilizes-this removal of Bird's breath-retains CD quality sound at a really low "bitrate" (that is, the number of bits constituting one second of audio) and saves us all that space on our hard disks. MP3 will only take you so far though. You can compress CD audio all the way on down to 32 kbps with MP3, but below 128 kbps, some important digits-stuff you would hear, unlike Bird's breath- must be removed to get the bitrate that low. The result doesn't sound so good, or as good as 128 kbps anyway. Conversely, a bitrate larger than 128 kbps may be of slightly higher fidelity, but the size of the MP3 will increase too.