Nearly all new computers come with a CD-ROM drive, a sound card, and speakers, which can turn any computer into a simple CD audio player. You can play your own audio CDs on your computer, but you may have more fun scouring the Internet for free music to play from your hard disk or a CD-R (CD recordable) drive.

One reason there are so many free music files on the Internet is the restrictive nature of the recording industry. In the old days, recording artists could only get massive public exposure by signing with a major record label. If they couldn't get a contract, they were rarely heard by the general public.

To get around this problem, a few renegade musicians offered samples of their music for free over the Internet. However, in the early days of digital sound (prior to the arrival of MP3), a high-quality sound file of a single song could be as large as 30MB.

Then came MP3—Moving Picture Experts Group Audio Layer-3 compression technology. MP3 allows entire songs to be compressed into relatively small files (a few megabytes), while retaining the audio quality of the original recording. Fast Internet access (such as cable or DSL modems) has made downloading and sharing MP3 files fast and convenient. Many enterprising bands and musicians regularly release their songs in MP3 format for people to download, copy, and enjoy for free, hoping that if you like their songs, you'll buy their albums.

Of course, that's the legal, sanctioned use of MP3 technology. Many people use MP3 illegally to record songs from their favorite CDs, store them as MP3 files, and trade them with others over the Internet, violating copyright laws and cheating artists out of their royalties.

Once you have your favorite songs stored in MP3 format, you can use a recordable CD drive to create your own audio CDs. Just as cassette tape decks have allowed people to record, copy, and trade their favorite songs with one another on blank cassette tapes, the MP3 format has done the same thing on a global scale using the power of the Internet.

To take advantage of music stored in MP3 format, you need a player (so you can hear the music stored in MP3 format), a ripper (for saving your MP3 files on a CD), and one or more websites where you can download MP3 files.

MP3 players

Here's where to get some of the more popular MP3 players:

MuzicMan (for Windows)

Sonique (for Windows)

Winamp (for Windows)

RadioDestiny (for Windows and Macintosh)

Mpg123 (for Unix)

MP3 rippers

These programs will let you save your MP3 files to CD so that you can play them back later:

AudioCatalyst (for Windows and Macintosh)

Cdparanoia (for Unix)

Play & Record (for Windows)

MP3 search engines

Start with these sites when searching for MP3 files:

Lycos Music


Yahoo! Digital

An alternative to using an MP3 search engine is to run an MP3 peer-to-peer sharing program that lets you connect with others and swap music files. These are some of the more popular peer-to-peer sharing programs:








While law-abiding citizens may use peer-to-peer sharing programs to exchange their favorite recipes or tips for winning at computer games, others have used peer-to-peer networks to exchange pornography or copyrighted materials, such as MP3s or commercial software.