Creating a Ruckus: Legal Downloading Options

Educational ambitions aside, college is a great time for students to expose themselves to new ideas, new people and, of course, new music. Ever since Napster first hit the scene in the late ’90s, students have had the pleasure of discovering new MP3s over their local networks and getting turned on to new bands that they wouldn’t have listened to without a recommendation from a friend or two.
But then, the music industry became angry. File sharing allowed people to get tons of CDs without paying a dime. With a nonstop barrage of press releases threatening to sue any individuals with unauthorized music on their computers and a handful of personal lawsuits against students to set some examples, major-label bands and record companies alike have sent out a clear message that they want people to pay for what they’re listening to.
When the original Napster was shut down and a handful of other early file-sharing programs died quick deaths shortly thereafter, it became clear that music producers and music fans were going to have to find a new way to deal with each other.
Consumers want to test new albums before they buy them to make sure they aren’t shelling out their cash for a crappy CD with one good song. The industry wants kids to stop ripping off entire libraries of their favorite music without paying anything.
After several years of experimentation and court cases, some fairly reasonable compromises between both sides are emerging online.
Most notably, is a music subscription Web site that lets anyone with a ‘.edu’ e-mail address join for free. Songs can be downloaded within seconds in the .wma (Windows Media Audio) format and played via the free Ruckus Player. They come with a 90-day listening license, giving users plenty of time to decide if an album is worth purchasing or not.
With these subscription-based services, there’s always the issue of music availability. The New University conducted an experiment to get a feel for how much mainstream and lesser-known music in several genres was available for download from Ruckus.
A search through the first six lines of Saturday’s line-up of this year’s Coachella festival served as the independent variable for this experiment. In the case of headliners The Red Hot Chili Peppers, only a few of their older albums, some singles, and a tribute CD recorded by a string quartet were available.
A similar tribute album to The Arcade Fire was available, and while there was no Tiesto, all of The Decemberists’ albums were up for grabs. Country rockers Kings of Leon had a couple of their full-lengths available, as were several picks from the more electronic sounds of LCD Soundsystem and MSTRKRFT.
Regina Spektor’s folk rock and music from alt-rockers The Black Keys, Fountains of Wayne and Sparklehorse were easily accessible. Several albums from Ghostface Killah of the Wu-Tang Clan popped up, but curiously, ‘Ironman,’ Ghostface’s signature debut CD, wasn’t among them. Other bands that had absolutely nothing were Gotan Project, Blonde Redhead, The New Pornographers and The Night Watchmen.
Another online program that has been mentioned in e-mails from UC Irvine’s chancellor warning against illegal downloading is Mindawn, which is worse in pretty much every way.
You can listen to some (not all) of the songs available up to three times before you decide whether or not to buy. And the chances of coming across a band that you’ve actually heard of before are extremely slim. The hardcore student-band enthusiast will probably be in ecstasy on Mindawn, as they can listen to band after band that has not been recognized by the mainstream. Any UCI student who wants to check this program out can do so at may be another service comparable to Ruckus, and it’s supposed to be available to UCI students for $3.49 a month, but as of this writing, attempts by multiple members of the New University staff to create an account with a UCI username have resulted in the following message: ‘Unauthorized Identity Provider. The identity provider supplying your login credentials is not authorized for use with this service.’
Students looking for more downloading alternatives may want to check back with this one from time to time to see if it starts working.
And of course, for the rare college student with a little cash to burn, there’s always iTunes, which allows anyone to download an entire CD from the comfort of their home for around $10 and individual tracks for $0.99. Just about anything that could be found in a record store (and more) is available on iTunes, but downloads come with license restrictions, usually limiting each file to be copied a maximum of three times.
None of these programs are perfect. Ruckus is only available to PC users and has a 90-day time limit on song listening. Even if Mindawn has what you’re looking for, you still pay for the download. Ctraxmusic doesn’t even seem to work and iTunes can get pricey.
But all these programs are 100 percent legal for students everywhere to use and enjoy. For those who are serious about paying for their music as long as they know that they’re getting something good, seems like a great alternative to risking the lawsuits and viruses that can be inherent with older programs like Limewire or Morpheus.