Social networks often support the sharing of music in various forms. MySpace built its original market by encouraging bands to make fan pages featuring their music in an easy to play format. Blogs allow audio files to be embedded for listening, as does Facebook. In an Internet replete with multimedia, it is natural that social networking includes the ability to listen to music and other audio content.
Beyond the music sharing capabilities of blogs and social networking sites like Facebook, some sites are built around music sharing, and they tend to generate a social culture associated with music (and/or the sharing of music files). The recording industry has yet to fully adjust to a world in which flawless duplicates of digital content can be produced with minimal effort and then redistributed worldwide simply by posting it on one’s website.
Downloading continues to be a popular Internet activity, particularly among young adults, despite efforts on the part of the recording industry to prosecute the behavior and to popularize pay alternatives to free downloading. The behavior is controversial because the recording industry continues to claim that it cuts into the sales of conventional compact disc recordings estimated to be as much as $16 billion per year.9
You need to remember that just because a music file is available online doesn’t mean it’s safe and/or legal. Care must be exercised when looking for music online. The best advice I can give you is to stick to commercial sites that appear legitimate and have at least a modest level of popularity. Among the currently popular commercial sites that you can consider safe are Last.fm, Playlist, Pandora, and Rhapsody. You can also buy music albums and tracks from services such as iTunes and Amazon.com.
The pursuit of free music is a powerful draw for teenagers who typically lack the money needed to buy albums on iTunes or subscribe to commercial services such as Pandora. This is where some parenting may need to be applied to help guide them in their choices. One popular method of free listening is to find a video of a song on YouTube and play the video while ignoring the pictures. Services like Last.fm and Playlist are free and provide a fairly generous amount of music. Be aware that these sites have social networking characteristics, including users with profiles, as well as chatting and other interactions. That means that when your teen uses these services he or she may be exposed to strangers or others who happen to share an interest in the same music. These interactions are outside the normal channels of popular social networking sites like Facebook, giving parents less transparency into online behaviors, and less of the protections that a site like Facebook attempts to build into their experience.
In most cases, downloading music from the Internet is illegal and can carry stiff penalties. Beware sites that claim to offer free music to download. Illicit and illegal downloadable materials often come with payloads of viruses or other malware.10 As a result, I strongly recommend that you and your children not participate in peer-to-peer networks for file sharing. These are services like Kazaa, Gnutella, LimeWire, BearShare, etc. In addition to serving up potentially illegal and technically harmful material, they also tend to provide a mechanism for the transmission of various types of pornography.
If you’re looking for free music to listen to online, you probably aren’t going to be able to download any files to your computer without generating some kind of problem. So my advice is to seek online services that are reputable, even if you have to pay for them. Free services are typically supported by advertisements, so be ready for that. If you’re unsure of whether a service is reputable, do some online searching and check out the buzz about this particular service. Where there’s smoke, there’s typically fire. When it comes to downloading content on the Internet, you need to be sure that you trust the source. If you are unsure, don’t do it!
If you give your teen access to your iTunes, Amazon MP3, or Google Play account to purchase music, be aware that the cost can rack up very quickly, so their behavior needs to be monitored, even if content isn’t a specific problem.
A number of additional issues have to be dealt with by you as a parent. Is unlimited access to any and all music even healthy? What album cover art are you willing to allow your teen to be exposed to? These aren’t simple questions. I recommend educating yourself and then sitting down with your teen to talk through the concerns. Your best hope is if they understand the concerns and are on board with them and then engage you in their online behaviors.