I signed up for Real Network’s Rhapsody service during their first 49 cent per song deal. I figured that the at least I get my 14 day free trial and then cancel it. Well it’s been almost 4 months now and I’m still shelling out the $9.99 every month to listen to unlimited music.
Now you’re probably thinking “Why pay any amount per month when I could just download all the music I want from questionable or completely illegal sources?” and you have a good point. I’m basically throwing this money away on something I don’t need. Of course I’m also wasting money on having my oil changed instead of doing it myself. And come to think of it I’m wasting money on packaged cereal when I could just mill some grain and make my own. I guess I’m just paying for the service, the interface, and the convenience.
If you have the time and the resources to download music for free whenever you feel like listening to a song you don’t already have stop reading now. If you have better things to do than find the best distribution sites, install the latest download clients, build the perfect query, then sift through all the shitty media please keep reading.
The screen shot at left shows the Speakeasy branded skin over Rhapsody. Vendors have started making agreements with Real to distribute their player via promotions and whatnot and as part of the agreement they get to put their logo and their colour scheme on the player.
I will spare you the detailed description of the layout because you can easily analyze it for yourself.
According to Real’s website they are serving over 1,000,000 songs. I personally have not listened to each of these but I can say that whenever I’ve been looking for something obscure to listen to I have often found it and listened to it on Rhapsody waiting for a peer to peer service to return any results.
The biggest restriction to the $9.99 unlimited Rhapsody service is that it’s just on-demand radio. You choose a song you want to listen to and play it as many times as you want whenever you want until you stop paying your fee. At that point you can no longer log in to Rhapsody’s player and can not access the music.
Because Real requires that you use their player to play their content they had to secure the connection to prevent someone from plugging some sort of downloading tool into the server and just grabbing every song. Tracks are encoded in 192kbps AAC and streamed to you in an encrypted format then “unlocked” by your client which allows playback. The files are stored in a database file inside your Rhapsody program files directory in an encrypted state. This makes it possible to listen to tracks you previously played without streaming them from the server. The player will also download the rest of the tracks in an album (if there is idle bandwidth available and you have enough unused space in your database file).
If someone cracked the database file format you might be able to take those downloaded tracks with you away from your computer but you’d still have to pay for th service of downloading them. So as aforementioned: if you want a free music solution go download eMule.
I will describe a method using freely available tools to make permanent copies of the music streamed to you via Rhapsody’s service (this will work with any audio format and any streaming service).
You will need an application which can record audio from your internal sound host. People used to talk about using an audio cable to create a loop between the speaker out and the line in (or mic in) of the soundcard to do the same thing. With modern sound card drivers you can record the signal without any hardware.
One of the best (by which I mean feature-rich, stable, fast, high-quality) audio tools is Adobe’s Audition which used to be CoolEdit. Of course if you want a free alternative you can always trust SourceForge to have a couple things to try.
Testing out new FOSS (Free Open Source Software) is usually a pain in the ass because much of it is quite poorly developed. Without a very well organized team working together with schedules and limitations open source projects often take on a mind of their own and turn into hideous beasts. I have taken one for the team and found a usable solution which I will describe to you now.
Audacity is a multi-track audio editing application which works with Win32 and *nix (including OS X). I am extremely impressed with how light-weight this piece of software is. Installation went without any problems and I figured I would try it before configuring it for normalization and audio drivers. Suprisingly the default settings were just what I wanted with one exception. The recording format was set to mono. After hitting the Audio I/O tab in Preferences I had solved the channel problem. So I hit play on Rhapsody and hit record on Audacity.
I sat back and watched the peaks and valleys scroll past as the visualization of my audio track was updated in real time. Once the song ended in Rhapsody I hit stop and played my results. It sounded exactly the same. This can be attributed to the fact that Rhapsody is putting out 192kbps audio and Audacity is recording at a considerably higher rate. I won’t go into the details of audio encoding but the next step was almost as easy as the recording.
There was a little white noise at the begining and end of the audio I had just recorded so I whipped out the Selection Tool (looks like a text “I-beam” cursor), clicked just before the begining of the track, then held shift and clicked just after the end of the track. Then I tried “Export Selection to MP3” from the File menu. Turns out I didn’t have an MP3 encoder so I downloaded LAME (oh sorry, I just provided you with a link to the official LAME site which doesn’t provide compiled binaries. please feel free to ask Google for lame binaries). After downloading and extracting the MP3 encoder I pointed Audacity at the dll it wanted and went on my merry way.
Here are a few clips from the Real Rhapsody Terms and Conditions:
from section 1:
“Downloads obtained through your Service may be played when you are not connected to the Internet, but you must connect periodically to download more or update licenses.”
from section 2, a:
“Unless you notify us of your decision to terminate your subscription, your subscription will automatically renew at the end of each subscription term.”
This is the same as any other periodic-fee based program. Keep in mind that you will have to dial an 800 number to cancel your Rhapsody subscription and that the office will have to be open for you to talk to someone.
from section 2, f:
“Regardless of the use of the word “purchase,” all tracks offered for download or burning are offered for license, not purchase or sale, and are subject to this Agreement and any other license terms and conditions applicable to the track, including limitations imposed by the use of digital rights management technology.”
Here’s the tricky part… you have licensed music but you don’t own it. So when you recorded that track with Audacity earlier you were avoiding the DRM and breaking the limitations imposed therein.
also from section 2, f:
“License to downloaded or burned tracks include only those rights explicitly stated in the Service (typically, the right to play back for your own personal use from your personal computer, CD player, digital player, or other personal consumer electronic device), and, for the avoidance of doubt, do not include the right to create a derivative work, to make copies other than for your own personal use, or to use the track in any commercial manner.”
And here is our way out of the previous tangle… this agreement states that you are allowed the right to play back your audio from various electronic devices. So as long as you aren’t selling or giving away those tracks for which you paid fees to hear it seems to me you are holding up your side of the deal.
I have not reviewed the “Rhapsody To-Go” service because I do not subscribe to it. This service allows you to download tracks available on Rhapsody’s server to your personal devices and play them back according to the limitations set in the DRM for the specific file. Obviously once you have the file on your system you can use any number of freely available DRM cracking tools to transform that file into a play-anywhere-anytime song but that is a discussion for another day.