Digital audio files found on CDs are usually very large. But MP3, a file format that shrinks the audio data while preserving the quality, has made the distribution of near-CD quality music as easy as a click of your mouse. MP3 enables you to download songs quickly. A minute of music in MP3 format is about 1 Mb, so your average pop tune may be under 4 Mb. With a broadband DSL or Cable Internet connection, it only takes a few seconds to download an average length song.
Hear it Now
To play MP3 files you need an MP3 player, which comes in two varieties: portable players and software players. The portable players are hardware devices like an Apple iPod or virtually any modern smartphone. Software players are programs you install on your computer such as Windows Media Player, iTunes, RealPlayer, and VLC Media Player. By the way, if you need help, read our step-by-step instructions for downloading software.
Once you have the player installed, it's time to listen to some music. A few good places to start finding music are the Google Play Music Store, iTunes, and Amazon Digital Music. After you download a song, you can play it as many times as you want. If you buy a portable MP3 Player such as an iPod, or if you have a smartphone, you can transfer songs from your computer to the device for music on-the-go.
AAC vs MP3
Apple's iTunes software is bundled with iOS and OS X – so it's preinstalled on every Apple device. iTunes is also available as a free download for Windows operating systems. However, iTunes is not available for Android operating systems.
Music purchased from iTunes will automatically play in the iTunes player, so if you are able to buy music in iTunes, you can always play it on the same device you used when making the purchase. However, music downloaded from iTunes is in AAC format, not MP3 format. As a result, you aren't able to easily play music downloaded from iTunes on an Android device. However, there are workarounds that will allow you to access music purchased from iTunes on an Android device, it will just take a little extra effort.
Copyright & Ethical Issues
You should be aware that some people take songs from CDs, convert them to MP3 files, then post them on the Web or share them via peer-to-peer networks. This practice has record executives not only fuming, but filing lawsuits against the most flagrant violators. Why? Because it violates copyright laws. Free music means that neither the songwriter, performer, nor the record company make any money. You can see why MP3 is challenging the status quo.
There are also a few paid sites based in countries with lax copyright laws that are technically legal in their respective countries, but do not compensate the artist that crafted the music or the record company that published the record. Is it technically legal to download music from these sites? Probably, yes. However, is ethical to get music at a drastically reduced price that cuts the artist and record company out entirely? The answer to that question is clear. Our advice is to stick to the mainstream stores that are more than happy to confirm that their content is perfectly legal to purchase, download, and listen to.
Having said all of that, most of the MP3 songs you will find online are perfectly legal because the copyright holder and the performer have granted their permission and are compensated when the music is purchased. In fact many young musicians see MP3 as a wonderful way to get exposure for their music while eliminating the middlemen–the record companies and music stores. Even established performers make some of their new tunes available as MP3s on their websites. Many online music stores sell individual songs that can be downloaded for under $ 1.00 USD.