Fifteen years ago, it seemed like file transfer hacks were everywhere and for good reason. If you’re over 25 years old, you probably remember how everybody lost their collective shit when Napster hit the scene. Maybe, like me, you eschewed your college study groups in favor of “music swap nights” in your dormitory, with everyone (even the RAs) monopolizing the T1 connection. If it weren’t for Napster I would never have absorbed the entire catalogues of bands like Jets To Brazil, Neutral Milk Hotel, People Under the Stairs and Dinosaur, Jr. Napster was arguably the last super cool innovation to usher in a commercial revolution around the democratization of a particular product. It was this innovation that saved kids like me from having to stash contraband CDs (Nine Inch Nails and Juvenile anyone?) away from their parents.
FREE MUSIC: THE MODERN INCARNATION
While Napster has long gone the way of the dodo bird in favor of music streaming platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music, the incontrovertible fact remains that the number of folks willing to drop a dime for tunes remains substantially smaller than the freeloading audience. Make no mistake: monetization is the music industry’s greatest challenge. According to MiDia Research, there were just over 100 million paying music subscribers worldwide at the end of 2016 – a number expected to grow to 220 million by 2020. Thankfully, these listeners are a major force in driving music monetization out of the gutter of the past fifteen years. But when you compare them to the 6.1 billion total smartphone users projected to be roaming the globe soon, it begs myriad questions: How are the other 5.9 billion non-paying music listeners getting their on-demand audio fill? Has the industry thrown in the towel on piracy? Are there emerging solutions to better monetize these frugal consumers?
The answers are complex. For starters, you have innovative free music download apps such as Trebel Music working harmoniously with record labels to help would-be rippers get free songs to their phones in a way that channels dollars back to rightsholders. While Trebel may be a new name to you, the most problematic elephant in the room is one you’ve certainly already heard of: YouTube. What’s the big deal with Youtube, you ask? Before peeling back the onion, it’s important to elucidate to younger readers how we arrived at the current state of music affairs in the first place.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF FREE MUSIC DOWNLOADERS
In 1999, Napster spearheaded the file sharing boom and instantly democratized the music acquisition process. It was the true definition of a music hack: a person-to-person (P2P) file transfer application that enabled music fanatics to upload copies of their favorite music and open their hard drive to other users who would download free music files from people around the world as either .WAV, .AIFF, or the most popular file type, .MP3.
As Napster got wrapped up in legal action and suffered slightly in the court of public opinion, other music hacks were developed that sought to cannibalize’ Napster’s market share. These applications included BearShare, LimeWire, and Kazaa. Sound familiar?
While the technology boom seemingly blew the doors off of the music industry, record execs went screaming to their lawyers over profit-sharing rights, and a handful of musicians, with Metallica’s Lars Ulrich at the helm, took Napster’s free-for-all model to task (and to court) on the basis of musicians deserving fair compensation for their creations.
This led to the advent of now-ubiquitous streaming radio, on-demand music, and paid subscription services for music download: iTunes, Pandora, Spotify, SoundCloud, Tidal, and Rhapsody (Napster’s rebranded application). These services are undeniably important in the recording industry’s revival, but the truth of the matter is that illegal music downloads are still extremely prevalent and are costing the industry billions, which takes me back to the biggest culprit in this whole dilemma…
THE YOUTUBE PROBLEM
A common refrain I hear from music outsiders when explaining Youtube’s role in the music ecosystem is “YouTube plays ads, it’s monetized, it’s totally different!” But if you think about it, YouTube really isn’t so different from Napster. Ordinary consumers are able to upload files of any sort to make a ‘”video” even if the “video” happens to be a still photo of Tame Impala’s “Innerspeaker” plus an audio cut of the album. This file is then available for users to stream for free via YouTube’s free platform. What’s even less talked about in music circles is the ease by which users can extract a YouTube file from the channel. There are countless underground file converters that don’t get major attention because they don’t do wide scale marketing. In order to stay active on Google and the App Store, these file converters, rippers and encoders fly under the radar and let people find them through generic searches and, of course, the all-powerful word-of-mouth.
Labels and publishers understand what’s going on. Last year they took one of the biggest converter sites, youtube-mp3.org, to court in a legal battle that is still ongoing. The practice of converting Youtube videos to MP3 files, known as “stream ripping”, is exploding globally with over 7 billion hits to stream ripping sites in 2016 (up 60% vs. 2015), and half of 16 to 24 year olds worldwide admitting to engaging in the activity. As this pervasive new threat takes off among stingy music consumers, so do music downloading alternatives that are both legal and easier to use than stream ripping sites.
TREBEL MUSIC: THE APP YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT
If you’re interested in downloading free music, you don’t need to emulate file converting downloaders to relive the glory days of Napster. In fact, there’s a new app tackling the converter problem that allows users to download songs for free and listen to them offline. It’s called Trebel, and it offers the benefits of a stream ripping site with far more convenience.
A friend of mine showed me the app and it’s dead simple to use: you just click on a song or an album, tap the download button, and a download progress bar loads while a video ad shows on the bottom half of the screen. The whole process takes seconds. I know what you’re thinking, “eww ads,” but it isn’t really that intrusive. My first time using it I was able to download two albums (Drake’s Views and Rihanna’s ANTI-) in the time it took me to microwave a hot pocket. And the kicker is there’s no limit on the number of songs or albums you can download. Trebel’s unlimited music storage is a true game-changer since even the file converter apps require you to use phone hard drive to store the files.
While you can’t listen and download music at the same time, once you have the music in the app you can play it in the background while you’re using other apps. This, in my opinion, is the best feature of all.
Trebel is ideal for anyone that wants to download unlimited free music without being vulnerable to copyright infringement. I’m still getting to know the app and its features, but from the few albums I’ve gotten I can tell that this app is poised to revolutionize not only the music acquisition and listening process, but the monetization process as well. Since ads play during download, Trebel actually pays the artists for their work so you’re listening legally – always.
Download Trebel for iPhone from the App Store.
Download Trebel for Android (beta) from Google Play.