The free music download site Spiralfrog.com recently opened its doors to the public. Spiralfrog.com is an ad-supported site which delivers digital rights management (DRM) music to members who have signed up for an account on the site. This music, delivered in WMA format, is locked-down so that it can’t be transported to another computer or burned to CD. It is compatible with certain MP3 players, but is not compatible with Apple’s iPod or Mac. Accounts are good for 30 days, after which time the user must renew their membership to keep their personal SpiralFrog library functional.
So far, several labels, such as Universal, EMI and BMI have been signed by SpiralFrog. However, the library of songs on SpiralFrog is still hovering around 800,000. This is hardly competition for the Apple iTunes library, which contains more than 6 million songs, many of which are priced at $.99. Still, the word “free” is a major attractor, and so it seems people have been flocking to SpiralFrog in droves.
I dropped by the website, and signed up for an account to see if it was all it was cracked up to be.
SpiralFrog required me to provide an email address and other information, such as my birth date, in order to obtain an account. I’ve found that sites like this tend to spam me, so provided my Yahoo address, which I use strictly as web mail. I then had to confirm my email address in order to begin downloading music. This wasn’t much of an inconvenience.
SpiralFrog did not ask me for any credit card or banking information. This was a major plus. I immediately began searching for music which I have been wanting to listen to, but could not afford to buy. I tend to prefer older rock and roll, and haven’t really been keeping up with the latest musical trends.
Then I had to download and install SpiralFrog’s download manager, which didn’t bother me. This was quick and easy to install, and didn’t seem to contain any adware or spyware.
The first thing I searched for on the SpiralFrog website was ABBA. I found it quickly and easily on my high-speed connection. I went to download the song SOS, and was asked to fill a code into a field to prove I wasn’t a computer. The download went quickly and pretty soon I was listening to the song on my computer speakers.
I went on to download other songs from my favorite artists, like Queen and the Moody Blues. Throughout this process I was stymied by repeated and serious errors. I received repeated messages from SpiralFrog that their traffic was very high, and this was causing problems with the server. They apologized and asked me to be patient. I also had consistent errors with the code entry, which often had to be filled in twice before I could download a song. Fortunately, I only had to enter this code immediately after logging in. The download manager also had multiple errors, playing the “confirmation” song over and over again, erratically, but giving no final confirmation of the completed download. Navigating to another page sometimes helped. Closing the browser window also solved the problem, but forced me to log in all over again.
Songs were searchable by artist, album and song, but videos were searchable only by artist. This made it very difficult to find videos I wanted to watch. I only looked at .38 Special “Second Chance.” I lost interest, since this was not really what I was looking for. The video front page automatically loaded a rap video by 50 Cent, which was extremely annoying. It wasn’t quite enough to get me off the site, but it did keep me away from the video page.
Also, when I accidentally moused over a help icon, I opened a window which was filled with Latin. I recognized the Latin phrases from website templates which I have downloaded and used for my web design projects. Also, although I don’t mind inconspicuous ads when I’m getting stuff for free, this website was covered with ads for the US Army and Navy. What on earth has that got to do with music downloads? Is SpiralFrog so clueless that they don’t know what their visitors are looking for? It seems to me that other ads for things like common grocery store products, other websites, and gaming downloads would have been much more appropriate.
I seemed to find the music I enjoyed fairly easily. But when I looked up my son’s favorite group, Linkin’ Park, the only download I found was a 45 minute interview with the band members. It seems to me that if people are interested in downloading more current songs, they will find SpiralFrog extremely frustrating and limiting.
It seems to me that the SpiralFrog website has had its grand opening rather prematurely. It isn’t prepared for the onslaught of users that have deluged the site. The result is that SpiralFrog members are having a less than ideal experience on the site. According to various reports, SpiralFrog has been experiencing financial difficulties, which more than likely spurred the company to go live too quickly. The company has had to pay outrageous fees for licensing to record labels, and incur a massive amount of debt. Thus SpiralFrog was teetering on the verge of losing millions of dollars just last year. Now, eager SpiralFrog members are paying for the company’s deficits.
Really, SpiralFrog needs bigger servers, more music labels and more songs before it will be able to really hold its own against the competition. At this point, the fact that SpiralFrog is “free” isn’t really worth all the inconvenience. New SpiralFrog users are very likely to defect from the site to others which aren’t such a hassle. In addition, the inappropriate ad content is going to hurt SpiralFrog’s revenues.
If you like older music, or if you’re crazy about Gwen Stefani, Rihanna, Plain White T’s, Maroon 5 and Fergie, and you don’t mind putting up with minor annoyances to save some money, SpiralFrog is probably a good site for you. At any rate, the site is worth a look. Make sure your MP3 player is compatible with the DMR format SpiralFrog uses. If you use an iPod, or most of your favorite artists aren’t on the site, you may want to look elsewhere.
Nick Gonzalez, “SpiralFrog: Free Music Alive And Hopping.” TechCrunch. URL: (http://www.techcrunch.com/2007/08/23/spiralfrog-free-music-alive-and-hopping/)
Greg Sandoval, “Is music site SpiralFrog spinning out?” C|Net. URL: (http://www.news.com/Is+music+site+SpiralFrog+spinning+out/2100-1027_3-6153057.html)
“SpiralFrog: Is it Over Before it Begins?” Fast Company. URL: (http://blog.fastcompany.com/archives/2007/01/24/spiralfrog_is_it_over_before_it_begins.html?partner=rss)
Tom Spring, “FirstLook: SpiralFrog Offers Free Music with a Hefty Price.” PCWorld. URL: (http://blogs.pcworld.com/staffblog/archives/005453.html)
Greg Sandoval and Dawn Kawamoto, “Is free music too expensive for SpiralFrog?” C|Net. URL: (http://www.news.com/Is+free+music+too+expensive+for+SpiralFrog/2100-1027_3-6207240.html?tag=st.ref.goo)
“BMI and SpiralFrog Complete Licensing Agreement.” BMI. URL: (http://www.bmi.com/news/entry/533987)
“EMI Music Publishing first to license music and lyrics to SpiralFrog for advertising-supported download service.” EMI. URL: (http://www.emigroup.com/Press/2006/press54.htm)