Practical media downloading

A random assortment of tips for getting stuff with some mix of expedience, safety, and broad coverage.

  • For single tracks, start with Skreemr. It doesn’t manage to find that much, unfortunately, but it’s a quick check. Other similar services include BeeMP3 and SeeqPod, which have (IMO) clumsier UIs. Once you’ve checked with Skreemr, just try Googling for the artist, title, and “mp3” – this usually works, esp. for popular tracks, but is less slick than Skreemr since you’ll probably land at a site where you need to satisfy some captcha, run a gauntlet of ads or gaudy web designs, wait some number of seconds, find a broken link, and retry with the next few hits.
  • Alternatively, download full albums. Even if you’re after just a single track, if you can’t find it, you may be able to find its album. You can do this by Googling for the artist and album name alongside the names of popular “private” file-sharing services (“rapidshare | megaupload | …”). These file hosting services are actually good for finding large media files in general, including movies and TV shows. I have a little script for making these kinds of searches.
  • You can always resort to BitTorrent or a file-sharing network if you’re feeling a bit more promiscuous. If you’re on Windows, one of the better file-sharing clients is Shareaza, which supports Gnutella, ed2k, and “Gnutella2.” For BitTorrent, Shareaza’s support wasn’t that great when I tried. I’ve heard good things about uTorrent, which is probably the most popular client on Windows, but I’ve only ever used the cross-platform Vuze (formerly Azureus). Vuze sports an awesome search interface that lets you breezily grab torrents from some of the popular sites out there including btjunkie and mininova.
  • When engaging in promiscuous file-sharing, try to operate from a WLAN for which logs are not kept (e.g., StataCenter). For a general public WLAN, you can fiddle with your MAC address and minimize concurrent traffic from the same host (esp. anything that could identify you).
  • You can use an IP filter (“firewall”) to prevent communication with certain hosts. BlueTack maintains popular blocklists. A paper from UCR called “P2P: Is Big Brother Watching You?” (Ars Technica article) concludes that users will exchange data with blocklisted users 100% of the time, and that blocking just 5 IPs reduces this to 1%.
  • Blocklist managers are optimized to filter large numbers/ranges of IPs. PeerGuardian 2 and moblock are popular blocklist managers for Windows and Linux, respectively.
  • Should you be simply unable to find the song anywhere but a streaming source, such as Songza, Last.fm, MySpace, the artist’s website, etc., then just capture your system audio output while playing it from the streaming source. (Streaming audio quality tends to be lower, though.)
  • Find iTunes shares and public file shares (CIFS/SMB, FTP, etc.) on your LAN. Might work well if you’re in something like a dorm or frat setting, depending on the network configuration. I don’t know if there’s some working continuation of myTunes or if ourTunes still works, but those are places to start looking for iTunes pulling.
  • For TV shows, another possibility is to just watch them streamed from the web. You can find a lot on YouTube (though certain videos might just be around for short windows of time). Sidereel is a community that organizes links to these videos into shows and episodes.

Updated 7/21/2009: added note on Googling for single tracks.

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