Russell Blackstock is a senior reporter at the Weekend Herald and Herald on Sunday.

Libraries tune into readers by offering free downloaded music

A major global music sharing company opened in New Zealand this week but thousands of Auckland music fans are already downloading free tunes at home using their library cards.

Swedish music streaming company Spotify is hugely popular overseas and provides access to a wide range of tracks, including a large selection of local artists.

It offers access to a catalogue of 16 million songs via desktop computers or mobile devices, either through paid premium subscriptions or free with advertising.

Meanwhile, Auckland Libraries has introduced the Freegal Music service, allowing downloaded tracks from the vast Sony catalogue, via the library website, free of charge.

Members can download up to three free tracks a week that will play on almost every portable device. The music can even be transferred to CD.

"It is turning out to be very popular," says Allison Dobbie, Auckland Council libraries manager.

"We had been keeping an eye on developments in the digital music sector for some time and Freegal seems to have caught on with our members."

Dobbie declined to say how much the subscription costs ratepayers, citing it as "commercially sensitive information".

The library music service was launched in February with 2240 downloads. That figure jumped to 15,623 in April and is expected to climb again this month.

The most popular acts are Train, The Fray, One Direction, Reece Mastin, Beyonce and Kelly Clarkson.

Pop music is the most popular category, accounting for more than half of downloads.

Jeremy Redmore, frontman with Kiwi chart stars Midnight Youth, is one of many local artists welcoming the changes.

"I am not entirely against people pirating music off the internet for free, but if official downloading services get something back financially for musicians, it is better than getting a percentage of nothing, which happens when music is downloaded illegally," says Redmore.

Despite scoring two smash-hit albums and a string of successful singles such as All On Our Own and The Letter on home soil, Redmond says Midnight Youth are still relatively new to fans overseas so music sharing sites help raise the band's profile.

"Whether it is via Spotify or the local library, anything that puts our music out there and in front of new audiences has to be a good thing."

Other popular music services available in New Zealand include, Unlimited, Rdio and Groove-shack, which offer a variety of free and paid-for content.

- Herald on Sunday

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