How to get free music, legally . . . from the government!

Ahh, who doesn't remember the Golden Age of Napster? When music was "free" and just a click away. Then those pesky record labels had to come along and ruin everything. And whether it is fear of Big Music showing up on your doorstep with a subpoena for your hard drive or just displaying solidarity for musicians, many people have wisely chosen to stop illegally downloading music.

But before you cast your iPod to the wind (that's a They Might Be Giants allusion for any of you cool enough to get it), I've got a terrific alternative to the conscience-searing shame and potentially embarrassing/costly legal entanglements which can come from illegal downloads. And in the sweetest irony of all, this solution is courtesy of the government. That's right, read on to find out how The Man can support your free music Jones.

Been to the library in your city lately? They've gotten pretty hip. Even where I live in the not-quite-third-world of South Carolina, our library has free Wi-Fi, computers, DVDs and . . . a fairly large CD collection. And just like those ancient things filled with pages and words - I think they're called books, but they won't play on my Kindle - you can rent these CDs and take them home for your listening pleasure. But, unlike a book, CDs allow for a whole new set of the 3 R's: Renting, Ripping and Returning.

Now, don't expect the library to have every disc you'd ever want. And if your musical tastes run towards selections that generally carry a "Parental Advisory" sticker, you might be totally SOL. But scouring the CD racks can yield some sweet results. Among others, I've scored Dave Matthews, Gwen Stefani, Maroon 5, Pearl Jam, Led Zeppelin, Hootie & The Blowfish and – I'm not proud of it – Abba.  Selections seem to run towards the mainstream with some decent Jazz and Classical choices as well. And just because your branch doesn't have something doesn't mean that it isn't somewhere within the county's inventory. Using the library's computer, you can search for music by artist or title. Then, as an extra-sweet added bonus, if it is in the system, you can request the CD. For free. And if you're too lazy to actually go to the library, most branches can now be accessed via the Internet, allowing you to find and request music remotely. My library even calls me when my requested discs show up. Now if I can get them to rip it for me and then e-mail me the files the circle will be complete!

And, since the library is supported by your tax dollars – you do pay taxes, right? – then this is a service you are paying for. So, grab your library card and head on down. And if you should see a book while you're there, well, the library would probably be OK with that too. – John Sciacca

John Sciacca is The Custom Installer columnist for Sound & Vision. His company is Custom Theater and Audio.