Who could have imagined what Shawn Fanning, then an 18-year-old Northeastern University dropout, was starting when he united music and the Internet to start the first peer-to-peer filesharing system that he called Napster.

His creative use of the Internet and the ensuing legal battles broke down barriers for listeners and musicians. Able to upload their music to a Web site, musicians no longer need a record label to be heard. For listeners, time is the only limitation to sample the endless variety available. In addition to the music, artists and fans have a forum to communicate.

Personally, I still feel the need every once in awhile to wrestle the plastic off a new CD case. But in the meantime, I’ll be listening to Xiu Xiu, O.A.R., or even Patti Smith; Fiona Apple, Hellogoodbye, Lovedrug – or maybe Tegan and Sara, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, or Tilly and The Wall. Some of the sites worth checking out:

15 Megs of Fame
Offering music in all genres – rock/pop, dance/electronica rap/hip-hop, hard rock/metal, R&B/soul, and blues/jazz. The site encourages musicians to make a profile and upload their music by enticing them wit hsome, well, fame and fortune. Weekly contests culminate in a year-end contest with a grand prize of $2,500 and other prizes. Listeners are invited to comment on songs, and artists can interact with listeners in blogs.

MySpace Music
Similar to 15 Megs, MySpace has less information and music from their musicians but much more interaction with their listeners. It allows the band to get to know who is listening to their music. The ability to download music from an artist’s page is free, but not always available (depending on the artist’s preference).

Although it doesn’t allow downloading MP3 files, it does allow listeners to soak up extensive information about the artists. Some artists put show dates and times, links to other Web sites that they have profiles on, and even places to buy merchandise.

Pitchfork Media
This site has a great selection of musicians you’ve probably never even heard of. The site has free downloads, reviews of albums, single tracks, and the best new music out there, as well as music news.

iTunes Music Store
iTunes is simple for those who like the music in the mainstream. If you’re looking to pay for the new Missy Elliot CD, or the great new Ashlee Simpson track – you’ll find it on iTunes. Just like any other legal music downloading program, sometimes it’s easier to buy it there than at the CD store. Each track costs a dollar.

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