Free music Web site raises a Ruckus

Online music retailer Ruckus Network announced last week that its 2.1 million music tracks, previously available only to students of Ruckus-partnered schools, will now be accessible to every college student in the nation, free of charge.

Students need only a valid “.edu” email address to join the network and begin downloading tracks. By collaborating with big business advertisers and record labels last year, Ruckus Network has been able to offer students legally licensed music for free.

“College students are traditionally used to downloading free music and we didn’t want to change that,” said Chris Lawson, director of corporate development at Ruckus. “We wanted to give students an ethical option to download free music, and by becoming ad-supported, we’re still able to pay the artists and record labels for their downloaded content… As for the ads, we didn’t want to put ads just to put ads. We got ads that would be useful to students, like discounted cell phones [from] Cingular, or textbooks at Barnes and Noble.”

After a five-minute set-up, students can create a profile, much like popular networking sites Facebook or MySpace, or just begin downloading immediately. Searching the catalog is instantaneous, and downloads generally take less than three minutes per album on a standard broadband connection.

With more than 2.1 million tracks, finding mainstream media is easy, but because of licensing problems, there are tracks missing from some albums. The Ruckus library has about a million less songs than iTunes, but as a new company constantly talking with record labels, that number is shrinking every day, Lawson said.

Although all of the free music can be played an unlimited number of times on the user’s PC, students who want to transfer tracks to a CD or portable device will have to pay a fee of $4.99 a month or $19.99 a semester, even at partnered schools.

The site is not compatible with the Apple iPod or Microsoft’s Zune, and Mac users will need an Intel chip, Windows XP, and additional software to run the program.

“We would like it to be compatible with everything, but some companies are very proprietary with their content,” Lawson said. “We’ve already been able to make it compatible with many cell phones and portable devices out there, and we’re constantly working on not leaving anyone out.”

The original intent of Ruckus was to charge universities a fee to place their server on campus. After they were able to switch to an ad-supported service, however, they have been offering free partnerships.

Approximately 100 colleges across the nation have already partnered with Ruckus Network, and those schools receive extra benefits. For example, Ruckus’s ever-growing collection of 4,500 videos are only available at partnered schools.
“When we partner with a school and put our server on the campus, students will be able to download full-length, high quality films in a matter of minutes, essentially lowering the schools bandwidth rate,” said Ruckus spokesperson Andrew Soucy. “Schools spend less money maintaining their networks and both students and administrators don’t have to worry about downloading viruses or spyware that could ruin their system.”

Ruckus stresses that they are a college-only service. Alumni and staff can use the network, but will be charged a fee of $8.99 a month.

“We really wanted to focus in on college students, and bring everything college students enjoy online into one program,” Soucy said. “We incorporated social networking so students can meet friends who share their musical interests while enjoying music legally and safely. You can look at it as iTunes meets Facebook.”