Where can I download music for free? And if I do, is it illegal?

The tricky part about downloading music is doing it legally — and it all depends on what you're downloading. Using a file-sharing network like Kazaa or BitTorrent to freely download copyrighted music is illegal — unless the copyright owner (the artist, the music label, or someone else) gives permission for the music to be freely distributed. Rest assured, very few artists or music labels do this. They're in the music business to make money; they're not going to just give away their music. In fact, the recording industry is filing lawsuits against copyright infringers — that is, people who distribute copyrighted music without permission — because it claims to be losing tons of money to illegal downloads. And because most of the music being shared is protected by copyright, it's best to stay away from them.

But all is not lost. You can download free music legally from sites like GarageBand.com, which spotlights independent artists. These artists are like the local bands you see playing around town — they self-produce and self-record their own music and then distribute it on GarageBand.com to give people a chance to hear them. While you won't find the latest Usher single on these sites, you may find a gem or two from an "undiscovered" band.

Another way to find free music is to visit the Web sites of your favorite artists. Often these artists provide free downloads of bonus or live tracks or alternative mixes of their hits. You may even be able to view a few of their music videos online.

So, unless you're willing to go low-tech and tape it off the radio, you'll need to pay to stay legal. The good news is you no longer have to pay $15 for a CD to get just one song. You can visit an online music store, such as the iTunes Music Store, and download that one song for 99 cents. Just imagine, you can create a CD of your favorite 10 songs from different CDs and pay only 10 bucks. Sure, it's not free, but you're not paying $150 for all those CDs either!