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They Do It Cause They Love You.

They Do It Cause They Love You.

( masterminds Ariel Gross and Dave Benjamin began offering free music downloads via the Internet in 2004. Today, their site offers free albums from more than 20 artists. How did they get from there to here? It all began with sp00, Gross and Benjamin’s collaborative musical effort (or “band,” if you will). They wanted to offer their music to the listening public free of charge, without the hassle and giant flaming hoop-jumping involved in dealing with the music industry.

“The original incarnation of [”> was basically a web page with a couple sp00 albums available for download,” Gross said.

“Then we started brainstorming about better ways to deliver the music. Then we started getting outside artists asking to join in on the fun. We also set up a company at some point in there.”

See, it’s just that easy. One minute you’re a couple of guys who play music together and just want to spread it around. The next thing you know, you’re running a website that provides musical platforms for lots of other quirky artists who share your strong belief that music should be free. Right?

Well, it might have helped things along a bit that Benjamin has experience in computer programming (he develops software for a living) and that Gross has training in audio production (he recently graduated from Arizona’s Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences).

By day, Benjamin wears two responsible-adult hats: he develops education software for Arizona State University, and also works for Global Alerts in Scottsdale, Ariz. Hundreds of miles away, in Champaign, Ill., Gross designs audio tracks for video games at Volition Inc. By night, these men work to change music lovers’ assumption that the only legal way to obtain new tunes is to pay $15-$20 for an album.

So does that put them in league with proponents of musical piracy, folks who think they have the right to simply take music that artists are trying to support themselves by selling? No, says Gross.

“The beautiful thing about is that it is artists willingly giving away their music, so no laws are broken,” he said.

Though both Gross and Benjamin feel that the choice to distribute music for free is personal, Benjamin said he feels that music industry executives are fighting a losing battle.

“Music is free already,” he said. “The sooner music business folk realize that, the better off they will be.”

However, though he does not personally feel the need to make ends meet through music, Benjamin said, he sees no problem with people who want to do so.

“I think selling music is fine,” he explained. “But live performance is the way to go.”

Spoomusic provides an ever-growing number of albums (which can be, themselves, ever-growing) free of charge. However, artists on the site also have the option of making a few bucks by selling their tracks on sites like Napster, Rhapsody, iTunes and eMusic.

Of course, Gross says, there is an unofficial agreement that artists will provide at least one completely free album before asking to hawk their wares with spoomusic’s help. Once they’ve done that, spoomusic will make artists’ tracks available on Internet distribution labels. The only money required is the actual cost of listing tracks on the sites (around $50).

In addition to albums put out by spoomusic’s regular contributors, Gross and Benjamin also compile albums featuring various other artists along with the regulars. One is already available on the site; another is in the works. As a joke, the compilation albums go by the name “Spoon Music.” Confused? Benjamin and Gross thought you would be. And they think it’s pretty funny.

“Whenever we say spoomusic, people always go, ‘SPOONmusic?’,” Gross explained. “And we have to clarify this repeatedly. It’s like a running theme through our existence.

“So we decided to call the compilation Spoon Music, thus confusing everyone even more, which is funny to us.”

Well, now you’re in the know. It’s “spoomusic,” not “spoon music,” and it’s one place to hear free original music on the Web. Or to distribute your own free tunes, if you are so inclined. Interested artists can initiate contact by e-mailing, Gross said. From there, the extremely harrowing and cutthroat selection process can begin.

Actually, it’s a little less scientific than that. If any of the managing members (Gross, Benjamin, or Gross’ wife, Addie, who does PR) dig an artist’s sound, they’re in. If not, Gross said, he usually just encourages people to send in different samples.

After all, they do it because they love you.

– Amanda Bittle