Hijacking Rhapsody - Macenstein

Hijacking Rhapsody

Posted by Lab Rat

This morning it was announced that Real Networks had finally opened its Rhapsody music service to Apple (and Linux) users.

Well, sort of. There is not a real Mac software client yet so Mac users can’t actually buy songs at the moment, but what Real HAS done is to allow Mac users to listen to 25 “On Demand� music files a month for free via there Rhapsody.com site. All they need to do is install a small Netscape-compatible music player plug-in in Safari. Presumably, if they find they like it, they will opt to pay the $9.99 a month for unlimited On Demand tracks (the full Rhapsody software which allows for individual song downloads is not yet available for the Mac).

A friend of mine (Ivan) told me he read this press release at 9AM, and by 9:02 AM he was Audio Hijacking his much deserved 25 free songs. For those few who don’t know, Audio Hijack is the indispensable audio recording tool which allows you to capture the audio from any of your Mac’s applications.

I was not surprised Ivan was doing this, as I have found the audio quality of Rhapsody’s On Demand music is actually quite good. I have been unable to find a definitive answer as to what bitrate Real streams the On Demand files, but the general consensus on the web seems to be Real streams the songs at 160 KB (if it’s lower, I can’t tell). The MP3’s Ivan made sound great, and he says you certainly can’t beat the price.

While Hijacking the songs likely violates some law somewhere, Ivan claims he lives in international waters, so he says HE is not breaking any laws, but you should check with your local government before attempting to follow in his footsteps.

Ivan said that while Hijacking Rhapsody songs should have been a breeze, he did run into a couple hitches he felt I should post here in order to help others who may also live in international waters avoid repeating his mistakes.

Of course, in order to Hijack anything, you’ll need Audio Hijack, so if you don’t have it, go download it before continuing. There is a free trial, and it only costs $16 if you like it (and you will).

Step One: Create an account

In order to abuse Rhapsody you need to use Rhapsody, and to do that, you’ll first need to create an account. Since there is not yet the option to actually BUY any music via the website, the registration process is fairly painless. No credit card information is required. All you need to do is enter an e-mail address, a password, a Zip code, and year of birth. That’s it, you are now a member. Real doesn’t even send out a confirmation e-mail, so you can make up an e-mail address if you want.

Step Two: Find a song you want

This is a little harder than it should be. For the most part, Ivan says the potential pitfalls in Hijacking Rhapsody songs can be attributed to Real’s somewhat unpolished (at least to those used to iTunes) interface. Ivan admits he has become quite accustomed to Apple’s iTunes music store, so maybe it’s just him, but if the Rhapsody website is indicative of the actual Rhapsody software, he thinks Apple has little to fear from Real in the UI department. While Real has tried to lay out the Rhapsody site similar to iTunes as far as the placement of genres, and the top downloads lists, it just seemed a little off to Ivan.

For Ivan’s Hijacking example, let’s say you know you want a White Stripes song. You can just type “White Stripes� in the search field, and viola, you’ll get a list of their albums, as well as a “Top Album� with a little “play button� next to it.

Whatever you do, DON’T push the play button. It will begin to play the first track on the album, and subtract one song from your 25 song limit. Instead, click the album cover or title under it to bring you to the album’s song listings.

This is the biggest pitfall Ivan ran into while recording songs. If you accidentally click on a wrong song, or an album play button, and Rhapsody loads the song, you are debited one song from your account even if you stop it almost immediately. Real is a bit misleading when they say you can listen to 25 songs a month for free. What they mean is, you can listen to 25 “plays� of a song or songs each month. This means, if you want to hear “My Doorbell� 25 times, that is your 25 songs. Each listen counts as a song.

And be warned. Unlike iTunes, where you can click a song and preview it before you buy it, Rhapsody.com just automatically starts playing the song, so if you don’t have Audio Hijack set up to record ahead of time, you will miss recording the beginning of the song, and have to start it again, thus losing 1 song from your stash.

Still, this isn’t a big deal if you are prepared.

Step Three: Be prepared

Once you see a song you want to listen to, it is time to launch Audio Hijack. Click the little “+� sign in the bottom right of the Audio Hijack window to create a new Hijacking source. Leave the Audio Source drop down set to “Application�, then select “Safari� from the pulldown.

Now that you have Safari listed in the source field on the left, click the “Recording� button at the bottom right to specify your recording settings. Ivan chose MP3 (High), and the results sounded great, however feel free to experiment (but remember that experimenting costs songs). You can also enter in file naming and destination information here.

Step 4: Hijack a song

In Audio Hijack, hit the “Hijack� button. Next, hit the “Record� button. Don’t worry, Audio Hijack will not really start recording until it detects audio being played through the chosen application (in this case, Safari). This is nice because it means you do not have to edit any of the recordings you make. Audio Hijack will start and stop itself automatically, without recording any “dead air� on the ends of the song.

Go back into Safari, and click the “Play� button next to the SONG (not the album) you want to hear. A little window will pop up showing you the songs you are playing, and how many songs in your account you have remaining. The song will begin to play, and Audio Hijack will start recording it. When the song has ended, Audio Hijack will suspend its recording, waiting for more audio to play.

(Note: The player window has volume controls as well. Ivan says leave the volume at its default settings. Raising the volume above this setting caused the recordings to become distorted).

When the song is done, hit the “Record� button in Audio Hijack to stop the recording, and to save out the file.

That’s it. Just repeat that 24 more times with different songs and you can quickly build up a nice little collection of very decent sounding songs for free (well, minus the $16 for Audio Hijack). Consider yourself lucky that you live in international waters.

In conclusion

Ivan says the Rhapsody On Demand service seems to work well, and is thinking of actually paying the $9.99 a month to avoid having to log in under 50 different e-mail addresses each month. He did notice, however, that one of the tracks he was downloading had an audio hitch in it, and had it again in the same place when he tried to download it a second time. After a computer restart and a flushing of Safari’s cache, it was still there the next time he tried to download it, so just be aware, if a song seems to have an error in it, don’t waste your 25 songs trying to see if you can fix it. Ivan lost 3 songs trying to get that one to play correctly, and it was apparently just encoded that way.

Ivan also wanted to point out two more interesting things about the Rhapsody.com experience. The first is, he claims since there is no real authentication scheme, a user could very easily just sign up again under a different e-mail address, and get another 25 songs. This is likely also a violation of the terms and conditions of using the Rhapsody service, but the ease at which these recordings can be made and the 25 song limit defeated brings up Ivan’s second, and more interesting point.

Ivan thinks that perhaps this lack of security is Real’s attempt to steal a bit or market share from Apple. He points out the ability to record songs from Rhapsody might be a selling point to some users, and likens the legality of it to recording songs off the radio back in the “old days�. Ivan says Real might be thinking something needs to be done soon to knock Apple out of the drivers seat even if it means encouraging piracy.

I pointed out to Ivan that of course I for one would still use iTunes because it’s more fair to the artists and labels (well, the labels anyway), and what he suggested might actually be illegal. Plus, while Apple would like people to buy its copy-protected AAC files because consumers will then need to buy an iPod in order to play them, Real doesn’t make money from hardware sales. They need to make money through their downloads, so it is unlikely they want to encourage Ivan’s behavior.

However, at the same time I can’t think of a good reason Real is allowing this easy circumvention of its 25 song limit.

Perhaps Ivan is on to something after all…

2 Responses to “Hijacking Rhapsody”
  1. Mactel Williams says:

    Gotta get me a houseboat!

  2. It might help if you live in international waters, but your computer had better be localized for the US of A, because Rhapsody.com will not function in any way if you live outside the US.

    I live in Canada, and tried the thing and was politely told that the service is only available to United States-type people.

    So, despite the fact that Ivan lives on a houseboat, his computer thinks he lives in the US somewhere…

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