Torrential reign

If you're an aspiring artist then there's a good chance that you don't have a penny to your name because you spent it all on your Gibson Les Paul guitar, booze and fast women, leaving nothing left for the important stuff - like actually getting your music out to the public. This used to mean that you'd need the services of a record company to pay for your distribution. But things have changed.

By hosting your own content on the Web, all of those expensive middlemen and company executives can be cut out of the loop, and you can distribute your music on a global scale, directly to your fans. But even this revolutionary step means that you have to pay for server space and bandwidth. While a lot cheaper than a CD distributor, it can still be an expensive option, particularly if you're successful - the more people who want to download your music, the more bandwidth you're going to need to shell out on. Resulting in fewer Les Pauls, less booze and probably slower women.

Bits and pieces

However, there's an alternative, in the form of Bram Cohen's BitTorrent - a file distribution protocol. This eliminates the need for online storage space and bandwidth, and gives you an army of middlemen who'll willingly do your distribution for you, free of charge. Who are these middlemen? The fans.

Briefly, a BitTorrent works by splitting a large file into smaller parts and distributing them non-sequentially to anybody who has requested the file (the leechers). The leecher who is downloading also starts uploading to other peers immediately after down­loading their first part. The protocol requests the rarest parts of the file to avoid bottlenecks, and will attempt to download from the most efficient peer in the swarm (group of peers) - see Figure 1.

As a result, the bandwidth used by the seed is dramatically decreased and the download times actually improve with more people trying to download the file. As a result, BitTorrent has become a popular tool for software and video piracy. But as long as you stick to distributing your own material, you'll be on the right side of the law.

How to

Firstly, you need a BitTorrent client to manage all of the Torrent files that you download, and to enable you to create .torrent files for upload. I recommend Azureus because of its user-friendly interface and large feature set - (http://azureus.sourceforge.net).

Once installed, you're ready to start downloading torrents and creating them. To download a torrent, you need to find a tracker. This essentially links you back to the seed, or the leechers that currently have the file (or partial file). BitTorrent doesn't have a search facility, so you'll need to do your own Web search for torrents. You'll find torrent search engines at www.bittorrent.com, or www.torrenttyphoon.com - the latter has a good Firefox extension. There are many sites that host torrents, but some are more legal than others. You're on safe ground with sites like www.legaltorrents.com and www.commontunes.org. In fact, CommonTunes allows you to sell your music distributed via BitTorrent.

At these sites, the trackers are listed and it's just a matter of clicking on the torrent file you want, which will then open in your BitTorrent client (Azureus) and start downloading. It's a good idea to test this before you start uploading, just to make sure everything's set up properly.

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