Are you tired of getting in your car and driving to the mall to shop for music? And buying CDs by mail-order isn’t any better; unless you’re willing to pay for expedited shipping, you end up waiting for days for your tunes to arrive. Furthermore, all those CDs and their cases are becoming very cumbersome to keep and store… after all, you’re probably just going to rip them to your computer, load them on your MP3 player and listen to them on the go. So, why not just save yourself all the hassle and acquire your music digitally, all ready for your iPod or Zune?

As many people have by now discovered, there are many advantages to buying music online. Audio websites will allow you to browse their complete collection much more quickly and easily than you can in a retail store, and almost all of them will let you listen to a preview before you make your selections. And even better — you aren’t required to purchase an entire CD full of songs if you aren’t thrilled with all of them; simply choose the ones you want and leave the rest behind!

From what I can determine, there is only one problem with downloading music online, and that’s choosing the best site to use. With the hundreds, maybe even thousands, of music download sites available today, how do you select the one that will provide the most value for your money?

A good place to start is to think about your musical preferences. Do you like heavy metal, country, pop, classic rock and roll? You certainly don’t want to limit yourself to a site that specializes in indie labels if your favorite groups are all mainstream pop. Likewise, don’t frustrate yourself searching for bluegrass music on a site where the main headliners are Ozzy Osbourne and Alice Cooper.

Once you’ve narrowed your choices to sites where you are likely to find your desired groups, it’s time to take a look at pricing. Will you be charged a fee for each song you download, and if so, how much will it be? Some sites offer membership packages where you subscribe for a set fee each month — you are then entitled to download a specified number of songs for free, or at a discounted rate. Some sites offer unlimited streaming with a membership, so you can listen online as much as you want and are only charged when you want to have your tunes “to-go” and download them to your computer, MP3 player, CD, or other device. Online music sites have devised countless payment tactics, so it’s a good idea to evaluate a few of them to find out which will work best for you.